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Comedy of Errors - My Travelling Saga

As the crow flies, it is about 1000 miles from Vienna to my house in Britain. This is a long way if you want to walk it, and even a long way if you want to drive it, but it's pretty short if you want to fly it. A flight between Vienna and a UK airport takes a couple of hours. Why then, did it take me 26 hours to get home for Christmas?

On Monday 21st December at 1445 I left the house in Vienna and headed for the airport. I took the S-Bahn to the airport, which despite going the long way round, was fine. After coming up numerous escalators, I headed for the KLM check in desk, and that's where the problems started. Everyone now is going towards self check in, so I headed for the self check in computer. I typed in my details and it said that I could not check in there, printed me off a piece of paper which said I had to report to the desk, so I did. At the baggage drop off desk the man looked through my paperwork and then sent me across to Ticket Collection, opposite baggage drop off.

At Ticket Collections I gave across my paperwork and the following conversation ensued.
'Where do you want to travel to?'
'Manchester'
'Via Amsterdam?'
'Well I don't have to go by Amsterdam'
'But you want to go to Manchester?'
'Yes. Well, I could go to Birmingham but I don't think you fly there'
*raised eyebrow*
'Yes, I want to go to Manchester'
'Do you have to go via Amsterdam?'
'No'
'Are you able to go via Brussels?'
'I guess so. I didn't really want to go to Amsterdam anyway, I just want to go to Manchester'
'Ok. I'm booking you on this flight to Manchester via Brussels. It's with Austrian Airlines so go over there and check in but hurry up it leaves in an hour.'
'Ok'*

With that I took my stuff and ran over to the Austrian Airlines desks. Again though they have all self check in, which I now didn't even know if I could do, so wanted to speak to a person. Eventually I found one, as did another man who had been sent over from KLM because his flight had been moved like mine. We both went down to the desk to check in (we were sent down the business class line) and discovered that we were supposed to originally be on exactly the same flight - KLM Vienna to Manchester via Amsterdam - and had both been moved to exactly the same flight - Austrian Airlines Vienna to Manchester via Brussels. I checked in with no problems and headed down to the gate to go and wait for my flight. It's quite a walk from the check in desks to B33 (I'm sure A and C aren't as far...) but I got there in plenty of time, took a trip to the toilets (because time was getting short) and then popped to the shop opposite the gate to get a bottle of water for the plane. Here things got a little worse for when I went to rummage around in my case for my purse, I noticed that familiar ripping sound and realised I now had a ladder in my tights, running the whole length of my leg. Thankfully you couldn't see it because they were under my jeans (it was cold) but that's beside the point.

Drink bought, I went to sit in a chair at the gate. After a few minutes the plasma screen said we were boarding, so people started to queue up, but no-one moved. Me being me stayed in my seat just watching, and rightly so, becasue no-one in the line moved for 30mins! However, who should end up standing directly infront of me in the line, none other than the man I'd seen at check in. We started a conversation again and he was telling me about one flight he'd taken on 23rd Dec one year where everything got wrong and there were a load of them wondering whether they would get back to Manchester or not at all. Through all this we kept checking what was happening, but nothing was happening. Time moved on and 15 mins after our flight was supposed to leave, we were all still waiting at the gate. Just after that, we all started 'boarding' which required us having our passports and boarding passes checked before going onto a bus and getting taken over to the plane. Honestly I don't mind climbing the steps to the plane, rather than going down the tunnels, because it makes me feel a little bit cool (though there's never anyone there taking pics of us like they do of celebs etc) but when you're doing that in the dark and cold and it's snowing on you, you really don't want people holding up the line to get on the plane, because it's absolutely freezing.

