update: as of October 25th, 2020, Schönefeld Airport is permanently closed.
It's 11:08 on Tuesday, May 3rd. I'm on this matchbox of an airplane finally on my way to Berlin after a 2 hr delay. I arrived in Copenhagen with enough time to explore but figured I'd be cutting it close if I took the train to Malmö to see a fellow colleague. I waited patiently as arrivals and departures cluttered with restless travelers, became a blur after being on a plane for more than 10 hours with just enough patience and sustenance to keep me from strangling someone.
This has to be a joke, right?
So You Wanna Be Cheap?
I read the Easyjet reviews and I was even advised to pay an extra $100 just to fly with another airline as Easyjet tickets are nonrefundable. I'm sitting in seat 26A, the last row aisle. If I sneeze, I'm sure the seat will burst at the seams. We all like a good bargain, but this is on some other level shit.
After flying Norwegian Airlines, this feels like a death sentence. The overhead cabins are small and if you think for a second they'll have room for your hand luggage, think again. My white Longchamp le Pliage is sitting underneath the seat as secured as it can possibly be. My neighbor's backpack behind the last row on the opposite side along with the crew's demo kit.
It's a 40-minute flight so there's the silver lining. Oh and the guy sitting in the window seat just had his bag moved around by the flight attendant, the kerfuffle not without side-eye and snarky remarks making sure he knew he ‘ruined' her coat. Rough day for us all.
The crackling of a German voice over the loudspeaker stunned us all. I looked down at my phone and realized the flight was coming to an end. Twenty minutes later, I hear all of the familiar sounds ready for landing; however, I'm expecting another announcement. Instead, turbulence and a hard smack to the ground as the wheels go into the west coast 3 wheel motion.
“So this is it? I flew 10 hours only to die on a dinky plane in Berlin!”
I looked at my neighbors and felt as if I needed to offer them a cigarette. I stood up and with one quick swoop grabbed my bag. I was done. My shifty eyes kept scanning for any signs of possible escape. As soon as the pod doors opened, I leaped out.
The Great Luggage Caper
Great. Now I'm having to watch for traffic too?! I run across following the signs directing me to the baggage claim. I'm standing in the middle of an empty carousel becoming frantic and angry. From afar I see a young man looking around so I walk up to him and ask, “Did they lose your luggage too?”
“It looks like it,” he responds. “And this is when you realize that you're not in your home country anymore.”
That's such an American thing to say I thought, but he was from Copenhagen. He tells me that he always has some kind of story to tell when he goes back home after visiting Berlin, specifically after arriving in Schönefeld. We walked up to the security guard with the stoic look on his face and he only points towards the vacant information desk. Sorry to bother your blinking. Finally, one of the luggage porters appears and we rush to him as if he's made out of food.
“Hi, our luggage is missing!”
The Dane and I looked at each other, befuddled and trying to remember where this mystical luggage claim was located. The porter then directed us to the office at the end of the terminal to file a claim. I start making gestures at the people behind the glass door and they wave. I assumed they were closed or being rude so we walked away. Suddenly, I hear a voice.
“I thought you were closed.”
“No, come in.”
We had three pair of eyes staring us down, almost as to say we are idiots for not seeing the luggage and now we are wasting their time with our nonsense. Without missing a beat in his step or the opportunity to continue making us feel foolish, the agent pulls out a chart that looks like a police lineup of suitcases. My friend the Dane points to the one the resembled his suitcase. I, on the other hand, tried to joke around by saying my suitcase was Beetlejuice, black and white stripes.
“You can't miss it!”
Followed with my signature smile that didn't seem to please the airport agent at all, I immediately put my chiclets away and await a response.
I was fresh out of emotions and surrendered myself to whatever would happen next. I made it this far and if my luggage was indeed gone all I could do was go shopping. Fortunately, I put some basic toiletries in my carry-on. The Dane was intermittently quiet with sudden outbursts about Berlin and how he often visits despite the rigamarole at the airport each time. The cafe at the other end of the terminal looks tempting, but I don't want to miss any news of my beloved Beetlejuice. My Couchsurfing buddy says he'll be here soon to pick me up and take me home, but something tells me I'll end up taking the Bahn.
Out of the blue, the airport porter appears with two suitcases. I see my striped bundle of joy and I am content that I have my stuff, but also realized that it is late and my host in Wedding is waiting for me to arrive.
“Well, that was a clusterfuck! Sheesh!”
My friend, the Dane turns to me and says, “Welcome to Berlin.”
The Bahn vs Über
After the 3-hour flight delay from Copenhagen, my options for getting to the city center were minimal to none. A Couchsurfing buddy offered to pick me up from the airport when I arrived so that I didn't have to navigate through the bahn late at night. By the time I picked up Beetlejuice and was ready to leave Schönefeld, it was midnight.
I waited an hour for this person to show up at the airport when suddenly they stopped responding to messages on the board and on WhatsApp. That's okay I thought, I came here by myself and should do things for myself. Besides, I wasn't traveling on a shoestring and my resiliency would be put to the test. Completely unaware that most transit systems do not run 24 hours a day, I walked towards the Bahn station. It seemed like an eternity. The station completely empty should have been an indication that the bahn was not operating; however, I needed to give it a shot. After navigating through their ticket machine menu, I ended up with a one-way ticket to the city center through zones ABC. Slowly making my way to the platform, I soon realize I may have just wasted €3,50 on a useless ticket. Choosing pragmatism to blind optimism, I turn to the next platform seeing what I assume is the last train. Give it up Liz, and go get yourself a fucking Über, I thought to myself.
I looked over at the platform board and knowing my German isn't up to par, I can still make out what looks like “out of order.” I hear a loud German voice from the next platform. I turn around and it's the conductor from the train arriving from the opposite direction. He repeats himself and then points repeatedly to the platform board. I wave and as loud as I can say, “Danke!” I let out a sigh of relief and frustration. The night is slipping away and my host is still waiting at the flat. I make my way back to the terminal, but not before asking some women about transit. They pointed to the other side of the airport where there is a night bus.
Oh hell no! I thanked them for their time and continued to the terminal. At this point, I have exhausted all of my options and decided to open the Über app. I already knew this was going to be an expensive ride; however, my safety is at stake as I am no longer able to keep walking or my eyes open. Within 2 minutes, an Über driver appeared and because I did not want to end up in a ditch somewhere in Germany I triple-checked the plates to the information on the app. I was off to Wedding after a rough start in Schönefeld. I believe this place was designed to destroy the souls of travelers going through it. easyJet seemed like a good deal, that is if you don't factor in flight delays. Had my flight made it on time, I would have taken the bahn in for less than €4 and had dinner. Instead, I was reamed for €50 by Über and ate the ham and cheese croissant I purchased at LAX 12 hours earlier.
Who the fuck puts swiss chard in a ham and cheese croissant?!