I can't promise that the telling of this story will be entirely coherent. The experience of trying to board that plane was one of the most stressful of my life! I'll do my best to make this clear but also succinct. Actually, there's no way this will be succinct. It should probably be two or three parts but I don't have the emotional fortitude to live through it over several days, so here it is, all at once. I'm basically sorting through this experience even as I write it.
As you may recall, I ended up having my home doctor in Sharjah fill out the required Emirates Fit to Fly certificate (obtained on their website). After a phone conversation about my condition and how I was feeling, she completed the certificate, emailed it to me, and I printed it out. It looked exactly the same (except for the issue date) as the certificate I had on the way from DXB to SEA. I had had no problems presenting that same certificate format at the airport in Dubai in July. Emirates Airlines employees had asked to see it three times (at the check-in desk, at the gate, and as I boarded the plane itself), but at no time did it raise even a single eyebrow. It was business as usual in July in Dubai.
I'm just trying to set the stage for my expectations regarding presenting the certificate yesterday in Seattle. I knew there was plenty of flak that could be given, but I wasn't sure which direction it would come from, and I did not fully consider the possibility that I would be denied boarding altogether. After all, I was in full compliance with the guidelines stated on Emirates' own website.
The trouble started at the check-in desk. The head clerk (I'll call her Angie) took one look at me and gave a huge sigh. Seriously. I think she had already had a busy day and was not looking forward to the additional hassle (me) that had just showed up in her line. She took the certificate from me and said she'd be back in 10 minutes - apparently, she had to present it to someone else to have it approved. I wasn't worried at all at this point. In the meantime, we got our bags checked and our boarding passes printed out.
Angie came back and did two things that made my heart sink: she told the luggage clerk to mark our bags as standby and not put them on the conveyor, and then she pulled me aside, away from Jeremy and the girls, to talk to me (my mom and dad, thankfully, were also at the airport to make sure all went well). Angie told me she couldn't let me on the plane because my doctor's note was not printed on letterhead. (She also mentioned the smaller issue of the doctor's stamp/seal not showing up when she copied the note. I wasn't really concerned about that because you can always change the darkness/intensity settings on a copier.)
Already, at almost the first hurdle, I faced a choice. Instinctively, I sensed it was an important one. I knew I was right, meaning I knew that I was using Emirates' own form, according to their own policy, as stated and obtained on their own website, as I had done on the DXB-SEA flight. But I felt that I needed to be very careful in how I said this to Angie, because I realized I needed an advocate at this point, not an adversary (and hooboy, how this ended up to be true!). So as nonconfrontationally as possible, I offered to show Angie where I got the form. Thankfully, she was very welcoming of that suggestion. She walked me back to the Emirates office behind the check-in desk and, on an employee computer, I showed her the policy and the form.
This seemed to help, though quite a bit more time passed before she re-issued our boarding passes (they had been taken away at one point - I eventually lost count of how many times that happened) and sent us to the gate. She said someone at the gate would need to confirm my Fit to Fly certificate, but at least we were making some progress.
We rushed through security (talking our way into the Premium line because time was running out) and to the gate. I thought some dude would be there to do a quick once-over on the note and we'd be free to board. Instead, we waited and waited and waited as everybody else boarded the plane and Angie (my BFF from the check-in counter) kept tabs on what was going on.
A bit more about Angie: I'll save the technical details for the letter I'm going to write to Emirates Airlines, but my impression was that even though there were half a dozen agents at the gate, Angie was the only one qualified (?) or authorized (?) or willing (?) to deal with me and a great many other last-minute problems that were presenting themselves at the boarding area. There were double-booked seats and people not showing up who should have, and people showing up who shouldn't have, and it seemed at times that Angie was the only one dealing with any of it. Angie seemed to realize this, too, and we witnessed a few tense moments between Emirates gate agents.
For the four of us, of course it was beyond stressful to just be sitting there, waiting to be told our fate, as the gate area emptied of passengers. Several times, Angie left and came back. As I recall, she was conferring with the airplane's purser about my condition. Finally, she told us that I would not be allowed to board. (This was the second of many times that I would hear this, the first time being at the check-in desk.)
Jeremy and I decided quickly to at least put him and the girls on the plane. We said a quick, uncertain goodbye (much like the one we'd given my parents at the security line), and they got on the plane without me while Angie went into the system to have their bags put on the plane and my bags pulled aside. My heart just about broke. I had thought I was stressed before, but I had to work very hard at this point to remain calm and collected and the picture of Fit-to-Fly-ness.
The purser himself eventually came out to talk to me and told me again that I wouldn't be allowed to board. He said it was a very long flight, and I was very pregnant, and they were still uncomfortable with my note not being on the doctor's letterhead. We went back and forth a few times and I remember saying to him, "my family is on that plane. My home is in Dubai. Please let me go home." He left again but things seemed very hopeless.
