14 April: Europe liked me so much that they didn’t want me to leave!

After a whirlwind five days (or so… hey I’m still jet lagged) in Lyon, France, it was time to come back to Phoenix.  I got sent a “time to check-in” message 24 hours before flight, but that was 12 noon, and I was at the HVSE lab at Alstom Villeurbanne… and they don’t have WiFi for my phone 🙁  They do have wired Internet… if you have an Alstom computer… which I did, but it was late afternoon when I tried it. 

Because the first leg of the journey was Air France, you go to their web site to check in – fine.  It was confusing (even in English) but I got to a part where it wanted not only my passport information (the passport itself was safely locked in the hotel safe but I have all details in my LastPass Vault for just such occasions) but also my Visa or Permanent Residency Permit detail…  Curses, I don’t have my TN visa information on my Alstom computer, so that will have to wait.

We worked til 7 PM when our time ran out, security was locking the place down, and we had to leave.  This time, the taxi back to the hotel was a van – nice and spacious for once – and I asked the fellow to come back at 09h30 the next morning to take us to the airport.  He agreed.

When I got back the hotel, I went straight to the computer and checked in.  Or, rather, I tried to check in.  Again it wanted the Visa or Permanent Residency Permit… and this is a TN Work Visa under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA, remember that?  Brian was good for something!) – I am most certainly not cleared for permanent residency!  [I get reminded of this from time to time when I get denied bank credit because of this]   So, it says “See an Air France Agent at the airport”.  Well, you know me, I get stressed about such things… so I grumbled and sighed, and kind of said, “oh well”.

The morning of our departure, I zipped around, mailed some postcards (that’s another blog post altogether!) and was ready to leave at 09h30.  The van didn’t show up, it was a small car again 🙁  apparently the other driver’s brother.  Sigh.

Our taxi made a quick stop at the security gate at Alstom Villeurbanne, so my colleague Sam could get the power adapter plug that she’d left at the office the night before, and away we went to Lyon-Saint Exupéry Airport (LYS).  We had made sure that our taxi would take a credit card, because our cash was running low.

At the airport, we did the usual “American fool in Europe” credit card dance.  Wave the corporate American Express card, nope they don’t take that.  Give them a personal Visa card.  Didn’t work.  Try a different personal Visa card.  Oh, wait a second, he’s putting the card end into the machine – and US credit cards have no chip!  Ugh.  I tried to tell him in my broken French that there was no chip, he’d have to swipe (we’ve had that happen before) but soon it became obvious that this credit card machine didn’t have a swipe slot – it was chip or nothing.  What a time to leave my Canadian credit cards at home!  I’ll take them next time.

The driver’s brother showed up – the one from the night before.  He couldn’t help.  (his machine had a swipe slot, but maybe there’s something that prevents them from cross charging?)

So we start scrounging the money.  57€, I had 40€ in notes and Sam had a 5€ and a ton of change.  She started counting the change.  When we got to 50€, the driver said, “Enough, that’s OK!” but we kept counting.  [At that point, he unlocked the doors – I had not even realized they were locked!]       We got to 55€ and then it was just small coins.  He was happy to see us go, I think 🙂

At the airport, the agent was polite, seemed to struggle a bit with my check-in, but gave me my boarding pass for all three flights – Lyon to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Minneapolis, Minneapolis to Phoenix.  I checked my one bag and saw it go down the belt.  It wasn’t until the middle of the first flight, that I realized that the agent had not given me my bag tag.  Curses, sure hope it shows up, because now I don’t have a claim check 🙁

We had a tight connection in Amsterdam, although you wouldn’t know it from the schedule – we had to walk for miles, pass through (another) security check, even though we had not gone out of the security zone, up, down, across, ugh… and once we got to the gate, they were already calling zones!

There apparently is another level of security check before you can get on a trans-Atlantic flight.

First up, an agent takes you aside and asks about your checked luggage.  She wanted to see my bag tag, and was aggravated when I said that I didn’t have it.  She insisted that I look in my pockets, on my passport, on my boarding pass… then went to speak to the supervisor… then came back and gave me the 3rd degree about, you know, “Did you pack your own luggage?  Did anyone else give you anything to carry?  Were they ever out of your possession or control at any time?”  Then fine, continue on.  Whew!

Not so fast.

There is a second waiting area for boarding.  In order to get into that boarding area, they take your passport & boarding pass, then scan your boarding pass on some kind of a laser scanner (like a supermarket bar code reader).  Everyone else’s said “OK to Board”, so then they went into that second waiting area.  Mine said “Denied Boarding”.  For this station, there’s only one line, so folks are backed up behind me.

They tried and tried, went over to the computer and typed and typed.  Asked me my address, checked my birthdate, etc.

I stepped aside as best I could (with my UGH carry on with two laptops and various other junk in it!  And of course the CPAP machine) and they continued.  The supervisor came over and they tried and tried.

It took about 15 to 20 minutes to straighten things out.  It seems as though, for the purpose of international immigration, the TN Visa is actually classified as a permanent residency permit.  Ha ha, joke is on me. 

Now you go through another security bag check and body scanner.   At least now I’m in the real boarding area.

After a loooooooong flight across the Atlantic, we finally arrive in Minneapolis, where we have to go through US Customs & Immigration.  There are two lines – one that clearly says “U.S. and Canadian Passport Holders” and one for everyone else.  Where do you think I went?   Cool machine, you put in your passport, it asks a bunch of questions and takes a photo of you from above, then prints out a slip that you take with you up to the booth.

The guy asks, “So you are going home to Canada today?”  
Of course, I answer “No, home to Phoenix.”  
His eyes narrow, “Where do you live?”  
I give my address in Phoenix. 
“How do you do that, do you have a visa?” 
“Yes, you just flipped past it, there it is.” 
“You have a TN Visa?  You are supposed to be in that line over there.”
I roll my eyes (oops).  “Well it said U.S. & Canadian Passport Holders.”
“Not if you are here on a TN Visa.”

He gave me a bit more of the gears, then  finally sighed and just let me through.

A few minutes later, miracle of miracles, there’s my suitcase!  As I strut toward the exit, another agent steps out from the side, and asks me to submit to secondary screening.  Now, you don’t say no to a customs & immigration agent, especially in this country.  So, I said, “sure”, with a smile.

That turned out to be a non-event.  He asked a few questions, put my bags through yet another scanner – although thankfully I didn’t have to take the laptops out this time, nor have to half undress or empty my pockets.  Then I was off to drop my bag on the belt for the next flight.

Wait a second – I don’t have a bag tag for it.  I asked the attendant at the belt if they would re-tag my bag… or else I could photograph the tag and its bar code, I suppose…   she reached down, pulled the tag off (it was still on the strip) and put it on my boarding pass!  Yikes 🙂

The rest was largely uneventful.  We had to go through full security screening again (I moaned and was told it was because we had had access to our bags which might have items that are not allowed on the plane), then went to the gate, where I had a drink!  Oh yes, and now that I’m back in the USA, my CDMA phone starts to work again – so I got a ton of E-mails and messages.  Ah, the connected world we live in!

Leave a Reply