Personal note: I’m way behind and out of order in my trip report writing. I’ll push things out as I can, posting a recap of my entire trip to Kosovo, Tirana and Athens once I’m done. 

What a whirlwind afternoon and evening exploring the Albanian capital. Kosovo was allotted a week, Albania a single overnight. I’ll need to make it back to Albania.

At least the early morning Tirana traffic wasn’t as bad as the previous day’s gridlock. I found myself headed to the airport much earlier than expected, as I needed to obtain a COVID-19 test. It’s fortunate that PCR testing is quick and easy at Tirana Airport. I enjoyed an extended breakfast and a pair of macchiatos while waiting for the results. Everything was going swell.

Until it wasn’t.

Checking In, a Comedy of Errors

The Aegean line was fairly long. The agents hadn’t opened the line for my flight as early as I expected, but it did move along pretty quickly. I got to the counter with a little over an hour before the flight departed.

With my negative COVID-19 test in hand, I though check-in would be a breeze. But I’d forgotten one thing: the Greece passenger locator form.

No matter. I can fill it out electronically on my iPhone. Made me glad I bring it along on most trips, although it sees little daily use.

This is when I’d find out that the Tirana Airport WiFi is absolute garbage. More like dumpster fire. I waited and waited for the page to load. Every couple minutes I’d try to refresh. Even Google.com would barely load. I spent an agonizing 15 minutes trying to pull up the passenger locator form. Filling it out was step 2, and I couldn’t get past step 1.

I ran back to the counter again, cutting into the line (yes, I was that guy for once), to ask the agent how else I could fill out the form. She just shrugged and reiterated I had to have it completed. The only helpful comment was that I could visit the help desk in the corner of the airport.

The Unhurried Help Desk

The clock was ticking. I had all of 20 minutes until the check-in counter closed. Minutes burned slowly, yet all too quickly at the same time.

Amazingly, my stress level was lower than it ought to have been. Could this result in a major loss of sightseeing time? Yes. Could I end up paying far more for a last-minute ticket to Athens? Oh, yes. Would I miss my Emirates flight to the U.S. the following day? Unlikely. That final thought gave me the consolation I needed. I’d get through this.

When there are things you can do, do them. When a situation is outside your control, stop worrying. This is a lesson that I’ve really had to put into practice this past year. This was yet another test.

I indicated the urgency of the situation to the agent at the help desk. He was unfazed. I would get my form at his pace, not mine.

Several minutes later after feeding him all the information, I had my form. It was now five minutes after check-in closing time.

Hoping for a Miracle

I sprinted back across the airport to the check-in desk. It took like 23 seconds (mainly due to the need to dodge people), as Tirana Airport is tiny. The signs were off and the Aegean queue deserted. But there were still two agents there, talking.

I ran up and interjected, asking about the flight to Athens. A curt reply informed me they were clearly closed. Couldn’t I see that??

No giving up now. I explained I’d tried to check in earlier and had to get the Greece form completed. The agent looked down. She held up a printed boarding pass.

“Snyder?”

“Yes!”

Boarding pass in hand, I entered the security line with just 18 minutes until the scheduled 9:55 AM departure.

After security was customs. There was way I’d make it through. I came back to a state of calm while in line, reminding myself that I would sort this out. I’d deal with the pain, both in time and money, when it arrived.

Saved at the Gate

Security was quick, but customs plodded along. I made it through at 9:52, arriving at the gate seconds later. The faces of the gate agents agents were a mixture of surprise and anxiety. I could tell them were looking for someone.

“Mr. Snyder?”

“Yes!”

“Where have you been?! The whole plane is waiting for you! One hundred eighty people! Go!”

Sufficiently chided, I ran, following one of the agents. Ran out the door they opened, ran out onto the airport apron, ran up the stairs. I was aboard at 9:53 AM.

The flight attendants didn’t look all too happy. But I didn’t care. I was more grateful than sheepish walking down the aisle of that Airbus.

Final Thoughts

The entire debacle is my fault. Sure, I could blame the Tirana Airport WiFi (any modern airport should have functioning WiFi). Then again, I absolutely should have had that form completed ahead of time. No excuses. I’d seen the requirement a few days prior but completely forgot about it.

Yes, I held up an entire plane. Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. The A320 wasn’t at capacity. But it was still certainly over 100 folks. I am extremely thankful Aegean held the plane, likely wondering what had happened to me in the rather short distance between check-in and gate. If I’d missed that flight, it would have meant giving up the bulk of my very brief time in Athens before heading home.