The Slow and Scenic Route to Frankfurt Airport

For the uninitiated, take note: when Deutsche Bahn puts the train in reverse, your trip has probably officially started to fall apart.

During the two years that we have been riding Deutsche Bahn, we have learned to lower our expectations. If your train is late and you miss your connection? Oh, well. You can’t get any kind of a refund until your train is at least an hour late, and then it’s only a 25% refund. You may or may not get refunded for other resulting expenses, such as a taxi that you had to take, but only at the same rate determined by the lateness of the train. Because, logically, you’ve only 25% missed your flight and had to pay for 25% of a new plane ticket, ja?

And you’re always putting it on the line if you’re trying to catch a flight. My husband’s train to the airport last summer, when he was flying to JFK, was an hour late. Thankfully, his flight was 90 minutes late. When we flew to JFK for Christmas, we went down to Frankfurt the night before and stayed in a hotel, rather than risk the inevitable “oh, it’s too cold, so the train will be late” scenario (this is a real thing that happens).

So when I bought my train tickets to get to the airport to fly home to Boston from Frankfurt, I was feeling like a pro. I had chosen my flight carefully, with a 2 pm flight departure and an 8 am train from Muenster, which left me plenty of time to check in with my 40 kilos of luggage, even if the train was a few measly minutes late. I was scheduled to get in at 10:50.

I think you see where this is going.

Jump ahead to 1:35 p.m., where I collapse at the gate in a pile of tears and sweat, surrounded by very nice and serene-looking Icelandic people wearing thick sweaters. If I had had a direct flight to the U.S. on a big name airline (one that actually serves food, for instance), I would not have made it. However, IcelandAir, which lets you simply wave your ticket in the general direction of a distracted guy behind a desk, had not even started their high-tech boarding process yet.

As for that middle part with Deutsche Bahn: someone, somewhere, was “on the track area.” This is polite-speak for “someone tried to commit suicide.” The official delay went from 10 minutes, to 15, to “unknown.”After about ten minutes of sitting, they helpfully moved forward a few hundred meters, sat for a bit, and then slowly backed the train up and opened the doors so that we could “get some fresh air.” The 150-ish of us that were headed to the airport unloaded all of our luggage and headed down the street to catch taxis.

Except we were in a town – a village? –  that literally had no taxis. Not a one. A Lufthansa employee was able to get a company van to come pick him up, but the driver refused to take anyone else with him. A woman who worked at a coffee shop attached to the station very generously volunteered to drive a bunch of us in her van – but I was the first person not to fit. And what, you ask, did Deutsche Bahn do to help?

Oh, that’s right. Nothing.

The delay was obviously not their fault, but there was plenty they could have done to get us to the airport. There were half a dozen empty charter buses parked across the street. The drivers told us that they could take us, so long as Deutsche Bahn paid for it. They assured us that it was something that the company should do, but they were probably going to refuse to do it. And, true to form, they did.

So, time to drag my luggage back up into the train and wait to see what would happen. We eventually started moving, and we got to the airport sometime after 1 pm. As the train slowed down, I braced myself for what I had to do. It could not be any further outside of my personality, and it was not something I wanted to do, but I swallowed my distaste and told myself it had to happen. In reality, it was a fitting final farewell.

Because in Germany, lines are for pussies. Politeness is for the weak and the foreign. Now was my last chance to be truly German. So as the doors opened, I did like I was taught so well in Bielefeld – I shoved in front of everyone else to get off that train. I may have knocked over some elderly people or small children with my mammoth suitcases but, well, es tut mir leid. As I sprinted, outpacing all of the Germans who were walking briskly-but-calmly as though they were not over two hours late for their international flights, I focused on the fact that 10 years ago I used to play soccer, and tried to ignore the fact that I hadn’t had anything to eat that day. Nor would I be given anything on my Bargain Basement flight, which was so-close (timewise) and-yet-so-far (spatially; namely, in another terminal requiring a slow, slow bus).

But it somehow worked out – partially because everyone else had already checked in. There was no one in line at the ticket counter and I was the only one going through security. And of course they needed to stop me and give me an overly-thorough looking over (there’s nothing down the waist of my hip-hugging jeans, ma’am. Hands off.) I guess being panicked and drenched in sweat makes one look a little suspicious in an airport.

However, on my plane from Reykjavic to Boston, I watched Argo, which was both a great movie and a nice reminder: I could have had a much worse time getting to the airport.

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10 responses to “The Slow and Scenic Route to Frankfurt Airport

  1. This made me chuckle! You navigated that trip like a pro. The lack of lines and acceptance of pushing in Hungary (elderly folks usually being the first to do so!) was one of the biggest parts of culture shock for me. The reverse culture shock was intense–people saying “Excuse me” in the grocery store when their cart was three feet away from me! I was dumbfounded.

    • Bielefeld is full of the elderly, so the pushing is especially intense there! And whenever I come back to the U.S., I get a little confused for a few days about why people are apologizing/making small talk in public 🙂

  2. It’s not really Deutsche Bahn’s fault if someone decides to try and throw themself under a train, but you’d still think they would at least do SOMETHING for their passengers. Especially on a train that’s obviously taking people to an airport…

    Glad you made your flight anyway.

    • Definitely not their fault that it happened – but it really brings home the “customer service standard” (there’s a reason that’s in quotes). I was talking with multiple people who were saying how Bahn service has just deteriorated over the last two years.

  3. Your line about being in a pile of tears of sweat made me flash back, ‘Nam-style, to when I finally left Spain for France. Everything started to go wrong the night before I left for the airport so that by the time I made it through security, I was so stressed out, angry, sweaty and crying that I took my top off in the bathroom near my gate, stuck it in a sick of cold water, wrung it out and then put it back on. It cooled me down immediately and prevented me from killing everyone in the area. Traveling is the worst part of traveling.

  4. Oh, I’m sad to see you have left Münster. We are moving there July 8, and will be (temporarily) staying in an apartment near the Aasee. Your tips have been quite helpful, especially regarding lying things on their side at the grocery store. It came in useful when buying things at the Lidl while were there for a couple weeks last month!

    • Oh, I’m so glad! My goal was always to do everything possible to avoid unanticipated interactions in German 🙂 Muenster is a really wonderful city to live in – great atmosphere with all of the students, and plenty to do outdoors. Best of luck to you!

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