Another long post here. I didn't mean for it to be, but oh well. Feel free to skip to the next post with photos!
I have never been so ready to fly home from a trip in my life. We started out bright and early and made it easily through the Novokuzenetsk airport. Our flight left promptly at 7:45 am and we got another nice new S7 plane. The food they served was the best we had on our entire trip although I'm not really used to having steak for breakfast. Martin and I watched a movie and listened to an audio book on my Ipod and that made the four hours pass quickly.
We arrived in Moscow at 8:00 am (remember the time change) and waited about six hours for our flight to the US. We panicked a little when we couldn't find our gate and we couldn't find anyone who spoke English or was willing to help us. The ticket counters are a bit confusing at the Domodedovo Airport. The signs over each counter change constantly depending on flight schedules. For example, we were looking for the American Airlines counter, but it didn't exist. The airline ticket counters aren't permanent like we are used to in America. We had to wait until 2 hours before our flight before the sign over the ticket counter said American Airlines. Before that it had been another Russian Airline.
We finally figured it all out and made our way toward the gate. Again, there was no sign for American Airlines anywhere. The agent told us gate 13, but we both heard gate 30. Needless to say, gate 30 did not exist. Finally, I recognized a sweet grandmother from Florida that we talked to in the ticket line earlier. She was returning from Novosibirsk where she went to see the eclipse. She and her daughter from Texas were sitting in the waiting area near gate 13. We just followed them around from that point. Sad, I know. Martin and I considered ourselves to be fairly seasoned world travelers and here we were following granny to get home.
The security at the American Airlines gate was unreal. They questioned us for five minutes each and asked really bizarre questions. The girl that questioned me kept saying sorry, but we have to ask because it has happened that someone gave a passenger a package to carry onto the plane that contained "bombs and narcotics". She said that at least three times. Then at the gate, they searched everyone's carry-ons and waived the security wand over us before letting anyone in a glassed-in gate area. When the flight got delayed, they emptied the room and started it all over again. Martin was really getting nervous thinking maybe someone had called in a bomb threat.
The 9 1/2 hour flight was okay and I watched four in-flight movies I've been wanting to see. We landed in Chicago and made it through customs pretty quickly. We thought we were home free... just one more quick 45 minute flight left. We knew we were in trouble, however, when we couldn't find our final flight number to Nashville on the TV screens. American Airlines had completely cancelled it. There was only one more flight to Nashville in the entire Chicago O'Hara Airport and naturally it was full. I cried. So close and yet so far. We were put on standby. They took six people from the stand-by list. We were number 7 and 8. I cried again. At least my cell phone worked now so I called and made arrangements for someone to stay with the boys overnight. (Thanks Auntie Bunner, Uncle Michael, and Grandma!) They had to leave early the next morning so we lined up more people to come to our house the next day (Thanks Grandma, Nana, Ms. June and Ms. Sha Sha!)
The airline paid for us to stay at a nice hotel. Fortunately, we didn't check our luggage since it was just two carry-on size suitcases. We were able to take showers and change clothes at the hotel but we had to leave the next morning at 4:00 am (i.e. before the complimentary breakfast) to make our rescheduled flight. In retrospect, I don't think we really need to be there quite so early considering that we were the first people to enter through security that morning. Not even McDonalds was open yet. We must have looked pretty bad, because the guy at Security assured us there was plenty of coffee on the other side. Fortunately, we found a Starbucks right away. Martin said we were doing a World-wide Starbucks tour. We boarded the plane and were seated in the last row. There was a problem with the airline paperwork because two people had the same seat, which happened to be the seat beside us. I thought these guys were going to duke it out, but the flight attendant straightened it out and found both of them a seat. That took about 30 minutes. We taxied onto the runway and the pilot said we were next in line to take off. Then, the engines shut off. The pilot announced that a storm just blew in and no planes were being allowed to depart. He said, "We're going to be here a while so feel free to break out your cell phones." I called my mom and the boys and we talked for about 45 minutes.
We finally took off after about an hour and flew right over Nashville. Martin, being a former paratrooper in the 101st Airborne, was ready to jump out of the window. We landed in Atlanta and of course had missed all American Airlines connections to Nashville. I cried. They sent us over to Delta for a flight that left at 6:00 pm. The ticket lady at Delta said she couldn't put us on standby for an earlier flight because we weren't Delta customers. Delta's policy is to reserve stand-by status exclusively for its passengers that miss connections to give them a better chance of making it on the plane. I explained that we had been in Russia and had been trying to get home for the past 30+ hours and that were adopting a little orphan girl and we had four young boys at home with no one to care from them. I would have cried, but at this point, I was numb.
Yes, I pulled out the adoption card and it worked! The Delta ticket lady told us about her sister that had adopted from Russia a few years ago and another family from her church and how well the kids were doing. Then, she said there was a code she could put in that would override the policy and allow us on the stand-by list. She put us on three stand-by lists and wished us luck!
We finally touched down in Nashville late Monday afternoon. The boys met us in the driveway with hugs and kisses. Liam, my four year old, told me we had been gone for 1 million, 2 hundred, 3 billion, and 42 days. It was wonderful to see their smiling faces. My mom had cleaned the house and made everything look really nice when we entered. You know that lasted all of five minutes, but it was still very nice. There's no place like home!