With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lifting of travel restrictions, travel demand has risen sharply. Many people who miss a normal holiday are in a hurry to travel, but after a quieter period, airports are no longer able to handle such large flows of customers.
It was in such circumstances that a special trip to Vilnius awaited – two flights with a transfer to Frankfurt. Until a few hours before, I found out that half of it was gone rain washed road in Kaišiadorys district.
A similar situation did not happen for the first time, so it was time to be patient and think which of the possible options will be the least painful, that is, will not affect further plans and will not require significant costs.
Unplanned stay in Warsaw
Don’t believe horoscopes and that the arrangement of stars at birth affects a lifetime? Check mine. Someone probably added to my name at the time, “This is definitely not going to go a long way.”
If any airline or airport staff is on strike, I definitely need to fly – and definitely on that day, so there can be no talk of flight delays or cancellations. If there is a possibility for the plane and the train to be a minute late (maybe even half a minute – I am not lying, if I am already very owed – ten to fifteen) and not to allow the journey to continue, they are always determined!
If a pandemic is declared in the world and flights are halted, I will miss the need to return home just that day. If the bombings of World War II are destined to slip from the depths of the earth to the surface, it will inevitably happen to the rails that the train in which I am about to look around the window will soon pass.
Anyway, delayed vehicles, congestion due to accidents on the same motorways for some reason, delayed luggage are a boring banality.
Recent history confirms another theory: if a butterfly fluttered on one side of the world, the curtain would move from the gust of air on the other. In my case, it didn’t move, just not the curtain, but the plane. The butterfly this time around has probably been struck by some of Brussels Airport staff.
To make it sharper, there is also prehistory. A trip to the event abroad awaited on Wednesday. A few days later – a return flight via Warsaw. Margarita Šešelgytė, the director of the Institute of International Relations and Political Science at Vilnius University, recently complained that she had to stay in this city unplanned due to a plane delay.
A flight with the same airlines is waiting, so my colleague and I started to develop strategies in advance about what to do if that happens. Sure, joke, but I already had to implement the plan. On the eve of the trip, I had to reach Vilnius by two planes, and the next morning – to that conference. From the experience described above, I could expect no peace of mind, but the last-minute changes still made me nervous.
Electronic “employee” assistance
It was quite late when I closed and carried the suitcase in the car and checked in to check my email. One letter is from Lufthansa. A warning that the plane is full of passengers, so it would be good not to try to cram an elephant into my hand luggage. Without problems! I flew with such an empty backpack a long time ago (in fact, an elephant – big, plush, for Ukrainian children, flew together, but in a suitcase).
Another letter, sent only a couple of hours earlier, is also from Lufthansa. With a problem. “First flight canceled, we advise you to find alternatives, sorry, good evening! ”Here’s a joke? Gal to transit to the airport ??? What does it mean to be canceled if you ask not to load things on the second flight? And maybe those alternatives could offer?
On Monday, Facebook saw a person from a familiar Lithuanian airport in Brussels – the last hours before the strike, the next day no plane had to leave one of the busiest airports in Europe. The movement of trains and subways had to be paralyzed.
My head has been busy with other things in recent days, so I had missed the news about the strike, but I wouldn’t have changed my plans for it. The mentioned event is really important, I paid a lot of money for plane tickets and a hotel, so I couldn’t travel.
In addition, a similar strike – not the first and not the second in life – there were other surprises (delayed flights, canceled flights – very often from the same Brussels, almost missed a flight due to endless congestion on the way to the airport…), so I did not think it would be necessary stay home.
The European Union has various rules for protecting passengers’ rights, there are certain algorithms for similar cases and the airline is left with no choice at all. I knew that there would be something else instead of a canceled flight, the only question was when and how to fix everything at such a late hour, because the letter about the cancellation only offered to look for alternatives.
I got to work. Searching for a new flight at a convenient time and then claiming the costs did not want to – there could be additional time and energy costs, possibly – and financial loss. This was to be done by those who canceled the flight.
When I last checked how long I was listening to music, it was 32 minutes. Just 43 minutes later, I knew when I had to be at the station.
Lufthansa suggested alternatives to talk to their “employee” Elisa (one of those girls who is very helpful before the question, for example, what color the sky is – then asks for clarification on the matter, in other words, a computer program). Elisha offered six options.
I was able to book the first one immediately (flight time with waiting at the intermediate airport – 5 pm, the car could take me faster). Several others were similar (via Frankfurt, as I had to fly, via Warsaw – no, thank you, I have already mentioned the reason, something else…). One option, with a short stop over Copenhagen (because the other alternatives are a journey of at least a few hours), was tempting, but (as in other cases) I would only have been on the waiting list.
