My Trip to Zurich from Pittsburgh Today - a real time chronicle

After a near three year hiatus, I bought a ticket to visit my son who is Swiss and lives in Zurich, where he was born 46 years ago. My son from the US had planned to accompany me, as we have done before. However, over Memorial Day weekend, he had a recurrence of a small bowel obstruction (due to a complicated birth defect) and is waiting for corrective (non-emergency) surgery - since the obstruction again cleared with conservative, though unpleasant, treatment. So, we cancelled his ticket back in June and will have to eat it, unless he can use it to travel before Dec. 31 2023; United allows one free change in tickets, but they must be used within 18 months or so.

So, last evening, I am packing and going through my extensive ‘to-do’ list. I get to the part where I purchase a 30-day ‘International Pass’ from T-Mobile. Except, suddenly, my laptop won’t connect to my home network. Every other device on the network (many- I am an ID -ioT) is properly connected. I re-start my laptop. No joy. I re-start the modem, still nothing. I go through all the network settings - monkey on the typewriter scenario. Wind up with no changes in settings. Also turned off the VPN. No difference. Walk away for 10 minutes so I don’t throw the damn thing against the wall.

Now, it connects and I decide now is the time to update the Express VPN as it has been requesting for several days. The thing stayed connected long enough to download and install the new version. Then, it disconnected every few minutes - about 5 times - not just the VPN, but the home WiFi network. Then, for whatever reason, it works normally again and I purchase the International Plan. I finish packing about 20:30 last evening.

I go to PIT airport this morning and get through the TSA welcoming committee pretty quickly - it wasn’t busy. Only forgot to remove my belt. BTW, I estimate that the decision tree as to what to pack in carry-on versus checked, doubled my packing time - especially with all the medications and supplements I take (some are liquid!); and the fact I am prepared to treat myself for Covid while away with HCQ and ivermectin, etc. The plane for EWR is an hour and a quarter late to arrive, but no problem, as I designed in a 6 hour layover in Newark (EWR) for just this eventuality (I have actually missed the Zurich flight with a 4 hour layover). As I sit down on the Embraer 170 in Premium Economy, I note that I am in that seat most likely to be sucked out, should there be a decompression due to an un-contained compressor blade failure. I relax somewhat after climb power is set, knowing such failures usually occur during TOGA or other significant increases in power settings.

I arrive in EWR, feeling somewhat relaxed, knowing I have lots of time before my flight to Zurich and that the equipment, a Boeing 767-300ER, is already at the gate. I go to the United Club - somewhat ambivalently, as it is usually crowded with minimal ambience or amenities. When I get there, a sign tells me that the club is not for travelers like me, going to Europe, to check the United website for other lounges. I get out my phone, turn off “airplane mode”and see there is no cell signal. Thus, I can’t find where the other lounge is located in order to use its (hopefully) more secure WiFi than the “free” Newark Airport WiFi. With no other option and with my VPN working, I did log onto the free WiFi and located the other United Club. I trek there - did I mention I have an immobilizer boot on my left ankle because of Achilles tendonitis? I arrive about 12 minutes later, only to find the club is “closed for renovations”. But, I’m in luck - there is a temporary ‘pop-up’ club at gate 93. The signage leaves something to be desired, but I find it after only one false start.

I get inside, log onto the WiFi and try to open my T-Mobile app. I has set it for facial recognition, but it insisted on my password. Anyway, the gremlins obviously got into T-Mobile app as well as everything else, since after opening and closing both Brave browser and the T-Mobile app multiple times, it finally decided to recognize my face, rather than demand a password Brave wouldn’t either fill in or show me. I was then able to have a 55 minute text/chat with a helpful T-Mobile human person, who was very surprised this had happened and appreciated my patience (of which I had none at this point, but I stifled myself). All I eventually said was that (she did not know all the appetizers prior to this main course) I was becoming tempted to switch to Verizon wireless, since they were offering me a new iPhone 13 free for switching. I didn’t however tell her that my deal with T-Mobile (for the decrepit like me over age 55) is unbeatable: 2 lines for $70 total for unlimited talk, text and data - including all taxes/fees, in perpetuity - no increase ever before I exit. To get the ‘free’ iPhone, I would have had to pay more than double on a 2 year Verizon contract, with no unlimited anything. So, they were safe all along and it was the only alternative to snark I could manage at that point, I was so emotionally drained.

So, I am writing this in the United Club with three hours before departure for Zurich (if it actually goes on time). At least I have a Premium economy seat at an exit row and, last time I looked, the seat next to me - formerly my son’s - was still empty, unlike the rest of the plane, which is quite full. Anyway, having made this trip 20 or so times, I have a pretty well worked out sleep system. Undocumented engineering abilities permit me to wrap myself in the airline blanket, employing the pillow and an inflatable neck support, so as to achieve a comfortable position - with my head resting against the window. I intentionally keep myself on the slightly dehydrated side (and take a mild anti-coagulant to avoid deep vein thrombosis) so as to not have to practice my usual nocturia; it is a long way, after all back to the toilet. I should add this particular impediment to travel is somewhat ameliorated in those aircraft, like the 767, with only two abreast seating outside the two aisles. My strategy requires a window seat and it is easier to climb over one than over two, unless you can get an exit row - which is not easy. My anesthesiology expertise allows me to live (sleep, in this instance) better through chemistry - as applied judiciously and incrementally to certain mucous membranes - even as the lights are lowered after dinner. I usually get 5 hours and arrive in decent shape.

