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Fifty hours and five flights

April 17, 2013

Have you ever experienced a jittery feeling when you are about to embark on a new journey/task? Something that tries to tell you that this is not going to happen in the way that you had planned. That is exactly what I felt three weeks back.

“I have a feeling that something bad is going to happen”, I told my husband while we were on our way to the airport. He was dropping me off in the airport at midnight so that I can take my 2.30 AM flight to United States. I had chosen an itinerary which was a perfect combination of the least amount of travel time, least number of the flights and a convenient landing time. Bangalore – Paris – Detroit by Air France in a total 20 hours and I was expected to land at a convenient 2.30 PM with enough time to get to the hotel, rest and report to office the next day.

Least did I know that the universe is going to throw a curve ball at me in less than 15 hours. That jittery feeling, your intuition – well, they know it even before it happens.

With an easy immigration and security check, I settled into my (very uncomfortable) seat in the AirFrance flight and fell asleep as soon the dinner service was complete. I slept through most of my flight, however was woken up in between by a small squabble in our aisle. For the first time in my life, I was seeing an airline personnel actually getting into a fight with a customer. After a heated exchange of words, the airline personnel noted down the seat number of the passenger (?!) to complain to the captain. Since, I was a witness to what happened in that aisle, I can vouch for the fact that it was of no fault of the passenger and the airline personnel was absolutely rude to the passenger. All those bad reviews I read about AirFrance were playing out in my head but little did I know what was in store for me later.

Paris Local Time: 8.00 AM

The flight is supposed to land in Paris Charles De Gaulle airport in 40 minutes. I am happy half of the journey is over and with one more flight, I will be in Detroit. I look out of the window. All I see is fog and nothing else. Oh well, the winter is still quite harsh in Europe.

Paris Local Time: 8.30 AM

Captain announces that due to the heavy snow storm in Paris, we won’t be landing in Paris and the flight would be taken to Lyon. The passengers who have connection flights starts panicking about the mere thought of being stuck in Paris. Some others with Indian Passports like me know very well that we won’t be able to even get out of any of these airports.

Paris Local Time: 10.30 AM

The flight landed in Lyon an hour back and we were made to sit in the flight itself. I try to sleep, but being in the sitting position for so long, I am almost finding it impossible to rest. I am sure of the fact that I am missing my connection flight to Detroit because it is taking off from Paris in another 20 minutes. I am hoping I will get another flight on the same day.

Paris Local Time: 12.30PM

The flight from Lyon is brought back to Paris and I rush out of the flight. I start running towards the customer service desk in another terminal to get my flight rescheduled. I rush towards the customer service area and there are atleast 300 people in front of me to get the flights re-scheduled. I check out the ‘Sky Priority’ line for the priority customers and knowing that it is just 40 people in front of me gives me a little hope. Almost all the flights on the monitors shows the status as ‘Cancelled’. I understand that this is going to taking time. I call my parents, husband in India and my boss in USA to let them know that I am stuck in Paris.

Paris Local Time: 5.30PM

I am still standing in the line to get my tickets re-scheduled. Meanwhile, the AirFrance personnel have gone out for lunch, smoke and I-don’t-know-what-all-breaks; leaving hundreds of passengers in line. At times, there was only one customer service personnel in the entire ticket re-scheduling area with all the other desks empty. There are no meal vouchers distributed or even a consolation word from any of the personnel. They seem to be least bothered about what is happening to the passengers and kept leaving the premises stating bad weather. In between, there are people whose travel insurances are getting expired, who are travelling with sick children and need to get out of the country as soon as possible.Β  ‘Sky Priority’ seems to be a joke. After a 16 hour flight and 5 hours standing in the line, I am so tired.

Paris Local Time: 6PM

I finally get my flight re-scheduled. I don’t have a Paris-Detroit flight until next day and because I don’t have a Schengen visa, they can’t arrange accommodation for me in Paris. So I have to take the 7PM flight to JFK which is supposed to land in JFK, NewYork at midnight and flight to Detroit will be next day morning at 8AM. AirFrance can’t arrange an accomodation for me in NY because it is NewYork and not Paris! (I don’t understand the logic either). I book an accomodation at one of the airport hotels at JFK myself, online.

Paris Local Time: 8PM

I am sitting at the departure gate and looking at the monitor in front of me as my flight to JFK is getting delayed by every half an hour.

Paris Local Time: 10PM

My flight to JFK finally takes off at 10PM. I sleep off as soon as I am seated. I am so exhausted. I miss all the meals except the last one.

NY Local Time: 3.30AM

I reach JFK, NY and pass through long immigration lines, customs and hand over my bags to the Delta personnel at JFK. I am at two minds whether to use my hotel reservation at this point because I have my next flight at 8AM and would have to be in airport in the next 3.5 hours. Then I came to know that I can’t enter the domestic terminal until 6AM and so decide to use it anyway.

