On the morning of Wednesday, May 20 I awoke early in my New York City hotel room. My taxi was coming at noon, and my flight would take off just before 16:00. So I set purposefully and enthusiastically about my morning: picking up my shoes from a repair shop nearby, strolling 25 minutes through midtown to get a glorious deep tissue massage, enjoying coffee and breakfast, and of course – strategically re-packing my carry-on baggage so I could have a clean outfit to wear when picked up in Tashkent by embassy staff.
I even walked to Times Square and reveled in the big lights, buying a banana from a street vendor and leaving my change to him. Walking down the street, I was all smiles.
There is something I love about the come-as-you-are edginess in New York City. I wouldn’t typically run down the street in workout clothes with damp hair and wearing oversized sunglasses and little makeup. But no one cares, truly, as evidenced by their own not trying to be fabulous-take-it-or-leave-it appearances. It helped me focus single-mindedly on what I needed to do without wasting any time.
After getting myself together at the hotel, I arrived at JFK, checked my baggage and proceeded through security with no more drama than broken credit card readers at the counter and major personal space issues in the line.
On the other side I searched and searched for a sit-down restaurant, but it seemed that Terminal 1 had one option and when I tried to eat there, I was informed by a rude and harried hostess that there was only one cook in the kitchen and nearly a 90 minute wait for food! I settled for a take-away sandwich while perched near a phone charger. I called family and walked around for a bit, pleased that my carry-ons were so light and manageable.
I later realized that although I had walked the terminal from one end to the other, I had missed a sit-down option at the far end hidden behind something else, but it was a bar and I didn’t see anyone eating, so maybe it was for the best.
When boarding, Lufthansa staff told me I had been upgraded to business class. I have to say that although it wasn’t my first time, it was absolute heaven. Large comfortable seat, bottled water in cupholders, multiple USB charging ports at each seat, dozens of movies, huge overhead bin all to myself, and – no one sitting in front of me, behind me, or in the two seats to my right! It hardly gets better than that.
I was immediately served juice and champagne from a tray, and I wondered, How will I ever go back to economy?!
A flight attendant solicited other passengers to upgrade, saying the cost would be 299 euros. I think only one person did. So that was a nice gift from Lufthansa to me! Perhaps it was my diplomatic passport? It must have been, because God knows I usually don’t get (or ask for) that level of courtesy.
And although I am not the most frugal person, I typically never pay for flight upgrades and almost never have enough status on a particular airline to upgrade with miles. I always tell myself that everyone on the plane arrives to the same place, so why pay hundreds of dollars more?
However, there’s certainly something to be said for not being miserable on the flight and arriving in the best possible condition to continue your work or play. The dirty, loud and outdated conditions in the terminal juxtaposed with the civilized and comfortable environment on the two-story Airbus were a world apart. Catching a glimpse back into economy class convinced me that I may have to reconsider my upgrading position.
I watched three movies in a row, enjoyed two meals, and landed in Frankfurt without incident as the clock jumped six hours ahead.
Unfortunately for me, I am a stomach sleeper and cannot sleep on a plane (or anywhere in public). I once flew for 25 hours from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur to Vienna to Skopje, and didn’t even sleep then, except for two iPod songs over India I don’t remember hearing.
In Frankfurt I was somewhat preoccupied with the fact that I was not checked in for my Uzbek Airways flight and did not have a seat assignment, as apparently this must be done in person (?!), although Lufthansa staff had assured me that my bags were checked all the way to Tashkent.
After enjoying a good German breakfast, I located my gate… on the other side of a secondary security area that was not yet open. Eventually I got through, but not before sitting for a giant coffee and conversation with a fascinating woman from Nuremberg, on her way to Egypt to scuba dive. We exchanged contact details and off she went.
A few hours later I also had my aisle seat confirmation and boarding pass and all passengers boarded a shuttle to the airplane. I had to stand and hold onto an overhead bar. I swear it felt like a 25 minute ride, with many stops and turns through the hinterlands of Frankfurt Airport. I wondered whether we were actually driving to Tashkent. I saw a small fleet of black Euro cars with A.S.S. (Airport Security Services) emblazoned brightly across their doors (in yellow?) and got the giggles despite myself.
Sleep deprivation was setting in and I still had another six hours to travel!
I didn’t get an upgrade from Uzbek Airways but it was another fairly comfortable flight all the same. I was in a row of two seats with no one next to me. Despite the fact that there are only two flights a week between Frankfurt and Tashkent, the plane was half-empty.
As soon as the seatbelt light went off, I grabbed an empty row of four seats, loosely belted myself in and closed my eyes for a few hours. I never really slept, instead listening to nearly the entire ten-episode Serial podcast about the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee.
When I washed my face and went back to my seat to reapply makeup, I caught my first glimpse of Central Asia from the window. We had jumped ahead in time another three hours. Our aircraft had fled daylight from Western Europe moving east, and had won a glittering night sky. Here I am, I thought. The fourth continent I’ve lived on.