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My Ill-fated Trip to Europe

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My Ill-fated Trip to Europe

The Wall Street Journal this morning has this article: Travel Woes in Europe Won’t End This Summer.

Airlines are preparing for this summer’s travel disruption in Europe to continue into fall, with some of the region’s biggest airports extending caps on passenger numbers as they struggle to keep up with the rapid recovery in air travel.

Major hubs including London Heathrow, Frankfurt Airport and Amsterdam Schiphol have all recently said that capacity restrictions will last until at least October as they battle to recruit more staff.

Airports across Europe imposed limits on the number of passengers and flights that could pass through their facilities this summer after, at times, becoming overwhelmed by a stronger-than-expected rebound in demand. After two years of pandemic-related travel restrictions, passengers returning to the skies have been greeted with long lines at security, a scourge of lost baggage and regular flight delays or cancellations. 

For passengers, the continuing threat of disruption could deter some from traveling.

Speaking as one of them: a definite yes!

I attended the Salzburg Festival last summer when there were still a number of restrictions and the trip went smoothly. But this year, the ominous indicators started popping up just days before my departure. My travel agent called to say that we needed to modify my schedule both coming and going. I had a long flight from Mexico City to Frankfurt and then a short hop to Dresden, both with Lufthansa. So Lufthansa was saying sorry, but the Dresden flight was no longer available so they had booked me on a four and a half hour train to Dresden instead of the one-hour flight. No fun after an eleven hour trans-Atlantic flight. But I agreed as I seemed to recall that when I booked the flight that no cancellations were allowed. Ok. But next, my return flight was also not available, again, because of the Dresden leg. I had to move to the day before or the day after. So I moved to the day before so I wouldn't have to arrange for an extra day's accommodation. So far so good, right?

Alas, things did not go as planned. The flight from Mexico City was delayed two hours so I missed the train to Dresden which was leaving when I was still waiting for my baggage. I stayed the night in the airport Hilton and took the train the next day. So, I finally got there, a bit worse for wear. Unfortunately I came down with some sort of bug so I felt crappy the whole time I was there. Now for the return trip: I was hoping this would go better, but I read in the Wall Street Journal that 45% of Lufthansa flights out of Frankfurt were delayed. I figured as long as the Dresden one was on time I would be ok. And so it was and I was there beforehand for the flight. Just a note about the Frankfurt airport. It is very large and does not have an internal transit system as some US airports do. So you walk. My Dresden flight arrived at gate A something. My Mexico City flight was leaving from gate Z23. So I walked. And walked. And walked.

Then things started to go wrong again. They announced that the flight was over-booked and asked for volunteers to move to the next day with a cash incentive. I didn't consider that as I just wanted to get home. Then the flight was delayed an hour. But ok, as long as we get there. I was planning on spending the night in Mexico City anyway, to rest up. The flight was fine until just fifteen minutes before we were due to touch down, the pilot came on and announced that there were heavy thunderstorms in Mexico City and we didn't have enough fuel to avoid them. So we were going to divert to the nearby city of Queretaro to refuel before continuing on. My heart sank in my chest. This is after twelve hours essentially trapped in a not very comfortable seat.

Originally the pilot mumbled something about only being on the ground in Queretaro for twenty minutes or so. Once we got there, after a very, very long taxi, he announced that we would be there forty-five minutes to an hour. After an hour he announced that the fuel truck had finally arrived. After re-fueling, it seemed to take another hour to get ready to take off again. So I think we were on the ground in Queretaro for about three hours. The final leg to Mexico City was very quick, but that still meant that the flight, which was supposed to arrive at 6:30 pm local time, actually arrived around 10:30. Then it took an hour to get through Mexican immigration and luggage pick up. I got to the hotel around 11:30.

One more note on the pilot: the take-offs and landings on all these flights were extremely bumpy which I had never experienced before with Lufthansa.

It's like the whole company had a nervous breakdown just before my departure.

So that's the story of my summer vacation!

In retrospect, knowing what I know now, when my travel agent called to say that both flights had to be changed I should simply have said, no, cancel the whole trip and then try to get a refund from Lufthansa based on the fact that this was not what I had paid for--way back in March!

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