NY Local Time: 4.30AM

I take the AirTran to the last terminal and take the shuttle to the hotel. I check-in and take a bath. I had never been so thankful for hot water in my lifetime.

NY Local Time: 5AM

I lie down in my bed with lights on. I am too afraid whether I will sleep off and miss my final flight to Detroit. I get up at 6AM, get dressed, take the hotel shuttle to the airport.

NY Local Time: 6.45AM

I am waiting at the security check lines. I am trying to console myself that this will be the final flight and I will be in Detroit in another 2 hours. I will be able to get some rest finally. Well, looks like universe have other plans for me.

NY Local Time: 7:05AM

I complete the security check and get to the monitor showing the departure gates. While all the other flights have clearly specified the gates of departure, mine shows a big red ‘CANCELLED’. I could hardly believe my eyes that this is happening.

NY Local Time: 7.30 AM

The nice Hispanic lady at the Delta terminal politely informs me that the JFK-Detroit flight is cancelled and now they are re-directing me to Virginia and then to Detroit. I helplessly nod and sigh. There are no other direct flights until next day.

NY Local Time: 8.00AM

Waiting at the departure gate for the flight to Virginia to take off. I am drawing in all the patience I have with me to go through the journey for a few more hours that started more than 40 hours back.

Virginia Local Time: 10.30 AM

A hungry me is hunting for some food in the Virginia airport. Granola bars, bottled coconut water, chips satiate my hunger for some time. The flight to Detroit is getting delayed by hours. I look at the airport monitors helplessly.

Virginia Local Time: 2PM

I finally board the flight to Detroit. Knowing that atleast this flight has the destination as ‘Detroit’ makes me feel relieved beyond measure. Unless and until something happens mid air, I will be landing in Detroit soon.

Detroit Local Time: 4PM

Landed in Detroit finally. I rush towards the baggage lines to get my luggage and get going. A long wait and the baggage hasn’t yet arrived. I talk to a Delta personnel about the baggage and get re-directed to their helpdesk. The lady at the counter looks at my boarding passes and exclaims “Oh my, you have had a really long journey”. Yes, you bet I had. They tell me that my baggage hasn’t yet arrived in Detroit and when it arrives, they will drop it off to my location as soon as they can. Even though the fact that all my formal clothes are in my checked-in luggage and I need to report to office tomorrow morning is not too appealing; I believe I am too exhausted to think of a back-up plan or make some other arrangements. I give them my address and go out in search of a cab.

Detroit Local Time: 4.30PM

I am inside a cab driven by a Pakistani driver. He is rendering his life story and asking me about my job, hometown, etc. I try to give illegible answers; but most of time, just nod or utter a meek ‘yes’ or ‘no’. I am feeling dizzy, nauseous and tired. I dream of that bed which awaits me at the end of this cab drive.

Finally after an hour, I am check-in to the hotel. Not soon after I enter the room, I regulate the temperature and fall into the bed. Never have I been more thankful for a bed and warm blankets. I drift off to sleep almost immediately.

That is how my friends I endured 50 hours, five flights and still came out alive at the other end.

Lessons learnt from this experience:

1. Never ever ever fly AirFrance. The customer service is the worst I have experienced in all of my air travels.

2. Keep your international credit cards activated and talk to the customer care department of the credit card to authorize your purchases in foreign locations, before you travel. You never know which adverse situation you will find yourself in.

3. Always take travel insurance for an additional couple of days. You don’t want to be stranded in alien countries without a travel insurance, having a medical emergency.

4. Airports can be daunting and at the same time fascinating places to spend time in. Check out the local food, shops, etc. One of the saving grace points for me in Paris airport was sampling the Laudree macarons at the airport shop.

5. When you read reviews from other passengers about a airline service, BELIEVE IT. Experience matters above all.

6. Most importantly, when things happen over which you don’t have any control over, breathe. Don’t fret and just go with the flow. Atleast you will have an adventure to narrate for years to come.

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9 Comments
  1. oh my my, this is a terrible ordeal 😯

    your experience will definitely help someone, thanks for sharing.

  2. What a journey! 😦

    I would have collapsed at the first airport itself, if I had been travelling alone and something like this had happened!

    • Yes, it was an epic journey. You know TGND, we all have amazing survival instincts. I am sure yours would have kicked in if the time called for it.

  3. Pratibha permalink

    Oh what a harrowing experience! 😦

  4. vishalbheeroo permalink

    Shit! It’s such a terrible flight ordeal you’ve been through. I’ve heard about very bad service provided by Air France and another airlines that offer bad services is Air Mauritius. Their staff is downrright rude to customers, lacks customer training and is pathetic. Last time, I took Air Mauritius coz was on duty that was paid not by me. Reason why I prefer Emirates Airlines whose service is awesome. Thk I need to blog about my travel experience to let the people know.
    Cheers
    Vishal
    http://www.vishalbheeroo.wordpress.com

    • Thanks for sharing your experience with Air Mauritius. Yes you should let others know so that everyone is aware of it.

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