Volcano Vexes Travel Plans

July 15, 2010

in Delay/Cancellation Stories

We were returning from a wonderful vacation in Greece in early May. We left the states two weeks after the volcano starting erupting. I had checked Delta’s website every day since the volcano started erupting and there was only 1 day when either of our flights outbound or returning were delayed by the volcano. That one day only had a delay of about 1 hour. I guess the JFK to Greece flights were able to fly far enough south that they were not impacted.

Anyways, our day started off very early in Santorini. We were up at 4:30 am (8:30 pm EST) to catch a 7:00 am Aegean Airlines flight from Santorini to Athens. It took the ticket agents 30 minutes to check in our bags because they were having computer problems. Not a big deal because we had plenty of time at the airport. After rebooting the computer systems, they were finally able to check our bags in all the way to our final destination which was Columbus, OH (CMH). We board the flight, which although was listed at 45 minutes, is only about 25 minutes actual flight time. This flight was no problem. We head into the airport which was fairly quiet, grabbed breakfast, and spent our remaining Euros on baklava and other stuff to take back to the States.

We eventually head to our gate for our 11:10 am departure to JFK. Granted we are a bit early, but I know that the flight from JFK is supposed to land at 9:30 am. Nine-thirty comes and goes and no plane and no announcement of what is going on. The plane from JFK finally lands about 11:00 am. I am a little worried because we have a 4 hour layover in JFK. This normally is plenty of time to clear customs and make the connection, but I am hoping for the best. It is close to 12:30 pm when we finally board. Once everyone is on board, the doors are closed, and we pull back from the terminal, the captain comes over the intercom to update us. The inbound flight was delayed because the ash cloud had drifted south and the flight had to go south of Portugal to avoid it. Unfortunately, the ash cloud had continued to drift south, so going south is no longer an option. We are going to have to fly north. And by north, the captain says north through Europe, north of the Volcano/Iceland, over the polar ice cap, then south through Canada and finally into JFK. He estimates this is going to add 2 hours to our flight time, making an 11 hour flight now a 13 hour flight. And to make matters worse, there is a very narrow flight corridor available for all of the flights out of Europe and we will have to wait on the ground for 1½ hours before we can take off and hit our flight window. There goes that wonderful 4 hour layover.

The pilot comes through the plane to talk to the passengers and answer questions, which I thought was a nice move. He is explaining to almost all the passengers that the computer will automatically rebook everyone for the missed connections and there should be someone on the ground to explain the options once we clear customs. Oh and that Delta will pay for everyone who needs one to stay in a hotel. Right. Like I believe that. He does have the flight attendants do a limited drink/snack service. I am sitting in row 25 of the plane, so about 10th row of coach. When the flight attendant reaches my seat, I suggest that they turn on the entertainment system so we have something to distract ourselves with and not keep harping on the attendants. She thought this was a great idea and said she would look into this. I can’t believe none of them thought of this. They do turn the system on and we settle in for a wait. I think we finally took off from ATH around 2:30 or 3:00 pm. The flight itself, while long, wasn’t bad.

We land in JFK around 7:30 pm, right when our connecting flight is supposed to take off. Oh well, off to customs. I have to say this only took about 1 ½ hours, which is the fastest I have cleared customs in JFK. Oh, I should mention that the zipper on my checked bag is now broken. It was fine when I left Santorini so many hours before. On to the Delta desk to recheck bags, get rebooked on flights for tomorrow. There are only 2 or 3 agents working the desk and the line looks like it will take at least 2 hours. I am trying to call Delta or my travel agent on my cell phone, but there is very spotty reception down there. After we are standing in the line for 30 minutes, I look over at a flight board, and lo and behold, our connecting flight to CMH has been delayed to 10:30 pm. We still have time. I flag down a Delta agent to make sure the board is up to date. It is. We head upstairs to ticketing to recheck our bags there. Of course we can’t use the self check kiosk and upstairs is near bedlam. A very nice Delta agent walks us up to the front of the self check area and tries to get an agent there to recheck our bags. She is complaining because the bag tags were wrapped around the handles, but we quickly get that sorted out and our bags are rechecked. We head to security and clear that after about 45 minutes. Again, still have time. We get to our gate and there are 7 flights heading out of our gate within a 1 hour period. I ask at 2 separate gate stands if we have to recheck in since we came from Athens, were delayed, etc. but still wanted to catch our flight. All agents say no, just have a seat and wait.

