When departing for a vacation, you’re generally in a “happy place”. The troubles of everyday life are lifted and you embark on your holiday with a sense of lightness and enthusiasm for the adventure ahead. When trouble presents itself in the form of delayed flights, missed connections and opportunities lost, it’s easy to become stressed, downtrodden and full of angst.
I was full of smiles and breathless with excitement (albeit rather hungover from my Hohoto antics the night before), when I arrived at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport on Friday, December 17, 2010. With good reason too, I was about to jet across the Atlantic to experience Christmastime in Eastern Europe. My destination was Munich, Germany via Copenhagen, Denmark and if all had gone according to plan, I would have been in Bavaria by Saturday morning.
Unfortunately, fate decided to intercede, throw bad luck my way, test the limits of my patience and disrupt my perfect vacation.
As the plane began to taxi down the runway, the pilot received an equipment failure signal that mandated a return to our gate. By the time a team was brought in to troubleshoot, find the source of the problem, bring in replacement parts and repair the issue, the crew of flight attendants and pilots also had to be replaced. All of this took 4 very long hours.
You think, so what? A 4 hour delay? Not such a big deal, Cheryl. Yes, I know. These things can and should even be expected to happen. Equipment can fail, humans are not infallible, and our safety is paramount. I’m profoundly grateful the airline took all necessary means to remedy the situation.
However, 4 hour delays are not fun when:
- The person next to you is extremely affected by the situation. Imagine constant complaining, moaning, sighing. The negativity spreads like a bad virus and you suddenly feel yourself experiencing his/her stress.
- The pilot informs you that the plane will be taking off in 30 minutes. After hearing this 3-4 times, you begin to lose faith and get annoyed.
- You’re parched and it takes 3 hours to get a glass of water.
- When the pilot finally announces that the plane is ready for take-off, he announces the re-routed flight added on an extra hour to the journey.
- You know that you’ll miss your connecting flight and it’s high season. It’s natural to worry about how quickly a new flight can be arranged, for how long you’ll be delayed, and when you’ll arrive at your destination.
Finally, we were on our way.
I started to feel better after consuming some food and drink. It’s amazing how a couple glasses of wine can make things alright again.
Not able to sleep, I took in a couple of good movies, wrote in my journal and stared out at the skies, greeting dawn as she slowly worked her magic. I always book a window seat for this very reason. Watching the beautiful transformation from darkness to light never fails to amaze me.
Morning came and the flight attendants reassured us that the airline was working diligently to ensure that those of us who had missed our connections would be provided with alternative flight options. The moment we got off the plane, someone would be there to hand us a new boarding pass.
We landed in a rather snowy Copenhagen around noon. I didn’t think much about the weather at that time, as I was happy we had landed, I could get up, walk around, stretch and proceed with the next part of my journey.
Well, Air Canada lied. Or SAS lied to them (our flight was operated in conjunction with Scandinavian Airlines). After clearing security, there was no one to be found. There was no there to hand us boarding passes, instruct us where to go or what to do.
After asking around, we were told to go the SAS desk. There, you take a number and wait in line so you can speak to someone to have a new flight booked. My number was 703 and they were at … 40. Progress was slow, so slow it seemed that I would be spending the night in the airport.
Some airports in Europe were closed down due to bad snow storms. Even some trains had been canceled. I met people who had been stuck there 3-4 days and without their luggage. It wasn’t looking good for any of us. I felt the onset of a mild panic attack. Would I ever be able to escape Copenhagen?
What did I do? Well, I first had lunch with 2 other people from my flight and consumed more wine. It was a hilarious coincidence that we all worked IT so we had a great conversation. We pondered how we could remedy our situation. Was there a way to avoid waiting in the long queue? There had to a better option.
Some people were smart. Another girl from our flight seized opportunity in a rather ingenious way. Someone’s number was called and wasn’t around to answer the call. She went up to the desk in his/her place and pretended it was her number, claiming she lost her printed ticket. They believed her story and booked her on a flight leaving that night. While what she did wasn’t nice (she budded in front of other people who had already waited several hours or even days), I admire her nonetheless. I was jealous actually – she was leaving Copenhagen and I wasn’t.
My newly friends and I decided to walk around the airport. By the time I did finally leave Copenhagen, I had explored every single part of the airport!
We saw a SAS lounge and asked if we could use their facilities – they had public PC’s and phones available for use. We were refused because the lounge is reserved for business and first class customers only. I even offered to pay for use of the services, but I was stilled snubbed.
I thought about calling Air Canada, but waiting times on the phone were 1 hour or greater. There was only one pay phone and the queue for that was very long too.
I had my laptop, so I could have connected to the airport’s wi-fi and tried to work out something online as by this time, I was even willing to pay for a new flight. I had my Blackberry too, so I could have called a friend and asked them to call Air Canada on my behalf. In the end, it didn’t matter as my laptop and smart phone were both low on battery. My stupid mistake was not bringing my chargers and International adapters with me, they were tucked away with my checked luggage.
Lesson learned. Always pack charges and international adapters in your carry-on luggage.
A miracle occurred when we spoke to a man at the Information Desk. He explained that there was another SAS area in the airport where the waiting time was only 2-3 hours! The only caveat was that if you went to that section of the airport, you could not return to the other section without a valid boarding pass. I sheepishly admit it took us a couple of hours to find it, but we finally did.
After a mere 2 hours, I finally got to speak to an agent and have my flight re-booked for 1 PM the following day. They even put me up in a nice hotel, the Radisson Blu, gave me dinner and breakfast coupons and taxi chits for the ride to/from the airport.
I attempted to see if I could retrieve my luggage but it would’ve involved waiting in yet another long queue. Tired from not having any sleep the night before, grumpy and stressed out, I was in no mood to do such a thing. I headed off the hotel sans luggage around 7:30 PM.
After checking in, taking a shower, getting a hold of my travel agency, delivering a message to the tour company that I would be late, and having a lovely sushi dinner at Restaurant Kyoto (Copenhagen’s only restaurant offering teppanyaki style dining), I was ready to hit the sack.
As I laid in bed, I reflected on the crazy events of the past couple of days. I regretted letting my stress overwhelm me at times, wished I had complained a little less but was happy that I was resourceful and persistent enough to find a way to avoid spending the night at the airport. I did manage to remain positive and was very polite to every single person I dealt with, especially SAS staff who had been dealing with stressed out people for days on end and other stranded passengers who had been there much longer than me.
I admit to being completely heartbroken that I was missing out on the first 2 days of my tour (which I had paid good money for), meeting my group and experiencing München (Munich) but thought it would give me a very good reason to return to Germany someday (and trust me, I will). I was still hopeful that I would at least be able to take in some beer before starting the next leg of our journey to Prague, Czech Republic.
Resolved to wake up the following day with smile, I’d promised myself I’d buy a new outfit at the airport and treat myself to a lovely breakfast. I thought of the overused cliche “tomorrow is a new day” and fell fast asleep.
As luck would have it, the next day did turn out to be much better. Stay tuned for next blog post where you’ll read about my very brief time in Germany which involved beer drinking antics, a Bavarian dinner and a wild ride along the Autobahn!