You guys, I’m finally home with my family.
If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you know already that I got stuck in London not for one night, not for two nights, but for 4 freakin’ nights. I really thought this was never going to be over.
I’ve become a quite experienced solo traveler in the last few years, due to our previous long distance relationship and regular cross-atlantic flights. I’ve had stopovers at many different airports with better and worse service, but London-Heathrow Airport was just pure madness these last few days. You’d think that one of the biggest airports in the world would have some kind of emergency plan for virtually any situation and one can’t really say that this was the first time in history that London ever had snow. So the reality of how the airport handled – or better, DIDN’T handle – the thousands of stranded passengers was a nightmarish surprise, to say the least.
The airlines provided handouts with a hotline number and asked the passengers to rebook their flights over the phone.
Reality: The hotline was completely overloaded (no surprise there!) and almost nobody was able to rebook their flights through that hotline. I had my sister call Lufthansa within Germany to get my flight rebooked, I heard that others did the same. There was nobody to talk to at the airport.
I spent two nights at a hotel close to the airport monitoring the situation via the Heathrow website. Sunday the airport was completely closed down, so I made my way to the airport on Monday, because my sister had been able to rebook me for a flight on Monday night. She told me to just make my way to the Check-in and have somebody print my boarding pass.
However, Heathrow was completely chaotic and overcrowded and there was no way to even get close to a check-in counter. I waited for 7 hours in a completely overcrowded area, just to find out that my flight was canceled. Yet again, there was no rebooking at the airport and by the time I got in touch with my family, they had already known for a couple of hours (!) about my canceled flight and had been lucky to be able to rebook me yet again for Wednesday.
While waiting in line, I talked to a lot of people. Everybody pretty much recounted the same experience: rebooking was only possible through the Lufthansa Service Centers in Germany, there was no getting through on the hotline number and chances of making it out of London any time before Christmas got slimmer by the hour.
People kept saying, “make the best of it and enjoy London! Do some sight-seeing!”
But to be honest, I didn’t have the peace of mind to go sight-seeing. If you’re in total limbo about when and how you’re going to get to travel on, and you’re constantly on the phone or online to get flights rebooked, accommodations taken care of, and the like, there really is not much motivation left to go sight-seeing.
I met two girls from Berlin while waiting at the airport on Monday and we decided to stick this out together. We ended up in the same hotel that evening (this time, Lufthansa pulled us out of the cue and asked if we wanted to go to a hotel, which they put us up in with free lodging and meals). We spent two nights trying to get train tickets, bus tickets or a car pool ride out of London, but no such luck! Everything was completely booked. It was insane! (You might have seen some of it on the news… the lines that they showed on the news were NO exaggeration!) The only thing was to hope for our flights to go out on Wednesday.
Since Heathrow asked passengers with no confirmed flights to stay away from the airport, we didn’t even go to the airport on Tuesday, but actually had a half day to do some sight-seeing in London. Since I had never been to London before, I really hated the thought that the airport disaster might be forever ingrained in my brain as a really bad first experience in London… because otherwise London seems to be such a pretty place! See for yourselves!
St. Paul’s Cathedral
On Wednesday, our flights were on the list of flights that were scheduled to go out that day. We were ecstatic and made our way to the airport at around 11 a.m. This time everything was much more organized compared to Wednesday. People weren’t let into the Terminal without an actual confirmed flight and a pending departure. Since I was way too early for my evening flight, I had to wait in one of two tents that were put up in front of the terminal. They provided blankets, hot coffee and tea, soup, candy and phones (to make free national and international calls).
The two girls made it onto their flight to Berlin in the early afternoon. I had a few more hours to kill and kept checking the monitors within the tents to make sure that my flight was still “on”. I met some other nice people while waiting and I have to say that this made the whole ordeal so much more bearable: meeting all these nice people that were in the same boat as yourself.
Finally, at 5:15 p.m., my flight to Cologne was called. I hardly couldn’t believe my ears! I made my way to the Terminal and was checked-in and through security in less than 20 minutes. I had an hour and a half to stroll around the airport, have a cafe latte, and get myself to the gate. The plane departed on time at 7:35 p.m.
Now, imagine my absolutely shocked surprise when I found out that my plane was HALF EMPTY!
People had been told that hardly any seats were available for days. People, who were desperate to go anywhere in Germany, just to get out of London and off the island! Somewhere, where they could catch a train or bus to get home.
The guy two rows in front of me had actually purchased a business class ticket to make it on that flight. Imagine how pissed he must have been when he found out that half of the economy class seats were not taken!
I really don’t understand why – apparently – there was nobody, who was coordinating the flights and could have filled up those empty seats. I bet you that there were hundreds of people still stuck there in London, who would have loved to take that flight to Cologne. Absolutely insane!
I feel cheated out off 4,5 days of my very precious vacation time with my family and that is what I am most upset about, really. I had so many plans this week already that had to be canceled. However, the most important thing is that I made it home for Christmas!
Thanks to all of you who kept up with me via Email, Facebook and Twitter in the last few days. For all your kind words, your mental support in keeping up my good spirits and all your finger-crossing. Much, much love! ♥
I hope to catch up with all of you (and reverb10) in the next few days!