No one from our group of twelve had problems at any airport security check points or got even close to being sent back to Prague on our long journey to Cleveland through London and Chicago. This was especially surprising seeing our diverse nationalities, religions, frustrating visa requirements or the confusing nature of our university trip that required a tourist visa rather than a student one. Many of us were sweating bullets over the possibility of having problems with our transit visa in London and about the intimidating officers at the U.S. passport control. Ironically enough, those were only parts of the entire journey that actually went through as planned.
Everyone arrived at the Vaclav Havel Airport in Prague on time and with as great an attitude as one could muster at 6:30 in the morning. No one forgot their passport, had an overweight bag or forgot to take their scissors out of their carry-ons. The flight itself was uneventful in a good way and they didn’t even check our transit visas at the passport control in Heathrow. The problems began as we sat by our gate waiting for boarding to start and our excited chatter was interrupted by a delay announcement due to technical problems. Half an hour of hopeful waiting turned into a four hour delay during which our only compensation was a 5 pound food voucher. Unfortunately airport food and .99 pound filtered coffee wasn’t enough to prepare us for what was to come.
The flight from London to Chicago was long and traumatizing to some – including a very unhappy baby sitting near several unlucky members of our group. But the selection of movies and games in combination with the free beer and wine helped pass our time. However as much as the pilot tried to catch up on lost time, many passengers, us included, missed our connecting flights. Arriving in Chicago was chaotic as we were rushed towards passport control with our new boarding passes. There were no problems with our visas and not a single suitcase was left in Heathrow, but we weren’t all on the same flight to Cleveland. Half of us were scheduled to fly out on the first flight next morning instead of the last flight of the day.
Not wanting to split up the group, Bibiana and Iva used a combination of charm and (I assume) stern looks to persuade American Airlines to put us all on one flight. Since this was only possible for the 6:55am flight we had to go out into the cold and squeeze into a small shuttle like cattle. The well-humored driver managed to make us all laugh at the silly situation and it wasn’t long until we reached our destination.
Westin was a pleasant surprise as the hotel was very nice and the beds very comfortable. We had to rush to dinner to get our $35 worth of food and drink. Steak was the most popular option at my table and we enjoyed our first proper meal in the U.S. while discussing politics, journalism and our life stories. After agreeing on a 4:45am meeting time the following morning we went back to our rooms. After almost 17 hours of travel it was a relief that my last concern of the day was how to arrange the 6 pillows on my bed to get the best nights’ sleep.
Sleeping in a nice big bed and the promise of a short flight to Cleveland had us all in a good mood for our last bit of travel. Everything went smoothly at the airport and we got a chance to discover a bit of American culture while observing a young man wearing blue pajama pants tucked into his boots. His baggy green shirt attracted even more attention as he walked through security unaware that he was our first example of what we were warned about – the overly-casual dressed American. Before arriving at our gate I had also discovered that there are stores dedicated primarily to selling popcorn and that you could buy sim cards in pharmacies.
Our last flight was on the smallest plane that most of us had ever seen. My dilemma at take off and landing was whether to look left or right from my seat 10B which was an equal distance from both windows: the plane only had 3 seats in each row. After a short 45 minute flight we were finally in Cleveland surrounded by advertisements for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We had to rush to get our bags from taking another spin around the conveyor belt and were greeted by Candace Bowen. An hour later we finally arrived in Kent State Hotel, only 13 hours after our expected arrival. We were still excited about the last and best surprise of our long journey. Candace must have gotten a kick out of our reaction to seeing our ride from the airport – a large white limo that seemed bigger and much sturdier than the plane that we had just gotten off of.