Travel woes with a silver lining

The week in Tanzania went exceedingly well plus the travel to get there was non-eventful, , , just like you want your travel to be.

It would all change on my return trip.

Challenges began before I left the hotel for the Dar es Salaam airport.

The hotel notified me that my flight was delayed due to bad weather in Amsterdam so I held off leaving for the airport until 10:00pm. When I got there, we received a communication stating our flight would leave at 4:30am, , , 4 hours late due to the weather in Amsterdam where I was to make a connection to Detroit. Doesn’t look good to make the connection.

No worries. When you travel as much as I do (and have in my career), you learn to become flexible, , , sort of like managing IT resources. Panic and you are doomed.

This is only the beginning. I’ll give you the rest of the story in bullet form to describe the challenges of a 60+ hour trip home, , , a bit longer than the 27 hours it was planned to take.

  • Because of the poor weather in Amsterdam, the Dar airport staff would not check our bags all the way through to our final destination, , , makes sense because they want the bag to stay with the traveler. If we check baggage, we must pick it up in Amsterdam and book a new flight to our destination. I decide to check one bag. Here is where I make a big mistake as you will learn later. Hindsight is 20-20.
  • We are told all outbound flights from Amsterdam are canceled and the weather is getting worse. “If you go to Amsterdam, you are on your own.” I decide to take my chances, , , a lot more options from Amsterdam.
  • Flight from Dar to Amsterdam leaves at 4:30am (4 hours late). I have already been waiting for the flight 12 1/2 hours. The flight is only 50% full so I have an open seat beside me. It’s a very pleasant flight and I’m able to do some work, , , but the fun is still ahead.
  • We arrive in Amsterdam so I go through Customs and then to Baggage Claim to pick up my luggage, , , no problems at all. So far so good.
  • Having never been to this part of the Amsterdam Airport, I have to learn how to navigate and find the appropriate ticket agent(s) to reschedule a flight to somewhere in the US, , , not always so easy finding your way around a new airport, , , and this one has twenty times the people it should have in it. Learning where to go is one thing, , , getting there will be a challenge in itself.
  • I learn the KLM ticket agents are in Terminal 2 so I head that way. Quickly, it is obvious there are thousands of passengers trying to get to a ticket agent on the 2nd level of the building.
  • Being a logical guy, I decide to go downstairs and make my way to Terminal 2 area where I’ll go back upstairs to find a ticket agent. This works great, , , not a huge crowd on Level-1 and I make good time. No pushing or wiggling my way through the crowds, , , it is normal levels of people down here on Level-1. I think to myself, “Proud of you for figuring this out, Mike.”
  • I go up to the Terminals 2-3 area and there is a huge crowd. It is packed like sardines. After making several wrong moves I figure out there is construction work that prevents me from getting to the Terminal 2 area, , , where I need to be. It’s wall to wall people and we all are a bit lost.
  • Finally, I decide to go outside to walk around the crowd to get to Terminal 2 entrance, , , the problem is that all entrance doors to Terminal 2 are closed due to the construction, , , so I have to walk back down to Terminal 1 to get back in. I could go back in Terminal 3, , , but you simply cannot get to Terminal 2 from Terminal 3 due to the construction. It’s a real dilemma, so we are off to re-enter the building at Terminal 1 where I started from earlier.
  • In the meantime I have talked to my wife, Dorine, to explain my situation and she goes online to learn that my Detroit flight is flying after all, , , just postponed. The problem is that it leaves in about 30 minutes. Hindsight is 20-20, , , if I had kept my baggage, I would have already been in the gate area and it would be a short walk to the new gate, , , but because I checked a bag, I had to pick up my luggage in Baggage Claim and now have to try to work through hundreds and hundreds of people to get a boarding pass in order to reach the Gate area. Good lesson here if you have a similar situation, , , even though it is a hassle, keep your luggage with you if it can’t be sent all the way to your final destination, , , it might give you options that help you reach your destination.
  • I go back inside to Terminal 1 and start making my way to the Terminal 2 ticket agents. The hallway is wall to wall people, but because I’m a Delta Platinum flyer, I can go to a special ticketing area, , ,  so I work my way through the outside lane of the crowd to get there. It’s a struggle.
  • When I get there, there are 300 people waiting to see 8 agents in the Elite Boarding zone. It’s a lot, but there must be 3,000 waiting in line to see an agent in the lines I just passed. No way most of them get to an agent in less than 6 hours if they do at all today.
  • There is still hope. All the self check-in kiosks are open so I walk up to one to check in and print my boarding pass (I’ll take my bags with me, I’m thinking).
  • Check-in appears to be going well until I get the boarding pass. It says: Your flight is already loading and you do not have sufficient time to get to your gate. Please see a desk agent.
  • Great , , , only 300 people there and 15 minutes before my Detroit connection departs, , , we can rule out making the Detroit connection, so I call Dorine again as I get in the line to see an agent. She has become my unofficial ticket agent. We are working with Delta agents on the phone, , , we aren’t going to just wait until we can get up to see an agent with this crowd.
  • Dorine quickly finds another flight, , , one to Memphis in an hour. She also tells me that if we miss this one, it will be Monday (2 more days) before I can get out as all Sunday flights appear to be booked solid.
  • I make a calculated gamble to lose my place in line and go back to the kiosk to see if I can print a boarding pass for the Memphis flight.
  • Looks good until I get the boarding pass, , , same comment as the first one I received, , , See a desk agent.
  • Back in line, , , it’s de ja vu all over again and I begin singing in my head the Porky Pig rendition of, “I’ll be home for Christmas.”
  • After some considerable time, I reach an agent. He thinks I have a chance to make the Memphis flight and he takes my luggage, , , but when he calls down to confirm I can get on the plane, they tell him they have already finished the loading process and won’t take anyone else. I just missed a 2nd outbound flight to the US.
  • Rats !!$#F^%*%# , , , but there is a possible light at the end of this tunnel. I just can’t tell if it is “light” or a train coming my way.
  • The agent books me on an Atlanta flight for Sunday morning at 10:20am (the next day), but he can’t confirm a seat, , , still some risk here.
  • Now, I settle into the fact I’m here in the airport for the night. It is now 3:00pm Saturday afternoon Amsterdam time. I have been waiting or flying for 25 hours already.  Have you seen the Tom Hanks movie, Terminal? I will meet a nice elderly lady who lives in the airport tonight. I was impressed with her generosity and how smart she seemed to be in the few conversations we would have.
  • Back downstairs where its a bit more normal, , , getting there is one royal pain squeezing through the crowd but I make it.
  • Exchange some dollars for Euros so I can eat and then it’s time to check the place out. What a nice airport, , , I mean it is one of the best I’ve been in, , , so I quickly decide things could be a lot worse and they certainly are upstairs. Turns out there are restaurants open all night and finding a seat to sit in down here is no problem on Level-1. Sure glad I have a sweatshirt and jacket as it’s quite cool in here.
  • I must have called Dorine 10 times during the night to keep her posted (daytime in Tennessee). She has been working hard to get me home, and I appreciate her so much.
  • Delta ticket agents will arrive at 6:00am. For some reason, I decide to go there at 5:00am and it’s a good thing, , , already 30 people in line and by 6:00am there must be 200 people waiting in essentially 3 lines although there are some 20 workstations for ticket agents. Another lesson, anticipate the challenges ahead and get a head start on everyone else. Had I gone there at 8:30 as suggested on my boarding pass, there is no way I would have made this flight.
  • At 6:00am, two agents come out, , , and you guessed it, they sit down at workstations where no one is lined up. Everyone leaves the three lines they were in and scramble to make two lines, , , it’s a bit chaotic to say the least but no punches were thrown.
  • I’m #7 in my line and after 45 minutes, I get checked in. No confirmed seat assignment, but I  have a boarding pass and I’m cleared to go to the gate, , , plenty of time to make the flight, , , only question is if I can get assigned a seat from the gate agent.
  • When they open the gate for security clearance, I’m one of the first and sure enough, I get a seat assignment, , , and it’s 1st class.
  • It’s a great flight to Atlanta and then to Nashville, , , after more than 60 hours of waiting for flights and flying, I finally arrive back home.

