Do you know that Milan, Italy has two airports? I do. Do you want to know how I know that?
This is a story about stupidity and customer service. It’s about this one time when a group of strangers took on a series of Herculean tasks to ensure our happiness, for no other reason than they were amazing at their jobs. And it happened in Europe of all places, a continent generally reputed to have little to no regard for stupid Americans, which by the way, very much describes Cathy and me in this story.
We were two stupid Americans enjoying our first real adventure together: eight days and nights in Italy. Cathy had been studying the Medici Family and wanted to see where it all happened. She was 21, I was 23, it was January of 2000.
The trip went smoothly. For two people who didn’t speak the language, we managed to eat and drink our way through Rome, Florence, and Venice without any major hiccups. Cathy even caught a gypsy right before she reached into my back pocket. It was bad-ass.
Milan was our last stop. We treated ourselves to a nice hotel because the rest of the trip was all youth hostels. We saw Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, took pictures outside Teatro Alla Scala. We ate like kings one last time, then we fell asleep, very much ready to go home.
The next morning, we took the train to the airport. (Well, “an” airport…) We arrived on time and walked to the Lufthansa desk to check in, heads high, chests out. We had conquered Europe, or so we thought.
“Yes, so, this flight is actually taking off at the other airport,” a very polite Lufthansa counter agent told us.
“Uhhh…” we replied.
“Yes, Milan has two airports. Linate, this is where you are. This airport is for short international and domestic flights. Your flight to Frankfurt actually takes off from Malpensa.”
“Uhhh…” we replied.
“It is about 60 kilometers outside of town,” she said.
“Uhhh…” we replied.
You know how they tell you to arrive at least an hour earlier for international flights? This is why. Fortunately for us, it was clearly not this counter agent’s first rodeo. She sprang into action before we had time to pick our jaws up off the floor.
“So what I would recommend now is that you go out to the curb and get a taxi and ask him to drive you to Malpensa airport, yes? I will call the Lufthansa desk there and let them know that you are coming.”
I cash-advanced my last credit card to the limit and we lugged our suitcases out to the curb. We hopped in the first cab we saw and blurted out something like “HI WE NEED TO GO TO MALPENSA WE CAME TO THE WRONG AIRPORT OUR FLIGHT LEAVES IN AN HOUR WE NEED TO GO TO MALPENSA.”
This cab driver, God bless his little Italian heart, saw the panic in our eyes and heard the fear in our voice and peeled out of there like we were in a God damn James Bond movie. We’re sitting in the back of the cab, going through all of the worst-case scenarios. There was no trip insurance. When you miss your flight because you’re an idiot they don’t exactly refund your money for you. That would mean another $700 each probably for a flight, and more food, and probably a hotel room for a night or two because it’s not like we could just hop on the next flight out of town…
And then we hit traffic.
My man slows to a crawl and starts banging the steering wheel and cursing (I’m assuming). Cathy and I look at each other. “It’s over,” I tell her. And then, I swear to God, he does this thing where he looks behind him, looks ahead, looks behind him again, looks ahead, flicks on his signal, says something super cool sounding in Italian, and starts driving down the shoulder. Yes. Yes he did. It was amazing, I’m pretty sure we cheered.
A half hour later we roared into the airport. Our flight was leaving in like five minutes. He pulled up in front of Lufthansa, slammed on the brakes, popped the trunk and ran around to get our bags. We threw literally every Euro we had at him and said “Grazie!” like a dozen times. I wanted to hug him but we didn’t have time. As we ran from the cab to check in, there were, I swear to God, two Lufthansa counter agents outside waiting for us. The agent back at the first airport totally came through. (“Yeah, so you’re going to have a couple of stupid Americans pulling in in about an hour…”)
We barreled toward them and the one’s eyes got super huge and she’s like, “Frankfurt? Americans? Linate?” And we’re like “YES” and she said “FOLLOW ME!!!“
And we started running through the airport. I mean, we’re hurdling suitcases like O.J. in a Hertz commercial. These Lufthansa guys, they didn’t care about anything except getting us on to that flight. I’m not even sure we went through security.
We got to our gate and the door was closed. The jet way was gone. I looked at Cathy and said, “Well, we tried.” And then another Lufthansa agent said, “Come with me, please.” And, I swear to God, we went through one of those employee-only doors, down to the tarmac, and into a stair car that was waiting for us. The stair car drove toward our plane, which was sitting patiently on the runway. We got out, climbed up the stairs, and a Lufthansa flight attendant opened the door.
“Hi, thanks for flying Lufthansa today.”
We got on the plane and 300 faces looked up to see two sweaty, red-faced, tear-streaked Americans. Another flight attendant took our bags, we took our seats, and collapsed into a mess of tears and hugs and relief.
“I can not believe that just happened.”
“I know. Should we give them our first-born?”
“I think we have to.”
Sorry, Nate. You’re now the property of Lufthansa Airlines. A deal’s a deal.