The call takes 43 minutes
I was glad I didn’t check the mail before – maybe I would have changed successfully immediately if I was in a hurry to take care of the next flight. But the spoons were in the afternoon, so what to do? Taking the risk and choosing Copenhagen? Wait for the morning, drive to the airport and expect to find something more decent there? None of the other options were suitable, because another plane would have flown out of Vilnius without me.
I said that the second flight was not canceled, Lufthansa will know that the first one was not due to my desires (because you can’t miss one of the flight segments anyway), so maybe you could go straight to it? I found the train at the right time for me and at a mediocre price.
In Internet forums, I found the answer of the people of Lufthansa themselves that if they cancel a flight, they do not “fly” later.
What if it doesn’t work? I will be throwing away not only that little money for the train ticket, but also the loss of an irrevocable flight and all the other travel.
In Vilnius, once in a similar situation (also late at night), I just called the airport, a helpful employee searched for information and later gave me some good advice. In Germany, the problems are not usually solved in this way – passenger flows are incomparably higher and no one will call anyone because of me.
Also, I had a similar calling experience – I need a break that you can take for that single call. So I avoided this job until the last minute, but it was the only untested option.
I dialed the phone number, I had to press countless buttons (which languages do you want, do you agree to be recorded, could you evaluate the help later, what question do you call, maybe you accidentally traveled with a dog or cat? ..). And the music started… In order not to fall asleep, she was interrupted several times by a female voice (“sorry that it took so long, patience…”).
The first train was maybe half a minute late. When I came back to the second, I saw the door close and I could no longer get through it. I had to wait for the next one.
18 minutes – I pressed the buttons and listened to the music. Then a perfect British-speaking man answered, immediately realized my problem and offered to change the flight to a train journey (Lufthansa has many such flights, they are cheaper). Without listening to what option he found, his voice disappeared in the void and I realized he was talking to himself (it had been half an hour since the call began).
It meant pressing the buttons again! When I last checked how long I was listening to music, it was 32 minutes. The next, the very vague gentleman, responded even later. I immediately grabbed the ox by the horns, asked to find a train ticket, he understood me and after only 43 minutes I knew when I had to be at the station.
Obstacles arise, their solutions also exist
The next morning was easy – it was time to get up on time after this unplanned night out. Even wearing warmer clothes (waiting for the train was colder than the plane), but how to think of a jacket in the summer… one unexpected adventure that is unavoidable while traveling.
There have been disturbances that have not ended so “comfortably”. During the famous eruption of the Icelandic volcano, he was lucky to be at home and only watch his friends and acquaintances try to return home by all other possible means after the flights stopped. The same thing awaited me when the COVID-19 pandemic was announced – I returned home on the very last day that the planes were still flying according to normal schedules.
Then I had to change my flight too – early. My airlines no longer had seats, which had to be exchanged for Ryanair and a one-way ticket of € 230 (and, to say the least, low-cost airlines…). I could fly cheaper – with Belarusians through Minsk, but I didn’t have a passport.
I went to Budapest once. It was supposed to be a long journey, but one train – no transfers. Unfortunately, an hour later, we learned that a large bomb had been found near the rails in front (probably left over from World War II), so all trains traveling in that direction were stopped. Instead of one train, I got to ride five.
Later, when buying a ticket for the same route, I no longer avoided transfers, but this time it was just a mistake. The first train was maybe half a minute late. When I came back to the second, I saw the door close and I could no longer get through it. I had to wait for the next one.
A good decade ago, when the plane was similarly late (don’t believe the Finns are punctual…), I got stuck in a night not just in Helsinki. From there I had to fly to Delhi and then on, but the Indian airline did not fly in the direction I needed that day. I had to enter India illegally, because, according to their rules, I could only do so after almost two months. Luckily, I convinced the border guard that I was not a terrorist (it was after their attacks that such a demand arose) and I had an unplanned day to inspect the metropolis.
Experience shows that no matter what causes the trip, the best solution is not to panic, but to explain immediately how to solve the problem. And arm yourself with patience. Rules are already in place for this at international level, or at least for companies.
In case of cancellation or no other means of transport, an alternative, in some cases food, hotel must be offered. Once, due to a canceled flight, my friend and I stayed in Dubai and had to pay for our hotel out of pocket, but – perhaps due to an unfamiliar fellow passenger – we ended up staying for free.
The strikes do not start like rain from a clear sky, they are warned about, so it is possible to explain in advance whether there will be any disruptions, and if so, without waiting for the last minute to find out who will fly, change the date or cancel the ticket and ask for a refund.