Our first stop in Italy! NOT!
Actually in Newark airport. I’m sitting here typing this with bleary, bloodshot, 3-hours of sleep eyes in good ole’ Bordentown. Yes Bordentown in New Jersey on a stormy Sunday Mid-day.
We’ve all experienced travel nightmares, but this is the worst outbound one for us by far (if you look back to our China blog, we had an even worse one, but on the way home).
No problems, at first, yesterday. an easy, traffic-free ride to the Airport Hilton to park our van and an efficient transfer to the terminal and through baggage, security, and to the nearest gate (unusual). All eight of us checked in and waiting relaxed for our 6:30 United Airlines/Lufthansa flights to Munich and then to Naples. Talking, reading, strolling and snacking during a comfortable two hour wait. The weather was perfect here…and in Naples with a forecast mid-70s and sunny. And then…
Issue #1: Announcement that our flight would be an hour late due to a “minor” mechanical problem. No biggie since we had a three hour layover in Munich.
Issue #2: We were boarded onto a nice, new-looking 767-400. We sat at the gate for a seemingly over-long period of time, but we eventually pushed back toward the taxiway. We thought the next rather long wait was for afternoon traffic. But, the captain announced that an engine gauge on the instrument panel wasn’t operating – but “the engine is fine”. They tried shutting down and restarting the engine. Of course that didn’t work so we taxied back to the gate so maintenance could get hands-on. NOPE. It would take some time, so we were asked to exit the airplane with all our stuff and go to customer service to see if we could re-book on another flight to Munich. It was about 8:00.
Issue #3: Of course the line was blocks long with hundreds of people and only a couple of customer service reps. We were way back and quickly losing hope that we would be able to make our connection in Munich for Naples. I stood there calling UA and LH to see if we could circumvent the line with the phone. Futile. In the meantime an announcement was made that our plane was fixed and would depart at about 9:30 – “hurry back to the gate and re-board”. We did and sat, and sat while they retrieved the baggage from people who had already changed their itineraries – now federally mandated. We just listened to the banging and shuffling through all the bags in the hold – can you imagine? Finally we saw the hold door close. This time we got to start our taxi out, but stopped dead. Yes. The pilot announced that a new, similar problem acted up again. Back to the gate and to the long, long line that had to accommodate everyone’s complicated plans.
Issue #4: It was now around midnight and we were madly emailing and texting our hotel, our driver in Naples and our travel company saying not to anticipate our on-time arrival.
Issue #5: At about 1 am United came out with trays of snacks, water, and blankets and pillows for those who would sleep at the airport for the same plane’s 9 am departure on Sunday. Half our group stayed in line while the other half took the blankets and pillows and found some benches in a closed restaurant to try for a few ZZZs.
There were probably 7 or 8 agents trying to rebook people with connections, get the meal vouchers, and hotel accommodations. Each traveler or group required well over a half hour of agent time. We finally got to an agent about 4 am and during our 45 minutes competently found us a flight to Frankfurt with a connection to Naples that would get us in just about 24 hours late.
Issue #6: At this point we declined to take a hotel, since we would have to check in at about 6 am and have to be out at the 10 or 11 o’clock check out time. Most of us did not have changes of clothes, etc. as they were still in our checked bags that would be transferred (fingers crossed) to the Frankfurt flight. We took the shuttle back to the Hilton (24-hour operation fortunately) to get back in the van and tried to keep our eyes open as we drove back to central NJ. Got to bed at 6:30 am – twelve hours after our flight was supposed to leave. Slept three hours and now getting ready to head back to Newark.
A good thing was that Jeff’s phone rang on the way back to Bordentown. It was the Hotel in Herculaneum, very sympathetic to our problem, saying they would have the driver there for us on arrival and hold the trip to Pompeii for us. He even took orders for sandwiches and snacks for the trip. We missed one cooking class, but it looks like the rest of the trip will work out just fine. On the phone he said in a very heavy Italian accent, “When the beginning starts out badly, the end will be beautiful!” Let’s hope.
If you’ve read this far either you are a real glutton, or have relived a similar experience yourself. If you have, maybe you can expound in the comments below. I’m sure it would be an interesting exchange.
See you in Italy tomorrow!