Sunday, October 18, 2009

How KLM added 24 hours to my 12 hour journey home

I finally feel like writing about my journey home. It's really interesting, but not a nice thing to think about since it meant the end of my 3-month "holiday" in The Netherlands.

I was due to leave on Sunday night (11 October) from Schiphol Airport at 9pm. Eenbrauw Ruben had very kindly offered to bring Schrobbenmaster and I there, so, knowing we had a heavy Samsonite and a piece of too-heavy-for-my-shoulders hand luggage to lug to the airport, we accepted his offer.

After checking in my Samsonite (with lots of prayers hanging over it, since it had to keep my brand new LCD TV in pristine condition), we had some Starbucks before walking to the departure area. Lots of goodbyes and tears later, I walked alone to my gate, which was really really far. Really far.

Schrobbenmaster had loaded a few shows for me to watch on the mac, so I started watching Saturday Night Live to pass the time and to lighten my spirits. Kept watch on the time, and as it drew closer to boarding time, I started wondering why there weren't any announcements yet. I'd got texts from Schrobbenmaster telling me that it had still been raining heavily outside when he left, but according to (I'm guessing every Dutch person's Top Site), it should be over shortly.

Finally, a few minutes before boarding time, there was an announcement for our flight. Not with the news we were all expecting!

"Ladies and gentlemen, there will be a delay with our flight as there has been a strike to the aircraft."

"Oh shit, the flight attendants and flight crew are on strike? Until when?? I wanna get on that plane now!"

"I'm sorry to inform you that there has been a lightning strike to the aircraft."

"Oh shit! Lightning strike?? Is this for real? I'm not getting on that plane!"

"So we are inspecting the plane now and to see if there are any repairs needed. We don't know any more than that for now, so please excuse us and be patient while we wait for more news."

Well, being patient took about another hour. Then the announcement came that they still don't know what's going on, and that the inspection is still underway. Then another hour goes by and they announce yet again that the plane is not ready, but they have found a replacement aircraft. Phew!

Too soon.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we are still inspecting the aircraft, but we have found a replacement that can leave shortly. However, as our aircraft was a 777-300 and the replacement is a 777-200, we regret to inform you that a few people will have to be left behind. And by a few people, I mean one hundred passengers."

Silent scream (but trying to look calm and cool on the outside, for what reason I've no idea).

So not only did some of us have to be left behind, but we still had to wait for this replacement to be inspected and ready.

They finally announced that we had to bring our boarding passes to the gate and only there would we find out if we were on this flight. And they don't know how the machine chooses which passengers go. I wonder how true that really is.

So begins the one hour queue to the front of the gate. And I find out that my name is, of course, not on the list to leave that night. So there I go joining another queue for the rejects, who have to stick around until the plane leaves because there is "a possibility that you may still make this flight". That was just total crap. Because I was one of the last few at the gate when it was calmer, I managed to ask if there was any chance of me getting on later, and the lady smiled sympathetically and said, "Probably not.".

(Wow, I just gave a deep sigh sitting here remembering that scene.)

In the rejects queue, we received compensation forms (5 euros of phone calls, how little! And some 10 euros for food in the airport), and directions to the counter where we'd receive a hotel voucher for the night. They also told us that our replacement flight would be on MAS at noon the next day, so we had to be at Schiphol again at 9.30am for check-in.

By that time, of course, Schrobbenmaster already knew the situation and he was looking for the next train to Schiphol to accompany me and make my night better. It was already 1am by that time, and because of the usual chaos with trains and buses, he could only get there at 2.30am.

I just walked downstairs to get my voucher. I was directed to passport control, but I wasn't sure if I had to go through, so I walked to the two counters which were still manned but completely free of passengers, and asked, "Do I have to go through you?" And he replies, "Yes, otherwise we wouldn't still be here.". How rude. Did I ask to stay here 4 hours longer than scheduled?

Anyway, after getting my hotel voucher, I walked back out to the terminal and looked for a toilet because I really desperately needed it. After relieving myself, I looked for the shuttle bus stop to check the timetable, if they still leave at 2.30am. It was 11 degrees and raining outside, and I was only wearing a t-shirt, because I'd left all my jackets in Rotterdam. So unfortunate. So I braved the cold and walked in the rain to the bus stop, where there were about 15 people waiting as well. I found out that the shuttle only comes when called, and up to 2am, so no luck there for Schrobbenmaster. We decided that I should just follow everyone to to the hotel and check in, and he'd find a bus or a taxi to go there when he got to the airport.

After all that drama, I finally was able to rest in my hotel room at 2am (after having a quick bite at the cafe and chatting to other stranded passengers), take a nice warm shower and change into a dry t-shirt that came in the care pack they gave to all the left passengers.

Schrobbenmaster finally arrived at 2.30am, having had some luck with buses and timing. It was so nice to see him again, some comfort in a time of distress.

I set the alarm for 8am and tried to sleep as soon as possible because I was already tired and there wasn't much time to rest.

At 7.30am, I got a call to the room, and I thought it was a wake-up call, so I picked it up and guess what I heard......

"Good morning... your flight has been delayed. You're now leaving at 9pm tonight, so you have to be at the airport at 6pm later."

"Wh... what?" Bear in mind I only JUST woke up and was hearing such important news. "There's no flight at 12pm? And I'm leaving at 9pm?"


"So do I stay in the hotel room?"

"Yes you can stay in the hotel until 6pm."


At least I could sleep again.

I found out later that some passengers had managed to fit onto the noon flight with MAS. So I was, in fact, doubly rejected by the machine to leave NL.

Sigh, long story short, I stayed in the hotel all day. Schrobbenmaster went to work for a short while, but left early because he had gotten sick and was throwing up. So he came back to the room and slept all afternoon. I had nothing else to do but sleep, so I slept as well.

Finally, it was time to leave, and the whole farewell scene repeated 24 hours later. Except that this time, Schrobbenmaster was pale and sickly, and I was eating fries because the hotel had grossly lousy food and I was in need of some hot food.

This time, the KLM flight I was on left on time and everything was spit spot perfect. Except that I'd lost my aisle seat that I booked for the original flight, and now had to sit in between a French dude and a Dutch dude who almost got into a fight with the flight attendant for wanting to use the loo when the seat belt sign was on.

Oh, I forgot to mention that I checked at Schiphol if my Samsonite was on the flight with me, or if it had gone to KL on the original flight. Everyone was saying "Oh, they'll offload your luggage and it'll be on the same flight as you". But never believe their crap. In fact, the check-in woman was really resistant to checking my luggage's location and wanted to do things all her way first. Finally, she had to admit that my bag was, in fact, already in KL, and that I should just go straight to the office to pick it up.

What a relief! At least they hadn't lost it. And it meant that I wouldn't have to wait at the carousel, where my luggage always ends up being one of the last few loaded onto the belt.

Tired fingers now. That's basically my whole adventure, trying to leave The Netherlands. It was frustrating and worrying, but at least I could spend one more day with Schrobbenmaster (even if it was in a strange place, and he was sick).

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