Welcome back to the second recap of my recent backpacking trip to Europe. Today’s story is from Santorini, one of the Greek islands.
Santorini was my favourite destination during FLEuro2016. I loved the food (fried zucchini sticks!), beaches, and buildings. The only things I didn’t love about Santorini was that: (1) the tap water is not drinkable – you must purchase bottled water, and (2); the Santorini airport is a gong show.
We arrived at the Santorini airport at 7:00 am for our flight to Rome at 9:00 am. For international flights, you’re supposed to arrive approximately 2 hours before your flight. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait in a huge lineup for check-in luggage because Fatima and I only had carry-on backpacks, however, our confusion was not solved and this was because our airline was nowhere to be seen.
There were no online check-in stations and our airline was not displayed on any of the check-in counters. While people around us bustled and lined up, we were left standing in the midst of confusion. We found our airline’s luggage banner (the one that shows you how large your carry-on luggage can be), but still no sign of anyone who potentially works for the airline. Several other backpackers were also standing around this luggage banner. After talking to them, we were relieved to find out that we were on the same flight (it exists!). Simply put, the passengers (us) were there, but the airline was not. They were late and we had no other choice but to wait for them to arrive and open their check-in station.
As we waited, more confused passengers congregated by the luggage banner. By 7:30 am, all of us had taken off our backpacks and luggage and sat on the floor to talk and wait. The hustle and bustle of Santorini airport continued around us as we camped out by the check-in counter.
Finally, at around 8:20 am, someone from our airline showed up and turned on the wall monitor above the check-in station. Simultaneously, another group of passengers on our flight, who were sitting and waiting behind another pillar, dashed towards the counter, thereby budging in front of our group, who had been waiting behind a yellow line. The airline employees tried to tell us all to move behind the yellow line and a lot of yelling ensued: our group wanted the group now in front of us to go to the back of the line, and the other group wanted us to move back instead. There was also yelling at the airline employees, where one woman screamed, “We’ve been here since 7 am!”
To which everybody around us also rolled our eyes, thinking exactly the same thing: so were everybody else.
It was ridiculous really, because we were all on the same flight and all the yelling only delayed our flight even more. When we finally finished checking in, we realized the waiting gate was just another gong show. When they announced boarding at 8:50 am, I realized that the concept of lining up just doesn’t exist in this airport and with certain passengers. While there was still some form of line to the security gate, a majority of passengers only swarmed near the gate.
Fatima and I were carrying large backpacks, and we tried to not push or shove anybody around us because it could hurt them or us due to the weight. I was not aware that there was a girl who pushed me while I was passing through the security gate. Fatima, who was also annoyed at her for not lining up, told her firmly to not touch my bag or push us.
Unluckily for this girl, she ended up sitting next to us on the plane. She switched seats with her friend, most likely because she felt uncomfortable sitting next to us. Her friend suddenly tried to talk to me in broken English, repeating the words “my friend… your bag… careless.”
I had no idea her friend pushed me or touched my bag or that Fatima said something to her, so I thought she was telling me that I was careless with my bag and I hit her friend. This misunderstanding actually annoyed me, because if she and her friends had lined up properly I wouldn’t have accidentally hit anyone. Realizing my misunderstanding, the girl asked me where I was from, hoping that I could speak Chinese based on my appearance. When I told her I was from Canada, she tried to apologize for her friend again via English translations.
Finally understanding that she was trying to apologize for her friend, I switched to Mandarin to tell her that I understood and it was not a big deal since the airport was just chaos anyways. She was instantly relieved that I could speak Mandarin and we small talked for a while until the plane took off.
In the end, I dismissed my annoyance for her and her friends for not lining up. The airport and airline was really at fault for all the confusion and rowdiness. What I really appreciated, though, was that she tried to apologize to me and continued to try to convey her message even though she didn’t speak my language. Although this was the worst airport/airline experience of my life (we also had to wait 20 minutes on the plane after we landed in Rome for a bus to take us into the airport terminal), the stories we heard and shared with the other sane passengers of this flight made it a memorable experience. Maybe the next time I go to Santorini, I’ll just go with a different airline instead.
The limits of my language means the limits of my world.
― Ludwig Wittgenstein