On the plane I sorted my stuff out and waited for takeoff. After a while of nothing happening, the Captain came on the tanoy and introduced himself and the staff and said that he was sorry for the delay but that was caused by the plane being late in, so we were then late on the plane and they also had problems with the paperwork for the flight, then us getting on the plane took time and that coupled with the weather made us miss our departure slot so we had to wait 15mins for another departure slot. He asked us to all remain seated on the plane so that should another slot open up before ours, we could take it, but we could only do that if everyone was on the plane. The air hostesses came around with glasses of water for us if we wanted some, while we were waiting. 20mins after the captain's original message, he came back on the tanoy and stated that we should have left but the push back cart, which moves the plane into a position where it is able to use its engines to move itself, was broken so they had to wait for a replacement push back cart. It was then that I turned to the man Id been talking to in the terminal (he was sat on the row infront of me) and said he'd jinxed it. We laughed it off.

A little while later we took off and the flight was uneventful. The most amusing thing was that the Serbian man next to me, who spoke German, was asked what drink he'd like in English and I was asked in German! The other amusing thing was the food they gave us. I can honestly say I've never had anything quite like it before: A tuna egg mayonaise sandwich and a triangular pot of yellow. The sandwich was... odd... and the triangular yellow was, well, yellow. I don't entirely know what it was but it was yellow. And triangular.

Anyway, skipping a bit, the trouble continued when we got to Brussels. Because of the hold ups in Vienna, the transfer window for catching the next flight was rapidly shortening, so the man spoke to one of the air hostesses about it, and asked what we had to do/where we had to go for our connecting flight, because he'd not been to Brussels airport before, and I hadn't done connecting flights before. The air hostess said she didn't know but that there would be an attendant when we got off the plane who would be able to help us. So, we touched down in Brussels and taxied round for what felt like ages to get to the terminal, all the time watching the transfer window time slipping down. We finally stopped at 2020 and everyone collected their stuff from the overhead lockers and prepared to leave the plane. After a few minutes of everyone standing in the central aisle, the captain came on the tanoy again and informed us that we couldn't get off the plane because there was a problem with the tunnel that should have been moved to connect with the plane to let us off: it hadn't moved. He said he had informed the airport that the tunnel hadn't moved and was hoping that they were sending someone to sort it, but so far no-one had come. It was at this point that I decided to sit down again and again I looked at the man in front and said he'd jinxed it. I started staring out of the window again and ended up watching little men in bright jackets wandering around. 3 people in a white van sat laughing at us stuck on the plane then finally two men ran up the stairs to the tunnel and started pressing buttons etc to get it to move towards us.

By 2030 we had managed to leave the plane, giving only 10mins to catch the connecting flight, which was really cutting it fine. Nevertheless, we'd been told there would be someone telling us where to go for our flight, so we might still be ok, but when we got off the plane, there was no-one there. The man found a man at a desk and asked about our flight to Manchester. The guy at the desk pointed us in the direction of 2 ladies who'd just asked about it and said to be quick. We caught up with the ladies who weren't walking very fast, who said that he'd also said the last call for that flight had just gone out. At this point myself and the man literally ran off down the airport to try and catch the flight. I can tell you that running through an airport is not only tiring, but makes you hot. Try doing it carrying a small case, a laptop bag and a camera bag whilst wearing 3 layers of clothing and a coat (and scarf!). You melt (and end up in pain). Up and down escalators, along coridoors, around corners, along moving walkways, we 'ran' miles from one side of the airport to the other side to try and get to gate B93. I say 'ran' because I got too tired to run by the end of it and just tried walking quickly (luggage gets heavy). We were going ok until we had to go through the security checks again which really held us up. I lost the man through there and just carried on by myself. Following the signs to B93 I went round and round and up and down trying to find the gate. Every turn I made I kept thinking I'd see B93 but no, it was elusive. I felt like I was running to a gate that I'd never find. Finally I got to the B section but annoyingly it starts at 1 and goes to 98... on and on I ran down the coridoor going past numerous early gates and lots of people on the moving walkways, somehow managing to have the forethought to call 'excuse me' just ahead so they'd moved to let me through by the time I got there.