Left by myself, I had a few quiet moments to reflect/freak THE HECK out about what was happening. Whereas before, our worst-case scenario seemed to be that I would get on the flight the next day at the latest, realization was slowly dawning on me that these people did not want me on that flight, period, ever. Allow me to walk you through the implications of that happening: I would have to give birth away from home, without my husband and kids near me, and then sit and wait for travel documents to come through, which could take months. Not a happy prospect, especially since it was unplanned. Not at all.
Angie showed up again, but to my dismay, it was to answer some radio calls about the plane being "complete" - which she confirmed, without looking me in the eye - and that they could close the doors and luggage hold. She told me to have a seat over in the gate area but I said no, I'm standing right here (basically right in front of the boarding bridge walk thing) because I'm getting on that plane. One of the other agents nearby kind of gasped and said she was so impressed with my positive attitude. I guess she doesn't know desperation when she hears it! It was very clear to me that I was not getting on that plane unless I made it happen, and I wasn't even sure that was in my power.
It was at this time that I thanked God I had made a friend of Angie and not an enemy, way back when at the check-in counter. There were six (or so) agents at the gate. Five of them were half-heartedly wishing me luck and shooting me sympathetic but helpless smiles. So I turned to Angie and pleaded, "please, go fight for me. My family is on that plane, my home is in Dubai. Please help me get home." Bless her heart forever, she said OK, and turned immediately and ran - ran! - back on the plane.
A short time later, the head flight attendant (not the purser, but a woman wearing a higher-level stewardess outfit) and the captain of the plane himself (!) came out to talk with me. The captain told me he could not let me board. The flight attendant told me she could not let me board. Very kindly, the captain explained that this was a 14.5-hour flight, with much of the flying time being over the North Pole, etc. He said that the decision to not let me board was for my safety. The flight attendant concurred, and added that my certificate was from a doctor in Sharjah, which concerned her because it meant that I had not been examined in person (this was the difficulty I had anticipated but this was the only time it came up, and only briefly). Without going into all my failures trying to see an OB in the US, I told her confidently that the OB in Sharjah was my personal doctor who had seen me throughout the pregnancy, and that I had discussed my condition with her over the phone. Both the flight attendant and the captain seemed to be relenting ever so slightly as I told them more details. The flight attendant asked me a few questions about my previous labors, which I answered (I have no history of pre-term labor; in fact, Magdalena was born on her due date).
I added that I had all the paperwork Emirates required and that I was well within Emirates' guidelines for flying while pregnant. I asked them what I could do to give them more confidence that I was fit to fly. I offered to see an airport doctor. I offered to run a lap around the gate area, which made them laugh and actually (and oddly) seemed to improve my case's standing with them. Also, since they hadn't heard it before, I said again that my family was on that plane and my home was in Dubai and could they please help me go home?
At last, at last, I heard my first kind-of-yes from someone in charge, and it was the only one I would get. The captain said again that he was just trying to protect my safety. The flight attendant agreed. Then she kind of nodded her head and said I could board.
In a flash, even before I could really understand what was going on, I had my boarding pass handed back to me and I was walking down the plane walkway with the captain and head flight attendant behind me. I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. In 10 seconds, I had gone from being told "no" by every single person with any kind of authority, to walking on the plane to join my family and go home. It was 6pm, 15 minutes after the scheduled departure of 5.45pm.
I had not seen Angie since I had begged her to go fight for me, and I didn't see her after I boarded because the flight took off almost immediately. I can't be sure that her efforts helped me, but I believe they did. She did for me what I could not do for myself, which was present my case to the purser and captain - repeatedly.
Two strange things: First, I cannot for the life of me recall where in the timeline this fell except that it was after Jeremy and the girls got on the plane, but at some point the purser or captain (a male, anyway) radioed to the gate and asked what my nationality was. They told him I was from the US. I have no idea if that helped or hindered my cause. Anyone want to speculate? Second, once I got on the plane (and oh what a sweet reunion it was to see Jeremy and the girls again, after realizing that if things continued on a certain trajectory I might not see them for months!), the flight attendants were so conscientious of my care. One in particular took me under her wing for the whole flight and made sure I had plenty of water and anything else I needed. It was a complete reversal of the pre-airplane attitude of Emirates, which was that I was practically anathema to them.
In conclusion: I don't often show an overtly spiritual side on my blog because that is just not how I roll. But I want to let you all know that I absolutely felt the influence of others' prayers on my behalf. I don't know how clear all of the above story is, but you should be able to decipher that I was told many times that I could not get on that plane...but I got on that plane. It shouldn't have happened, but it did. I believe this was a direct answer to the prayers of my parents, Jeremy, both girls, and myself. I am so thankful to God that he helped our family stay together and come home together.
Because I have never, EVER been so happy to be home! And with all our bags, can you believe it? Our luggage was put on the flight and pulled from the flight so many times it made my head spin. Same with our boarding passes. I was sure something would go astray.
I said jokingly at the end of my post about doctors' notes that this should be a lesson to us to never leave home while pregnant again. I am considering getting serious about that sentiment, but modifying it to be to never count on boarding an international flight while 30+ weeks pregnant. The end.