Tuesday, March 31, 2015

My adventure at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport

This is the story of how I survived the Schiphocalypse! (Oh, I'm so funny.)

So last week I went back to the Old Country for my birthday, and to prepare for my brother's wedding in May. For the first time in nearly nine years I was flying into Cardiff via Amsterdam. The last time I'd done Italy-Cardiff-Amsterdam was when I came home at the end of my Erasmus year, and it was the first time I'd done the Italian leg from Milan. I'd never had any problems with the connecting flights in the past, the only issue I'd had was when my baggage decided to stay at Amserdam after Easter, but I got it the next day.

I thought the outbound flight had problems, but it was nothing compared to compared to my epic trip back to Milan.

I arrived at dinky little Cardiff airport in plenty of time, but straightaway at check-in I was told the flight had a 15 minute delay. I could live with that, my flight from Milan had a 15 minute delay too and I still got to the gate in Amsterdam in time for boarding. But that was just the beginning. Cardiff airport is so tiny, at the time there were no other planes going to Amsterdam, so I had no idea of any other delays. 17.15 became 17.50 and I started to worry, I would still make it in time but I would have to run. Then a scary message came up on the screens: 'Next info 17.50'.

At that point the captain came out to speak to us. The flight was going to be delayed for three hours due to strong winds at Amsterdam. I'm not a person who really gets angry when things like this happen, I just curl up into a ball and cry, which is pretty much what I did. It was in those moments when passengers were desperately trying to find out information about their connecting flights (the majority of the plane) that I met an Italian who was dealing with the whole thing in a typically dramatic Italian way. He was being a bit too angry for my liking - after all, it was nobody's fault - but I was still glad to make myself useful by translating the latest information we got.

Just before we boarded I was told by the ground staff at the gate that the Linate flight had been delayed until 22.55, and that I would make it. I was very relieved, but after making some calculations I was dubious, as the scheduled flight time from Cardiff was 1 hour 20 minutes, and the flight was due to take off at 20.20.

It was near landing that I got the bad news. The captain read out a short list of about 4 flights that people would be able to connect to at Amsterdam, and Milan wasn't one of them. My heart sank.

We ended up getting to the gate at Schiphol airport around 22.45. The Linate flight had been delayed a bit longer, but I still wouldn't be able to make it. We'd been instructed to go to the transfer desks by the captain during the flight, and I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the chaos.

It was in the massive queue that I met my 'companions of misadventure', V & F, a couple who turned out to come from the same area of Veneto that my friend S is from! It was also there I got my first indication of how bad the situation was being handled. It was getting near midnight and an announcement came on saying that the transfer desk would soon be closing! Some people had been waiting for an hour and now they were being told that they wouldn't be helped tonight. We were told to rebook via social media, phone, or come back to the airport tomorrow morning. The 'rebooking via social media' strategy is one that I saw emphasised during my time at Schiphol, and all I could think of was what if it had been my mam coming to visit me and finding herself in this situation?

Before getting to the actual desks there was one where, from what I saw, easy rebookings were made, and then numbers given out for more complex issues. After a bit of translation by yours truly (a bit of bigging myself up never does any harm!) V&F got rebooked on a flight for the following evening. Even though the chap at the desk had said they would be the last ones he would help that night, he asked for my boarding card, and I got rebooked on the 5pm flight to Linate. Relief doesn't even come close!

That now meant that I had just over 17 hours to kill before my next chance of getting back to Milan. That obviously meant having to pass the night. Somewhere. KLM were claiming that all the hotels were full - wait, what? - and that they wouldn't be booking hotels for anyone - again, wait what? - it was up to us to sort out our own accomodation and then to get a refund. By now in true Italian style we'd struck up a friendship, and decided to chance it in the airport, especially after having seen the insane queue for the hotel desk. It was now around midnight, and in a city none of us had ever been to - what could we do? We firstly went to look for somewhere to eat, we had some sandwiches, and it turned out that some places were open all night.

My view for the night, taken around 4.50am.

We'd been ordered out of departures and into arrivals, so that narrowed down our options considerably for a warm spot to pass the night. We wandered around the building, but it wasn't easy. We spent most of it on some very uncomfortable chairs, and combined with the light system constantly changing the strength of the light and music playing all night, I didn't get a wink of sleep. And it got very cold near dawn! I tried curling myself up, stretching out, tried desperately to find a comfortable position, but no luck.

We had a very early breakfast, it was before 7am when we sat down. Again, we scoped out the warmest places - especially after getting cold during the night - and settled on a Dutch cafe, where I got some tasty, but typically over-priced airport style, Dutch pancakes. No photo as I was far too tired and hungry for that!

Our flights weren't due to leave until the evening, but we decided to see if we could get past security to go to the warmth of departures. Result! And double result, we found some lounger-type seats where we spend the morning pretty much passed out on. Unfortunately with all the noise I still didn't manage to fall asleep. The 'mind the gap' announcements of the moving walkway will haunt me in my sleep.

We parted ways in the afternoon, as their flight was going from one area of departures and mine another. I had a very delicious smoothie for lunch, and had a mooch around the shops. I tried using the bikes they have in an area upstairs that you can use to recharge your phone by cycling, but it wasn't having any of it - in my over-tired state was I going too slowly?? The normal phone charging stations in the airport were a life-saver though, I don't know what I would've done without them.

I was so scared to look at the departure boards because I was so worried that my flight would be cancelled. Even throughout the night we'd seen some flights that had meant to be arriving the following morning already cancelled, and a couple had been from Italy. Nearly all of the flights departing were delayed, from what I saw mostly with a delay of between one to two hours.

I got to my gate and the flight still wasn't showing a cancellation. Could it be possible that it would be one of a handful of flights to leave on time that day? Nope. About 5 minutes before boarding (thanks for getting my hopes up) the delay popped up on the screen. 17.00 had now become 18.45. I got up and went for a walk, sitting down meant that I was falling asleep every couple of minutes.

Finally, we boarded. A little later than we should have with the new departure time, but I was past caring. At that point I'd been in Schiphol airport for nearly 20 hours, and I was finally going home. I actually did a little happy dance on the way down to the plane!

The flight arrived in Milan Linate at around 20.30, after leaving Amsterdam Schiphol two hours and 10 minutes late. It was nearly 22 hours later than when I was originally meant to arrive.

The scenes I saw in Schiphol were things like you see on tv when airports are paralysed because of snow or strikes. I saw hundreds of people queuing back back back at transfer desks, families with small children walking around the airport late at night, and an airport that had basically stopped functioning normally. Last night I slept for over 14 hours, but I'm nowhere near recovered. I'd like to thank my 'companions of misadventure' for their company, I don't know what I would have done on my own. It was an experience I'll certainly never forget. I wish I could say never again, but unfortunately I'm already booked to do the same thing to get back for the wedding in May!!

1 comment:

silencer137.com said...

Woah, what an adventure. I am glad you finally made it back home...