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Abandon Flight!

I guess that I should have been prepared for what was about to happen when the TV weather was saying everything would be ok in New York and looking out of the window it was clearly a heavy ice/snow storm. I’d even taken the earlier shuttle to the airport with the intention of building in time to allow to get to JFK (the journey actually took 45mins longer than anticipated). Arriving at the airport and all the information boards were saying that all flights were “on time”. Things looked good.

Waiting to get boarded, at least 1 flight was already cancelled, and 4 others were waiting delayed. Again, unless you were actually at the gates watching all this happen, the information boards were not showing any delays. Then the next flight was cancelled, the crew had run out of time. My understanding was that the crew have about 14 hours duty time. Given the delay plus flight time to destination it would exceed this duty time. The delay was being caused, not by the bad weather since flights were taking off, no it was the de-icing machine. The impression was given to us that the de-icing process was taking far too long anyway, but each plane would take 1 hour to de-ice. Today the process was taking longer.

Two hours later than scheduled we boarded. Hopes were high that we might be lucky and leave. I feel asleep. Some 4 hours later I awoke thinking that the flight was very smooth, the cabin lights were off. I looked outside. We were still at JFK, no wonder it was smooth. Chatting with the flight attendant and things seemed grim. The de-icing process was taking a lot longer than they hoped for and flight crews were running out of time. We might be able to fly to somewhere closer and a relief crew brought in to take over. No such luck, the pilot was forced to head back to the gate, except there was no free gate.

After 5 hours on the tarmack, we made it back. We were told that if we wanted to leave the plane we could, or wait on board, get fed and then be transfered to a hotel. The buses were scheduled for 07:30. At 08:15 they turned up. A lot of very tired people got on the bus at least looking forward to some rest and freshen up. The bus driver got lost. The hotel was welcome, comfortable beds, good shower, and food provided by the airline. We’d have to wait here until 20:00 when the buses would get us back to the airport for part 2.

Part 2 started with the same delayed flights waiting to leave. We had been lucky, some flights had been cancelled and the passengers forced to wait in the terminal. Two hours later than scheduled we boarded. Three hours later than scheduled we left. The flight was rough.

When I eventually got home the total delay was 32 hours.

Some important lessons learnt:

  • Fly with a good airline. I flew with Lufthansa, so I know then when things really go wrong they will look after you.
  • If the flight is for business and is over 5 hours, only fly business class. In fact I’d change this to be if you fly for over 5 hours only consider business class (or better than economy).
  • Never fly to JFK in winter. Its obvious that they can’t cope with winter. (I was also reliably informed from frequent fliers that the service in JFK was consistently bad, I am inclined to agree).
  • Wearing the same clothes for more than three days can be done, especially if you can have a shower at some time and spray on cologne at the duty free so you don’t smell too bad.
  • Never believe what the weather people say. Look out of the window and figure it our for yourself.
  • Having lapsed into being a confident traveller, I’ll make sure that the following are packed as hand luggage: a change of underwear; toiletries (which can be taken on a flight); something to entertain for hours; a mobile phone that is not on pre-paid credit; insurance in case the airline happens to be crap and will not pay for an overnight stay if the flight is heavily delayed.

**UPDATE** It looks like I should have had some compensation, according to this BBC article

Categories: Journal, Travel
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