Do you get the sense that things are fraying, pretty much across the board? I do. This flight, though, I am not in range of an un-contained compressor failure.

(Please excuse grammar, typos, etc. I plead senior moments, physical and emotional fatigue inherent in travel - particularly when it is eventful as here)


In spite of it all, I wish you a pleasant journey!

I always want the window seat too so I can lean against the wall and sleep.
I have to say, one time out of all our travels, we turned left into first class. Bliss. You get your own pod in which you can actually lie flat, a full size pillow…and that’s after the delights of the drinking’ ‘n’ dinin’ offa actual plates.
Anyway, send us updates about your trip!


Good luck in Zurich. One time passing through that place, the Swiss equivalent of the TSA (just like US TSA but without the grace & friendliness) demanded that my accompanying cats in their cat carriers should be sent through the X-Ray machine. I protested, fearing Radioactive Cat Syndrome. But the Swiss TSA supervisor refused to bend. He claimed they had forced human beings with surgical metal plates in their bones to lie on the belt and pass through the X-Ray machine so they could confirm there was no hanky-panky.

Now, about that immobilizer boot on your ankle … :grinning:

Have a wonderful visit with your son!


My fave TSA experience is, after the capsule which scans your whole body, I get pulled over.”Ma’am, you seem to be carrying something metal. Near your crotch. Do you want me to take you into a private room?”

“Just DO it!” I always say, assuming the full spread posture. I mean, duh, the tubby matron can see I’m wearing jeans, and is there anybody on the planet who doesn’t know where the metal zipper is on that ubiquitous garment?
Then after she tickles me, she wipes down my bare hands, presumably looking for traces of explosive residue? Gunpowder?
So: tip to any aspiring terrorist: before you leave the lab: wash those hands!


You know, now that I haven’t flown for so long, I wonder at the faith and courage it takes to go through airport security.
You are separated from your wallet, your passport, your phone, your Ipad, your keys, any loose change (not that there’s much you can do with actual money in an airport these days), your coat, your belt, your shoes! From everything with which you could prove your identity, summon help, or I reckon conceivably defend yourself. There it all lies, heaped in an open plastic bin, jostled by other people’s possessions, sliding inexorably past its now partially denuded, completely vulnerable and unidentifiable owner!
What if Matron DID take me away so she could feel me up at her leisure? How would I ever find my stuff (my self, really) again? I mean if one of her co-workers saw that my things had been sitting around unclaimed for a few minutes, they’d probably destroy it all, like they do with any suitcase which appears to be abandoned.
Then what?
(But, um… It belatedly occurs to me that this isnt very tactful, CW, since you’re in medias res with your journey….relax, I’m sure you’ll be fine…:flushed::dotted_line_face:)


There is a coda. While waiting at gate 90, Newark, it was announced over the PA system that the flight would leave 90 minutes late - no reason spoken. I then got a text saying the same thing. In addition, the text said “delayed because of limited gate space at Zurich’s airport this evening”. Now, the aircraft was there and ready, having arrived at EWR 24 hours earlier as the prior day’s flight from Geneva to EWR. How, I wonder, could a limited gate situation at the destination airport 10+ hours prior to the expected arrival, prevent a plane from departing on time?

More, yet. about 30 minutes after the originally-scheduled departure - there was no PA announcement - I got a text saying the plane was now “less delayed” and we will begin boarding in 10 minutes. Remember, I am wearing a boot to stabilize my left ankle and used it as an excuse to pre board, since I had an exit row seat and two carry on bags; I wanted to be sure there was space in the overhead for both. Well, an over eager gate attendant said, “you can’t sit in the exit row - we’ll have to change your seat”. I said, there was no problem with use of my arms, that I was a pilot and the only thing I can’t do is walk fast. Fortunately, her superior intervened and dropped the matter. I coveted that particular seat for numerous reason I gave while describing my sleep strategy (which worked to the tune of 4.5 hours, BTW). We arrived only 20 minutes late, to an unbelievably long wait to get through passport control. The worst by a factor of 10, compared to all prior trips to Zurich.

Anyway, safely ensconced at my son’s, about to crash with jet lag.


Pleasant dreams!
I find I just hafta relate ONE other airport experience, from back in the days of the USSR…we were in an airport in one of the Soviet controlled countries, I think it was Prague. We had been told, or somebody related a rumor, that we might be strip-searched, and our body cavities probed.
The burly Maitres and Matrons appeared and silently beckoned us to a long row of curtained alcoves, like, what if a department store fitting room were open on both sides?
This is IT, we fatalistically thought: here comes the Vaseline! the first of the travelers in our group went in, and began undressing.
The Cedok (that was the Czech KGB)personnel, if such they were, became puzzled when tourists went in but didn’t come out, and began opening the curtains on the other side. Turns out, they only wanted us to pass through that way.
Averting their eyes, they hastily beckoned for the shedding Americans to move along on down the corridor.


I hope you made it OK.
Tina and I fly to London twice a year for two month stays. She is a Brit. Fortunately we can fly business class for the price of premium economy on British Air using their companion ticket program using their credit card. Having the flat beds really helps although it still takes a week or so to get over jet lag on the SFO to London flight.


manly tears thinking of Wardair