Flying to Europe | Nan McKay


I finally closed the suitcase and loaded the suitcases into Uber at 6:00 AM for an 8:00 AM flight from our airport to our connection in San Francisco. As we sat at the United gate, the clock ticked past boarding time, and I started to worry. We had a reasonable connection in SFO. I checked on the delay and the connection as the time seemed to fly by. Finally we boarded, about 45 minutes late. 45 minutes, chewing up the connection time.

When you have this kind of delay, you worry about two things: am I going to make my connection and will my baggage be transferred to the next flight.

When we landed, we rushed to the gate for Newark, knowing we were pushing the envelope. We boarded with - literally - 2 minutes until takeoff. Holding the plane when you have a tight connection rarely happens, but what helps - 1) They could see we had an international connection 2) We were in First Class (sorry - but it makes a difference) and 3) I have frequent flyer "status" on United.

When I entered the plane, I was impressed. I am rarely impressed with flying. I have logged over 5 million miles with American, 2.4 million with United, and countless other miles with other airlines. I have flown First or Business class many, many times. I have flown international Business Class many times. But I was impressed.

I didn't expect United Polaris, although I've wanted to experience it for a long time. Polaris is United's premiere business class and the epitome of classiness. It is normally only available on international flights, but here was on SFO to Newark (EWR).

The first impression was a sea of blue lights. Gorgeous blue lights.

Each seat was a separate pod with considerable privacy from others.





Your plug-ins are behind you, along with your headset. You have a separate compartment door for your belongings as well as a shelf below the TV where I put my iPad mini for reading.

Each seat has 2 pillows and a blanket. Each first class seat has a body harness that goes over your shoulder in addition to your seat belt.

The seat reclines into a bed - a full, lie-flat bed. Your feet fit under the TV monitor as the seat reclines.


The meals are pretty much the same as normal First Class, but the bathroom on the plane is larger than normal.

The temptation is to sleep, but when you realize you are still in the United States and you have the international portion of the trip still to go, you know you can doze, but you should stay awake for the majority of the flight.

Why? Because there is always a 6-9 hour time difference when you fly from the U.S. to Europe. To fully take advantage of your trip, you need to stay awake until the night of wherever you land.

When we landed in Newark, we were 36 gates from our international flight. Newark has become a huge airport with a throng of people, scurrying everywhere.

The first thing I do when I am traipsing from one gate to another is to scout out a cart. We walked . . . and walked . . . and walked. No gate WITH DRIVER in sight. Lots of carts, parked but with no driver. Is this another staff shortage issue?

We finally reached our gate and took a minute to look around.  The little old grungy Newark that I remembered has turned into a sophisticated lady. It's huge with tons of people, places to eat, and gates everywhere.

The flight from Newark to Bergen, Norway, was labeled Polaris but was very different from the blue-lighted Dreamliner. We had 2 seats together and they were again lie-flat seats, but not nearly as spacious. Regardless, we slept much of the way and, in the morning, landed in Bergen.

But, alas, no bags. I had emphasized packing for 2-3 days in case our suitcases didn't arrive. After many phone calls and a trip to the airport, after 5 days, mine was spotted. But not Jim's. He hadn't heeded the 2-3 day warning and, after 5 days in Bergen, he was still wearing the same shirt.

We left the Moxy Hotel in Bergen on the following Saturday with one suitcase and two carry-ons and flew to Reykjavik, Iceland where we were to meet Teri and Terry, our friends, for a few days there before we boarded our cruise.

I had asked Teri if she could shop in Chicago for a couple of shirts for Jim on her trip to Iceland. She arrived on Sunday with great shirts and jackets which helped tremendously. We also did a little shopping, hoping every day for Jim's suitcase.

Right before we left to get on the cruise ship, the airlines called and said Jim's suitcase was in Bergen. We were not, of course. They sent the suitcase to the cruise ship and, shortly after we boarded, the suitcase actually showed up!  We could hardly believe it!

Tips for your Carry-on Baggage:

  • Pack enough clothes to last for 3 days.
  • Pack an additional toothpaste and shaving cream small enough to get your carry-on through security.
  • Pack your toothbrush and razor.
  • Pack your pills - all of them
  • Pack your makeup, your curling iron, and your comb and brush.
  • Know how to contact the baggage claim area and keep your bag tags handy.
  • If your bag doesn't show up in 3 days, go to the airport and search yourself. You wouldn't believe the number of bags that are in the delayed bag area!
  • Realize that if you have 2 connections to make, if one of your three legs is delayed, there is a very good chance your bags will not be with you upon arrival.
  • Don't give up. Call the airlines every day for a status update.
  • Let the hotel and/or cruise ship know your baggage situation. On a cruise, when you have boarded sans suitcase, tell your room steward immediately.

I think the biggest factor in finally getting our suitcase is that we had 2.5 days in-between the time they found it and the time we boarded the cruise. The suitcase had to get from Bergen to Reykjavik to the cruise ship. When it has to be handled by all those hands, it is very precarious!

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