As I got to my seat on the plane taking me from Barcelona to London, an elderly woman was desperately holding her plane ticket in the stewardess’ face while speaking in some eastern European language. The stewardess was desperately trying to tell the woman that she didn’t understand the language the woman was speaking. I interrupted the situation and blandly told the stewardess, “She’s going to Prague and she’s worried that she will not make her connecting flight in London.”
Suddenly the woman turned to me, thinking I spoke Czech, and pushed her ticket at me. I then found myself desperately trying to motion to the woman that I didn’t speak Czech. Through body language, I got the woman to calm down and showed the stewardess the proof in the ticket that the woman was indeed going to potentially miss her connecting flight to Prague.
The stewardess, Britishly, asked me, “Do you speak Czech?”
“No,” I replied, “I just heard her say the word ‘Prague’ and since I am probably going to miss my connecting flight to Prague, I just guessed that this woman is worried that she will miss the same flight.
“Ohhh,” said the stewardess with some sort of amazement in her voice.
That was just the beginning.
The Czech woman took a liking to me and suddenly, with wide eyes, I had agreed to rush through Heathrow with her in an attempt to make our connecting flight. Chances were that I couldn’t run fast enough on my own to get to my connecting gate, let alone with a tiny 60 year old woman flanking me. Regardless I wasn’t gonna leave her stranded, how difficult could it be?
We were let off the plane first and rushed down the miles and miles of terminal passageways only to find chaos at security. (yes we had to pass through security again)
“No Druggas! No Druggas!” The woman accentedly kept telling the security agents while she kept attempting to grab her bags from them. Meanwhile, they were wondering why this random American girl was hanging around waiting for this random Czech lady who was giving them so much trouble. There was no telling her to calm down, she still thought we had to hurry to catch our flight, which, at that point, I realized we weren’t going to board. No big deal because at least my luggage would be going with me to Prague.
In questioning me, I honestly responded with hands confusedly in the air, “Our airline requested that I stay with her.”
“Then tell her to we have to check her bags,” the security guard told me.
“I Can’t, I don’t speak her language, we’re just on the same connecting flight,” I said, palms up with a shrug.
After rolling his eyes, the security guard got someone to pull the woman from her bag as they checked it. All the while, the woman was telling them, “No Druggas! No Druggas! Aeroplane, Aeroplane” as she pointed in the direction of the terminal.
After security had checked her bags and found no druggas, I took her straight to the ticketing counter (as I was instructed to do had we not made our connection) to get the tickets issued for the next flight available.
The ticketing agent indicated that the woman had reserved a wheelchair and wanted me to ask her if she still wanted to use it. I tried explaining to yet another person that I don’t speak Czech, but the ticket agent said, “We need to know if she still wants to use it.”
Creatively I tried speaking in body language by making a sitting motion and waving my hand in a circular motion around where my knees bent, only to get a blank stare from my new found Czech friend, who kept pushing her passport at me, “Passa? Passa?” Apparently she had no idea that a wheelchair was ordered for her. Even drawing a wheelchair on paper didn’t set off any light bulbs. So I asked them to bring one out for her to see, upon seeing it, her face lit up and she pointed to me saying “aaahhh,” as if to say “That’s what you were asking.”
She tapped my shoulder in thanks but indicated that she didn’t want to use it.
I was hoping my duty was done at that point, but more work was to be done. The ticket agent asked, “Since you’re on the same connecting flight, would you mind showing her to the waiting area? She seems quite attached to you.” I agreed, wondering how these airlines function without traveler assistants who actually get paid to do this sort of thing.
By the time we got to the waiting area, I was exhaust as I usually am when confronted with situations requiring all my attention to be focused outside of myself.
We sat down, she grabbed my pillow (I travel in comfort) and jacket from me, and indicated that I should go look at all the shops and that she’d stay and watch my things. I took my backpack (I wasn’t going to leave everything with her) and went to the bookstore. After buying a Czech to English mini dictionary I returned to my friend with the page open to the translated word for “food” to see if she was hungry. Then to “water,” then “bathroom.” She assured me she was fine, but took the little book and found the word for “name” and I told her my name was Stephanie, she brightly repeated back “Steffie” as she motioned her hand toward me, then said her name (which I don’t remember) as she motioned with her hand towards herself. I shook her hand with smile.
For the next three hours we took turns going through the dictionary, communicating through single words. Eventually we made it to Prague where I met up with my American friends. While waiting for my bags the woman came up and introduced me to her family members who met her at that airport, they all said, “Thank you,” as if I was some sort of hero.
And that was what happened on my way to Prague.