Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Stranded! - Part One

Now that I am done with all my travels and exams, its time to finish up writing some old stories that I wanted to jot down.
This post is about the mini 'vacation' in Germany last year.

So I was about to end my US trip and head back home, when about a day ahead of my travel I heard this news about some volcano erupting in Iceland. "Whatever..!", I thought. I was just glad that I was flying Lufthansa since they shut down the Heathrow Airport. My connection was in Frankfurt, and that was still working in full swing so I was safe.

I boarded my flight on time and the trip to Frankfurt was pretty uneventful. I had about a 6-7 hour layover there, so I decided to catch up on the book I was reading ('The Longest Day' - A story about D-Day partly based in Germany) and some sleep.

While I was dozing off, a desi Uncleji came up to me to ask which way I was heading. I told him.

He then told me that his flight to Bombay was cancelled. And there were rumors of other flights being cancelled as well. "WTF! Seriously what's going on here!". I decided to got out of my cozy corner and check with the airline people.

By the time I reached the information desk, I was shocked to see long lines of people queued up already. And even more surprising were long rows of cots around the terminal.

Apparently, while I had walked to the terminal, I had conveniently failed to notice these people who were sleeping with makeshift arrangements of cots and blankets. Turned out that these people had their flights to Heathrow cancelled and were forced to make an emergency landing here.

Anyhow, by the time I stood in line for about fifteen minutes, it became clear that all flights in and out of the airport were being cancelled.

"Blow!" I thought. "What do I do next?"

Since there were a lot of desis around, I decided to hang around there and find out what was going on.
Rows of Cots
It turned out that since all flights had been cancelled, the airlines were handing out hotel vouchers to those who had a Germany visa. Since I (and a lot of travelers around me) did not have one, we were eft with two options- a) Stand in line for an emergency short term visa at a distant corner in some faraway terminal. b) Get one of those cots that the airline had provided and make base right at the terminal.

I was traveling alone, so I decided not to take any chances with getting lost by roaming around the huge airport (trust me, Frankfurt airport is HUGE! And its very much possible to get lost, especially when its shutdown). So I stayed with a bunch of Indians stuck in the same situation.

I had assumed this would last a day at the maximum, and we would be able to make our connections.

Bed On Day One
As the day progressed it became clear that no change in status was expected for the next 48 hours at least. Rumors were flying around.

I panicked a little.

Now that I had a place to call home-- a row of benches and some covers, the next task was to get connected to people back home.
Now calling them up was not an option for me. I'd tried that from the same airport about four months back and had failed because everything on the pay phones was in German!
I looked around for the next best thing. Free WiFi? Nope, this airport had none.
Then after wasting some precious Euros on an hour long connection, I decided to cough up for a month long unlimited access pass.

When I purchased it, I did not know that I'd actually have to use it for four days. But as it turned out it was hands down, the best investment I ever made.
As I spoke with the family in both corners of the world and updated Twitter and Facebook ;D, I felt much better.

While I spent most of my awake time on the internet, I also happened to meet some really nice people there.
The Terminal

- There was a group of four people, a doctor, a priest, an IT guy and a business person, who had met at the airport and become good friends! Hung out with them for some time.

- Then there was this elderly couple, who were going to the US for their daughter's graduation who took care of me like their kid!

- This group of people my age who had set up a Facebook group for those 'Ashed@Frankfurt' even before I did! All of us ended up downloading and watching 'The Terminal' together. I was awesome fun to compare and contrast our condition with Tom Hanks! :)

- There was this guy who was going for the Boston Marathon from Bangalore. He decided to return back to Bangalore eventually since he missed the race while stuck at the airport :(

- There was a pregnant lady in the group. Also an Ob/Gyn :)

- A group of Pakistani people who were going to London, and could have taken a bus to get there had they gotten a visa. [Apparently while its hard for Indians- for which I cursed the regulations a zillion times- since they need a visa, its even worse for Pakistanis and people from certain African nations. They were repeatedly being denied a visa, despite having a genuine request!]

- These, and hundreds more people with a thousand different stories.

There's so much more to tell about those four days. I'll continue with my story in another post..

PS: My story might be very fragmented since there are so many things, and I keep jumping from one point to the other. But I hope I can do it justice. I was an adventure of a lifetime.

PPS: 80% of this post was written a couple of months back. So I'm posting the half baked thing just for the heck of it- so that it doesn't stay in my draft folder forever!

Final PPPS: After putting in some pictures, I realized that I would me much easier (and chronologically correct) to tell the story via pictures. So that's what I'l do next.

1 comment:

  1. Have you read this

    The max I have spent at Amsterdam Airport is 14 hours but I can so relate to your situation.. I am sure it feels cool now but then it must have had been a nightmare..



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