I’ve just been on a delightful jolly across beautiful Norway exploring cities, fjords, mountains and generally having a splendid time. It wasn’t so splendid getting there, though, and because I do think it’s important not to give a one-sided account of the travel experience, I’m giving you, as I always do when travel goes tits-up, all the riveting details of what should have been a really quick, easy journey between two cities that are only about 400 miles apart, that was neither quick nor easy.
The first stage on the trip was a 11am flight from Edinburgh to Amsterdam, and things were going pretty well right up until the plane pushed back from the gate. We taxied to the runway, fired up the engines, and just as we were supposed to start going fast, the engines unfired, and we taxied back to the gate. Apparently one of the windows in the cockpit had “shattered” and they were sending an engineer to see whether we could still fly or if it might be a bit of a problem…
Somewhat to the relief of myself and the other passengers who didn’t fancy heading up to 30,000 feet with a broken windscreen, KLM decided that this plane was done for the day and told us to get off. Unfortunately, as our aircraft had technically departed, we weren’t allowed back into the departure lounge and instead had to go down some shady staircase back into the pre-security, arrivals part of the airport and everybody who had bought duty free had to give it back. Apparently nobody told the airline that under absolutely no circumstances do you come between a Scottish person and their tax-free alcohol. I’m surprised nobody was killed.
Having resisted purchasing any duty free myself, I was free to navigate myself to the location in Arrivals where we were supposed to congregate and await further instructions, but because I was seated in the back of the plane, I was one of the last to arrive to what was basically just a really long queue to get re-booked onto other flights. Because my layover in was so long (during which I had planned to go into the city and catch up for a few hours with some friends from university), it was actually still possible for me to make it to Amsterdam in time to get my original connection, but my chances of getting a seat on a flight to get me there on time were hindered by the fact I was pretty much at the back of this massive rebooking queue. Time to be a bit sneaky.
Whilst waiting in the queue like a good, obedient passenger, I called up KLM’s rebooking line and was placed on hold. After about 10 minutes of muzak I got through to a nice gentleman who said he could get me booked on to a flight to Amsterdam via Frankfurt on Lufthansa. I agreed to this, perhaps too hurriedly, since I was trying to get the whole thing sorted as quickly as possible, and I was about to leave the queue when I caught sight of the departures board, which showed that the flight to Frankfurt was leaving in 15 minutes. And I was still not checked in or through security. Fuck you, Nice Rebooking Gentleman – do you even know how air travel works?
I called up the airline again, and after another 10 minutes got through to the same (I think) nice gentleman who apologised for the whole Frankfurt thing, and got me on to the next direct KLM flight, which was at 16:50. Fine. Only about 6 hours late. I can deal with that… who wants to actually go into Amsterdam anyway? Too many canals. They also gave me a whole £5 of food vouchers to tide me over the delay, which covered about 25% of the sushi I consumed in 4 hours.
The key thing, though, was that I had nabbed a seat on the next flight, which probably would not have happened had I waited in the queue, plus I was done quick enough to be able to relax and eat the aforementioned sushi. *have the airline rebooking number on speed dial in case your flight is cancelled* #traveltipoftheweek. Sneaky but worth it.
The 16:50 flight was delayed about an hour for unexplained reasons, but I still made it to the gate in Amsterdam in time for my connection having suffered only a mild amount of panic and a mere seven minutes of running as fast as I could through Schiphol (It’s a known fact in the travel world that no matter how long your layover at this airport is, you will have to run. I had given myself 8 hours today and still had to run… It’s the Schiphol way). Easy. Now I’m not even delayed anymore (I’ve just missed 6 hours of Dutch-style frivolity).
From the windows at Schiphol, I could see the occasional flurry of snow, but it wasn’t exactly the Day After Tomorrow, so whatever…. we boarded the plane on time, and the pilot announced that there would be about an hour’s wait for the de-icing, which seemed reasonable for a departure on a sub-zero day – and really what’s another hour when I’ve been sitting around all day anyway? Inevitably, it was closer to two hours before there was a spare slot at de-icing and we pushed back from the gate. But at least we were now on our way!
If the morning’s happenings had taught me anything, it should have been that pushing back from the gate does NOT mean that you are getting off the ground on this plane. The wheels had been rolling for about two minutes, when there was a further announcement from the pilot “this plane’s onboard de-icing equipment is not working, hang tight and we’ll see if we can fix it, but probs not, soz”. Fast forward half an hour, and we’re back at the gate, being told to get off the plane while they find us another.
At least this is a KLM hub so there’s plenty of spare planes we can use kicking about. But there’s one complication I haven’t mentioned yet. At the back of the plane (actually just across the isle from where I was sitting) was a hospital patient being transferred. They’d taken out three rows of seats and wheeled in a large hospital bed and a bunch of medical equipment (and some curtains) so this guy and his nurse could be moved to a hospital in Norway.
So, rather than the simple transfer of 200 passengers from one plane to another, they had to de-board the passengers, send an ambulance to get the guy off this plane, remove three rows of seats from the new plane, ambulance the guy to the new plane, get him all settled in in the new plane, then re-board the passengers. Any guesses as to how long this took? Let’s just say well over an hour… and then we were then right back where we started, waiting in the queue to be de-iced. The pilot apparently managed to get us bumped up the queue a bit, so the wait was probably less than an hour.
I waited until the wheels were actually off the ground before trying to calculate my final delay, which came in at around 4 hours (not including the 6 hours delay from the first flight that ruined my uni reunion in Amsterdam). I arrived in Bergen at at around 2am and had to get a $50 taxi to my hotel because all public transport had ended for the night (the taxi driver also did take me to the wrong hotel initially, but no biggie).
I was booked 2 flights with KLM that day and 100% of them broke after departing the gate, which is over the odds even for me. When I pressed KLM as to why so many of their planes were broken they spouted some line akin to that we should be grateful that they cancelled the flights cause safety… and while I was indeed grateful that we didn’t stay on the faulty aircraft and die a horrible death, it didn’t really answer my question which was why all of their planes were broken in the first place. KLM reimbursed my taxi and offered me 3000 FlyingBlue miles, which I accepted – then regretted accepting since, on closer inspection, it’s a bit of a paltry compensation for what went down. Live and learn.
So yeah, that’s how I got from Edinburgh to Bergen. Thankfully Norway was bloody beautiful and more than made up for the chaos getting there. And, to give KLM some credit, the return trip went without a hitch.