Beyond the need to vent about the experience my family and I just had, I suppose I write this in empathy for the thousands of other families who suffered a similar fate this week.
Of course, I’m writing about the epic failure of the European airline system, and the untold numbers of families who weren’t reunited on either side of the Atlantic for Christmas as a result.
Our journey to North America was intended to start with a flight to Heathrow from Prague last Monday. Then a non-stop flight on Tuesday morning to Halifax, Canada.
The reality: our flight to London was cancelled. We managed, thanks to a resourceful travel agent, to fly to London Luton that night on “WizzAir”. A Hungarian airline that clearly has no plans to serve North America given the term “wizz” stands for, well, having a pee.
A $100 taxi ride later and we were nicely ensconced in our Heathrow hotel. The lobby of which looked like a refugee camp; dozens of dazed and confused travelers milling about wondering whether they were going anywhere. And surely some of whom had been there since the Friday before, when all of this mess broke out.
Come Tuesday morning, our flight to Halifax had been cancelled. We waited all day to hear from the travel agent about alternatives. As in, any desitination in Eastern Canada or Northeast U.S. Zippo. Nada. Nul. Air Canada said the earliest available flight to Canada would be December 30th.
Meanwhile, we were looking for another hotel for the night. The one we were in would gladly put us up another night at double the cost. My son wanted to stay; he couldn’t get enough of jumping between twin beds in his adjacent room to ours.
So, another $100 taxi ride to a more distant outpost hotel from Heathrow.
By Tuesday afternoon, hope was lost and it was more a question of whether we could even get back to Prague.
Tuesday night we decided that living well is the best revenge. And hopped a train into London for a great curry meal and some relief from the four walls of a hotel room. On the ride back, a friendly train-mate charmed our son. It’s these random encounters with interesting people that make travel worthwhile.
Wednesday morning arrived with a 5am wake-up call and a trip to London City Airport. We had secured a flight to Amsterdam, with a connection 6 hours later to Prague.
Another $100 taxi ride later, and we arrived at the airport. If the hotel lobby at Heathrow was like a refugee camp, then the scene at this airport was like the evacuation of Saigon. Thousands of distressed
refuguees travelers queued up in the cold outside the terminal, unsure of how & when they could enter and check in.
An hour after we arrived, the police showed up in force. Somebody wisely surmised that with this many people, and this little coordination of the queues, something nasty could occur.
2 hours later, we reached the check-in counter. Bags piling up in heaps. Children crying (including my own). Airline employees busily conferring, trying to figure out what to do in the face of utter, systemic break-down.
Once aboard the plane, the captain announces that bags had been loaded for passengers not on board. A major security no-no. 2 hours later, every bag was finally accounted for.
The rest of the day was mostly without incident. We spotted some cots and blankets in use at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam. More signs of the European air travel melt-down.
On arrival in Prague that night, we simply assumed our 4 checked bags were lost, perhaps forever. Miraculously, 3 bags arrived and only a child’s car seat was missing.
So it was the Christmas that wasn’t. But the story ends on a better note. As expast are wont to do, we have invited some friends for Christmas dinner, secured a frssh turkey to cook, a couple of magnums of nice Italian wine, and many other delicacies.
Christmas might not have come off to plan, but the company of friends in a foreign land and the comfort of good food will soften the disappointment of missing one’s family.
May the thousand of others so affected this week be as lucky as us. God speed!