Finally I saw the sign for B90-98 and turned off down there. Here I met up with the man again because he'd managed to miss that sign and had run down too far. Down the ramp we went, then down more steps and around more corners. We reached the door to the room where the gate was as one of the flight staff was coming out. He asked us which flight we wanted and we told him the Manchester one. He said we'd missed it. He said they knew there were 4 of us who wanted it, but they'd waited as long as they could but they had to go. We missed it by 10mins. The flight actually left at 2054 and we were at the gate by 2105. In fairness, it wsa probably better to have missed the flight by 10 minutes, rather than 1 minute, but it still doesn't feel good to have missed a flight! At least it wasn't our fault! We then had to explain to the flight attendant what had happened and asked what to do next. He explained that we needed to go to the Austrian Airlines desk in departures and speak to them about the flights. Not knowing Brussels airport at all, we asked him how to get to departures and he told us we had to go out through arrivals then go upstairs to get to departures, but thankfully he showed us the way back from the gate, because otherwise we'd have got quite lost.

Somehow me managed to make it to the carousel at arrivals but had no luggage to collect because we didn't know where it was. For all we knew, it could have been on its way to Manchester at the time. Either way, we came out of arrivals and were faced by loads of people waiting for their loved ones. It's quite scary seeing so many of them watching your every move... especially when you don't go and meet anyone, you just walk down past all the people! We found the exit then had to work out how to get back up to departures. I will never forget the look on the airport man's face when we asked how to get to departures after coming out of arrivals.

Back in departures we headed for the Lufthansa desk because we were told that they were handling Austrian's ticketing. When we reached there, we found other people from our flight who had missed their connecting flight - 2 Irish men and a Japanese lady, all trying to get to Scotland. They wanted the Edinburgh flight, but the men were going on to Glasgow afterwards. We got talking with these people, and then the two ladies we'd passed earlier, who wanted the Manchester flight caught up with us and joined us in the queue. It was in this queue that I ended up having lots of phonecalls, trying to update my dad with what was going on - he was supposed to be going to Manchester to collect me, but thankfully I stopped him before he'd even left town, so he didn't have a wasted journey. In 40mins I moved all of about 3 squares. There were squares on the floor. Some people decided to sit on the luggage trolleys while we were waiting. I don't know how comfy they were but I didn't dare sit down because I wouldn't have wanted to get up again afterwards!

Skipping forward a bit, after over an hour in the queue we finally made it to the desk and the 4 of us who wanted the Manchester flight went up together. We said we'd missed our connecting flight because the one before was delayed and handed over our tickets. The lady looked at them then said 'but these are Austrian tickets. This is Lufthansa, we don't do them' So we told her we'd been told to go there and she checked with her colleague, who told her that they were doing Austrian tickets. There was also a sign up saying that Lufthansa were dealing with Austrian Airlines ticketing. After much faffing and more waiting we were finally rebooked onto a flight with Brussels Airlines which was due to leave at 0940. Then they decided that we had to be booked into a hotel for the night, so they printed off some pieces of paper with information on about our flights, scribbled a code on the bottom (that was the hotel voucher) and told us to head down to flight care to sort out our hotels. Surprise surprise we had yet another queue to wait in there, so caught up with our friends from before.

After yet more waiting and paperwork and faffing around they finally managed to book us into a hotel and the 7 of us from our flight all got booked into the same hotel. We asked about our luggage and the people at flight care told us that it was downstairs but that we were advised to go and find it, rather than just telling the people at check in that it was downstairs. So off we went, back down to arrivals. However, we had to get through to the carousels, and how do you do that, from the other side? Well, you walk back up the arrivals area, past all the people waiting for loved ones (who are also watching your every move and who are wondering why on earth you are going the wrong way in arrivals) and go and speak to the nice policeman. You tell him you need to find your luggage then show him your ticket and passport to prove that you should be allowed through and he lets you go back through to look for it. However, when we got through, we were not expecting to see what we saw. Hundreds and hundreds of cases lying around. Cases on closed carousels, cases by the walls, cases in lines, cases stacked on cases. The room was huge too. Several carousels in there. I took some pictures but it was pointless taking lots because you just end up with loads of pictures of cases, and there were just loads of cases around! Not knowing where to even start looking, we found the flight care people we'd been told to find and asked them about it. The man there asked us for the tracking numbers we had, which he then checked on the computer. My luggage apparently had already been moved to the relevant part for my flight the next day, because it was already on the system, so I didn't need to worry, apparently, but the ladies weren't so lucky to start with because he couldn't find their luggage to start with. If you've never realised what the tracking numbers on cases were for, they are for times like this and boy are they helpful! The man did say that we could get our luggage back then, if we wanted to, but it could take a few hours, so we decided to leave it and just go back upstairs to flight care to let them call a taxi for us.