Well there are no announcements by Delta, but the time of our flight keeps getting delayed by 30 minute increments. The only way we are aware of this is by checking the board by the gate. There are Delta personnel all around but no one seems to know anything. I finally find out there has been rough weather on the east coast and the inbound plane from DC hasn’t left DC yet. Boarding finally starts around 12:15 am for the flight home. We get to the gate agent and she says our boarding passes aren’t for that flight, which of course is wrong because it clearly says that flight. The computer had rebooked us for a 9:35 am flight the next morning out of LaGuardia. I tell her that I had checked with 2 different agents and they told us we didn’t need to recheck, that we were on that flight. She said there was room and we would get on the flight. We are the last 2 to board. Once on the flight the pilot says there will be an additional 1 hour delay because of the construction at JFK. There is only 1 runway open. I think we were 15 or 20 in line for take off. By this time I am beyond exhausted. I haven’t slept at all. I tried taking an Ambien on the flight from ATH, but it didn’t work. I don’t know when we finally took off, but we finally landed in CMH at 3:30 am.

Luckily our bags came through fairly quickly. I go to talk to the Delta baggage agent about my broken zipper and she says that it is not Delta’s responsibility but that I will have to file a claim with TSA. Whatever, I just want to go home because I still have a 1 hour drive ahead of me. I drop my friend off at her house and finally get to my house at 5:00 am. I have basically been up for over 32 hours. I am happy to be home but completely exhausted. Luckily I had taken that day off and didn’t have to go in to work. All in all, the worst travel experience I have ever had.

– Kelly

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Doing the math July 16, 2010 at 6:05 am

Uh, the time difference between Green and the East Cost of the US is only 7 hours. How could it be 4:30am in Santorini and 8:30pm in the US?

What else is inaccurate about this story?


Kelly July 16, 2010 at 6:45 am

Okay – so I messed up the math on the time change. I swear this really did happen. I have very bad travel luck, but this trip by far was the worst yet.


Betty July 16, 2010 at 7:22 am

I know someone who was stranded for a week because of that volcano. I'm surprised there aren't more posts about it on this site. Thanks for sharing your story with us!


Erica July 16, 2010 at 7:34 am

Sure it was a long travel day, but really, there were no missed connections, no rude personnel, nobody annoying inflight, no lost luggage, so what's the hell part? I think it should be expected that when you have three flights from one continent to another, it will be a long day. Especially when you know in advance there is a volcano ash cloud over where you're supposed to be flying through.


Smiling Charmer July 16, 2010 at 10:08 am

I completely agree with Erica. Apart from a few hors delay and a broken zipper, there's nothing hellish in this story. Actually, it seems that everything went well.


Dina July 18, 2010 at 12:38 pm

I completely agree. A few breakdowns in communication are to be expected, and it seems like they were rectified pretty quickly.


Chuck Upton July 16, 2010 at 4:30 pm

This is more of a Flight From Heck.


Ford July 16, 2010 at 10:15 pm

I know some people who have been on the road for days to get back home due to the ash clouds, others that had stranded for more than a week at the airports. Actually you should count yourself lucky for having gotten back home so easily. A few hours delay is what you're complaining about? I have heard real "from the hell" stories about the ash cloud!


Love It July 24, 2010 at 5:49 pm

What we you doing driving after 1) taking a sleeping pill, and 2) being up for so long? You should be ashamed. You endangered the lives of countless drivers!


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