Had I not made the Sunday Atlanta flight, there is a good chance I would still be stuck in London’s Heathrow Airport right now as I was to go through Heathrow with the Monday flight we had scheduled as a back-up plan, , , I could easily still trying to get back home.

As it turned out, my Sunday flight to Atlanta was completely booked but only 70% full because people could not get past the huge bottleneck at the ticket agents desk. The gate areas and Level-1 had normal levels of people in them, but the Ticket Agent area was where most of the people were, , , and it was one huge log jam of people.

You would think the airlines would be able to learn from this and find a way to eliminate such a bottleneck, , , they lose millions in revenue when this happens.

After all the pain (and it certainly wasn’t as bad for me as many of the others who may still be standing in line), there is a silver lining to the story. Being marooned in the Amsterdam airport isn’t all that bad and getting bumped up to first class worked out well. Let’s wait and hold full judgment until we get next month’s phone bill, , , all those international cell phone calls to Dorine are going to add up to some big expense, , , but I think it is worth it to keep her posted. Another lesson, , , over communicate when there are problems, , , it reduces tension and worry.

I decided to document this series of events because it goes down as one of my memorable travel events, and there have been many in my career. 🙂  Plus, there are lessons worth knowing about if you find yourself in a similar situation.

When you have difficulties, it is imperative you use patience and keep positive thoughts , , , things will eventually work themselves out, but only if you develop a strategy and go make it happen.

It is also good to know you can and should use online resources and the phone to work with airline ticket agents to help you reroute. Standing in line and waiting to see someone takes time and you may find all the flights booked when you finally do reach a ticket agent. Take initiative and be proactive, , , it will get you home quicker.

Persevere, be patient, and use the resources available to you to reach your destination.

I am home for Christmas!!

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