Volcano and Other Troubles Torment Travelers

October 26, 2010

in Odds & Ends Stories

Earlier this year I made two business trips to Europe to taste wine. The first trip, to Tuscany in Italy, was idyllic as it always is. Yes, the ash from the volcano in Iceland hit the skies while I was there and I had to spend another week in Florence before I could get back, but I’m certainly not going to complain about spending extra time tasting wine in Italy!

Two weeks later I departed for Spain and therein lies the most gruelling flight I’ve ever had. The first part of the flight, from Orlando, Florida to JFK, New York went well despite cattle car conditions on the plane. But once we got to JFK we were told that our flight to Madrid was delayed. After a long wait we were told that there were problems with the plane and we would have to wait until they found another one and a different departure gate.

After another long wait we were told that the replacement plane had been located and we would be departing soon. Great! We finally got aboard, the plane took off, and dinner was served. About two hours out over the Atlantic Ocean the pilot announced that the plane was having mechanical problems and that we would have to turn back to JFK. And so we had a two hour flight back to New York, all of us wondering what the pilot wasn’t telling us.

Just before approaching JFK the pilot came on again and told us that when we landed we would see lots of fire engines with flashing lights but not to worry – it was standard procedure. And yes – just like in the movies – we landed with fire engines racing along on either side of us, red lights flashing in the night. Then we had another long wait while the fire marshal inspected the wheels before allowing us into to airport proper.

So now there was an airplane full of people who needed to get to Madrid and no plane to take them. Believe me, the line was long and didn’t move an inch. But one of my colleagues, who has a fast and resourceful tongue, managed to talk an airline employee – quite against their rules – into getting us onto a flight to London, and from there we could get a connecting flight to Madrid. The flight was fine, we had another dinner, but that pesky ash from the volcano in Iceland was still playing havoc over the Atlantic. We had to fly further north than planned to avoid it, so we flew over Greenland, over the northern tip of Iceland, and down the eastern side of Scotland to get to London, all of which took extra time and made us late for our connecting flight.

But never mind, we were told by an airline official that all flights to Madrid had been cancelled anyway due to the volcano. It was suggested that we go to the ticketing office all the way at the other side of the airport to get advice. This we did.

“We’re told that all flights to Madrid are cancelled, so do you have any advice on what we should do?” we asked.

“Who told you that flights to Madrid are cancelled?” the ticket man countered.

“One of your airline officials at the other end of the airport,” we said.

“Flights to Madrid aren’t cancelled. In fact we have a flight taking off in an hour.”

“Great!” we said.

“But it’s fully booked,” the ticket man said.

So he put us on standby, and despite there being two people ahead of us, we were told ten minutes before the plane took off that we were able to board, which meant getting through passport control and security all over again. The plane took off literally minutes after we took our seats.

And so we got to Madrid at 11:30 p.m. instead of 6:30 a.m. as was originally planned. And guess what? They didn’t just lose some of our luggage, they lost all of our luggage, and they lost it for five days out of our seven day trip. On top of which we went to pick up our rental car and the rental office was closed so we had to take a taxi to our hotel in Madrid and taxi back the next morning to collect our car.

Except for the loss of our luggage which every day the airline said they would get to us tomorrow, the rest of our visit to Spain was a delight. The wines of Ribera del Duero and Rioja were wonderful as was the food, and our last two days in Barcelona were a treat. I’m only thankful that my three colleagues and myself were seasoned travelers, and despite the many frustrations, we could remain calm and even see the funny side of it all.

– Bill

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

James October 27, 2010 at 6:20 am

Despite the cheap fares in Europe, I've taken to taking trains there when I visit. High speed rail is more reliable, more comfortable, and doesn't lose luggage. London-Madrid would take longer, but it is less frustrating.


Vander October 29, 2010 at 3:30 pm

What was the name of the airline?


Laura November 3, 2010 at 7:14 pm

Being a seasoned traveler who can stay calm is key here. Can you imagine if that was your first international trip/first plane ride?!


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