When about to study abroad, there are a number of things that might make you nervous. I know I was nervous about a lot, but my most immediate stress stemmed from the flights. Unless you’re from a city near a major airport and studying abroad in a country close to your own, you’ll likely have to get a connection or two, and in many cases an overnight flight. My flight plan was to start off in Pittsburgh, fly to New York City, from there fly to Rome, and finally fly from Rome to Naples.
Connections and overnights can be nerve-wracking, especially if you’re an inexperienced flier. For my part, I had a fair amount of flight experience: I’d been on an overnight flight before, as well as flown connections, but on all of my past flights, I had been in a group with someone else leading the way. Here I was all on my own.
It started off fairly easy. The Pittsburgh airport is fairly straightforward once you get through security. All the gates are in one terminal, so as long as you follow the signs, you’ll find your way to your gate.
This flight was a good warm up for my first air travel alone. I got through security and to my gate without trouble, and though there was a twenty minute delay to departure, we still arrived at JFK at the same time as planned.
Then I entered JFK, and that was where things got complicated.
JFK’s international terminal is separate from the rest of the airport. Because of where my flight landed, I first had to take a shuttle to a different terminal. From there, it took asking many, many employees of JFK for directions (I stopped counting after the fifth) to finally find out that I had to exit the building, walk down a street, and cross a road to enter my terminal. And because getting to my terminal required leaving the rest of the airport, I had to go through security for a second time.
As I was waiting to do this, I received an email that my flight was delayed by three hours. By contrast, the overhead displays claimed my flight was on time, but at a different gate.
I asked multiple airport employees about the issue, and received a different answer from each one of them. I eventually met up with another student I knew that was going to be on both the same study abroad program and on the same flight to Italy. By pure luck, I discovered an Alitalia representative (Alitalia being the company the flight was through) by our meeting place. This Alitalia representative clarified at last that the flight was delayed, and that the gate was being changed and would be announced shortly. She was even able to print me an updated boarding pass to reflect the updated departure time.
Since the delay meant I’d be missing my connection in Rome, the Alitalia representative assured me that once I arrived in Rome, the Alitalia employees there would have already made arrangements for me to get to Naples.
When at last I arrived in Rome, at around 9 AM local time the next morning, I was met by an airport employee that told me Alitalia had arranged for a bus to take me to Naples instead. Though the bus ride was two and a half hours, it was faster than waiting for the next flight to Naples, which wouldn’t be until after 5 that evening.
So my last flight of my trip turned into a bus ride instead. But despite all the chaos, the traveling was easier than I had stressed it would be. Here are a few tips for coping with getting to your location and travel plans going awry:
Remember that whatever problems you’re dealing with have happened to other people. Missing a connection, a delayed flight, or lost luggage may seem like a big deal to you, but they happen dozens or even hundreds of times a day.
So don’t be afraid to ask for help. Any situation you’re in, airport employees have seen it before, so ask as many questions as you need. I had to ask more than five different people for directions to get to my terminal, but you know what? I made it to my terminal.
Be prepared. Make sure to keep anything you’ll need for your first few days in your carry on, and portable phone battery packs are a lifesaver. Think about your travel plans before you leave, and make sure to take whatever you think you could need in an emergency.