We finally managed to leave the airport by 2350 knowing that we had to be back by 0800. I think we made it to the hotel by about 0010 and well, it was pretty shiny! It took us a while to sort out rooms but eventually we got it sorted and agreed to meet in the bar afterwards. We had vouchers for an evening meal as well as breakfast, but because it was so late, we literally had to raid the bar for food. We had the last 3 pizzas in the hotel between 5 of us (the 2 ladies didn't bother coming down), and the barman was really nice and was giving us big drinks when he should have only given us small ones with the vouchers. We left the bar at 0140 ish when a man came in to clean it, though we'd been sat in semi-darkness before! Also, us being random, decided to toast to... I can't remember what... but we toasted with beer and cups of tea. Yes, we are random :D
I went to bed by 2 but my alarm went off at 6.30. I only managed to sleep about 2.5hrs though because I was worrying about my luggage (and generally being annoyed that I didn't have any stuff for stopping overnight). Gotta admit it's weird brushing your teeth by having some minty tic tacs (didn't have a toothbrush or toothpaste and was lamenting the fact) but in times you just have to go with it. What's quite sweet is that when I went to give my key back which I did before breakfast, so I didn't forget later, is that the guy on reception (who had booked us in earlier) was asking how I was. I said I was tired and he told me I looked tired (gee thanks) but then he started asking about the flights etc and mentioned about the shuttle bus and how the 0710 one is busy but the 0740 is apparently ok (we wanted the 0740).

Back at the airport at 0800 the man and I, we'd decided to stick together as it had accidentally happened that way anyway, went to check in. We spoke to some people from Brussels Airlines becaue we weren't sure which desk to go to (and didn't want to try self check in after all the problems) and they sent us to a desk where we essentially ended up queue jumping, but well, we were allowed to. It took a while for all our stuff to be sorted and we made a queue because of it. Actually checking in was ok, but the man at check in had to call some people because our tickets were blocked because we were still booked on our original KLM ones or something. Nevertheless, this was a man who knew what he was doing and he sorted it all out. We even asked about the luggage and the man checked the tracking numbers and said it was all fine so we could go.

Took a slow walk to gate B93 after, stopping off en route to take pictures and look in the shop, things we'd not done the night before on the run through the airport! Took some more pictures of the snow at the airport when we got to the gate before going on the bus to go to the plane. We boarded the plane as usual and were then told that we had to wait to be blasted with anti-freeze before we could take off, so more waiting but it is really weird being blasted with anti-freeze! The little man in the booth on the machine was wearing a santa hat too, which amused me. After that we took off with no problems and we finally thought 'Manchester here we come!' but that wasn't the end of it all. After about 10mins of being in the air, the main air hostess (who was the one in my half of the plane) went through to the cockpit to see the captain. I know this because there was a gap in the curtain and I could see through to see out the front window (which I found really, really cool). Anyway, she came back as the captain turned down the engines. The air hostess told us that we had to go back to Brussels because there was a technical problem and we couldn't go any further. It was then that the 4 of us from the Vienna flight groaned and laughed collectively. Our journey to Manchester really was jinxed. We mentioned this to the air hostess and she explained that there was nothing they could do, they had to go back to Brussels which was only 10mins away. 25mins later we were on the ground, but we had come down so very, very slowly that we hardly breaked when we touched down. It was also then I concluded that very slow descents do not agree with me because I was in agony for it.

Anyway, we landed back in Brussels and taxied around for ages to get back to a parking place. Throughout this time the captain came on the tanoy and said that they were waiting for ground control to get back to them on things, but that they were hoping to get another plane for us. When we finally stopped, ground control came aboard and after a few minutes talking to the staff we were informed that they had another plane for us, the one next to us, but we had to wait for the bus to come because we weren't allowed to walk between the two planes for safety reasons. Long story short, we did change planes after a while and were sat there waiting for our luggage etc to be moved across. They told us that we should be leaving in about 30mins time, we were just waiting on baggage handlers but 40mins later they hadn't appeared. Eventually we had everything moved across and again we were able to take off at 1315. I don't know how we managed it, but when we were booked onto this flight, we weren't booked in the cheapest seats, we were up from them. We weren't business class, we were just behind business class. We were given food on the plane, but those in the cheaper seats behind us had to buy their own if they wanted it. It was pretty cool when we realised about that.

There weren't any problems on this part of the flight until we were over Britain. We slowed down quite a lot, and were just killing time on the route to Manchester. We started thinking there were more problems at Manchester again and thats why we were slower and circling (we weren't even by Manchester then). I discovered later that they told people at the terminal they were thinking of re-routing all flights to Aberdeen, which I think explains why we slowed down! When we finally touched down in Manchester I think the 4 of us nearly cheered. There had been so many times en route that we thought we were never going to actually make it, and then we were finally there, it was so odd. All we had to do then was get through passport control and go and see if there was any chance of finding our luggage! Somehow my luggage came through first, out of the 4 of us, and I am still amazed I got it back, and with everything still in it! On closer inspection when emptying the case, one of my mugs got broken, but only one of the 9, and knowing what my case had been through, I'm amazed it was only the 1! In fairness, they had to come back anyway, so if it broke it broke. One is ok after everything.

I think that's it all now... the rest of the time making up the 26 hours (thats on European time, so if you do the 1hr time difference for GMT its 25, but I'm still on Austrian time so...) was my journey home in the car. That was mostly ok, but parts of the motorway were rather busy, but nothing epic like the flights! We did see a white van get stopped by a police car though - the white van tried to drive down the hard shoulder because the motorway was slow but the police caught him. Definitely hats off to them!

SO... yes. How does a fairly simple journey turn into 26hours? Well, like that.

Here are the pictures to go along with it: http://www.flickr.com/photos/papersheep/sets/72157623056302752/ Sorry no shots from Vienna, then we didn't know it was going to be like this, plus it was dark and much as I love watching out of the window and following the lights, you can't take pictures like that, they just don't really work. If you do go through the pictures, make sure you read the captions too, especially for some of them!


*It turned out that the reason we were re-routed to go via Brussels instead of Amsterdam was because there were too many people in Amsterdam and they didn't want to put others in there.


Lets hope I don't have a repeat of that on the way back!

Comments

( 4 humble opinions — Your humble opinion? )
loveberlinxo
Dec. 23rd, 2009 09:17 pm (UTC)
Oh god that made my stomach hurt. I would have had an epic breakdown around the time of the plane going back to Brussels. And if my flight had been rerouted before reaching Manchester I would have just started wailing right there in front of everyone.
notoriousreign
Dec. 23rd, 2009 09:39 pm (UTC)
GODDAMN that's hectic. ><
zeraparker
Dec. 24th, 2009 11:15 am (UTC)
Oh god, you make the Odyssee look like a weekend trip! *cuddles you*
valdary
Dec. 26th, 2009 11:33 pm (UTC)
You must have been so tired.

We were watching your progress on twitter & fretting about you, especially as some other people were having major weather problems travelling and getting stranded!

May all your future journeyings be uneventful and pleasant
( 4 humble opinions — Your humble opinion? )

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