Our most recent travel snafu
was on a flight back to Pittsburgh from Zurich, Switzerland. Why we were in Zurich, via Lucerne, via Mannheim, Germany is another entirely different story. The Zurich airport is amazing. It’s too bad Tom Hanks’ character in Terminal wasn’t stuck there—he’d have been stranded in style.
My husband has learned to allow a lot of time between connections on international trips, so when the flight out of Zurich was delayed by an hour, we weren’t concerned. Not thrilled, but oh well, right?
One thing I look forward to on transAtlantic flights is indulging in my love of movies. I can overdose on movies and feel guilt free (even though, yes, I should be writing or reading or wisely sleeping). We got on this plane and I groaned. It was such an old 757 that in coach it had the big TV at the bulkhead and then one TV further back. I hadn’t been on one of these in decades.
Then we sat down.
But for the TV’s, I swear this was the same plane Seester and I flew to Italy on in 2007 and the condition of the seats had not improved. At 5’2”, I was cramped. At a foot taller, Alex was squashed. Still, what are you going to do? We settled in, commented on how sparse the plane was with flyers and prepared for take off.
When the plane headed down the runway, I thought to myself, man oh day, this plane sounds old and rattly and if it were a car, I would opt to get out and walk. I read for a while, did some computer work, then tuned into the last half of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty while Alex popped onto the channel where you can listen to the pilot’s talk. He turned to me and said, “There’s a plane without navigation. I don’t know if it’s ours.” A few minutes later, the pilot announced, “Folks, we’re having a computer issue. It’s not an emergency, but we’re going to head back to Shannon, Ireland and get it looked at.”
We groaned and everyone around us groaned.
At that point, though, some passengers were hopeful it would be a quick fix and we’d be airborne again in no time. We knew better. Figure in the time it would take to actually get it fixed, they’d have to re-fuel the plane since the pilot burnt off a whole bunch so we could land. Then the crew would have been flying for more hours than they’re supposed to, the passengers probably would have been out of refreshments … you get the idea, right?
No sooner did our tires hit the pavement and we came to a stop when the pilot told us we would be disembarking and spending the night in Shannon. The flight attendants came through assigning hotels to some people, not telling others, handing out a card for us to call customer service and that they were already rebooking everyone, providing another paper with a one-shot calling card for people to call a family member/friend.
We retrieved our suitcases, went through passport control (they are a pre-site for the USA, so that was helpful), (“Good for you to visit Ireland with your last name–Griffiths are plentiful here.”) and wandered out to the front of the airport. Now what? Oh, a bus would be coming. Okay, where was it taking us? No idea. Other passengers meandered off across the parking lot to the hotel where they were staying. There we were. Waiting. Having another new experience.
When Alex saw the crew come out, he went over to chat with the pilot. In typical Alex fashion, he said, “You know you could get antique plates for that plane, right?” The pilot laughed, “I think this plane is older than that!”
How we react…
I always pray when I fly and ask that God give the pilot the courage, strength, knowledge and skill to get us safely to our destination. This pilot and crew handled the situation calmly and professionally. Out of the 200+ people on the plane, one woman cried and that was more because she wasn’t getting to the USA when she wanted than out of fear.
I talked with a young Swiss man sitting behind us. He was en route to Santa Barbara, California, so obviously this was going to add some chaos up his trip. I said, “Since 9/11, it all comes down to the plane going up and landing properly. If that is okay then everything else is a bonus.” It took a moment for what I was saying to register for him. I’m only guessing, but I think it was a combination of the language (although his English was very good), the cultures of our nations, and the fact that he was probably five years old when 9/11 happened.
Our hotel was old, the beds were hard, the pillows were flat, the bathroom had separate faucets for the hot and cold water, the hairdryer was bolted inside a drawer, the TV had tubes.
The attached pub was fantastic. The food was great—they had all meat main course items, my husband said I am a vegetarian, so they offered to stir fry me something. Wow. The service was impeccable. They were friendly and charming. The desserts were five star. The Guinness was good.
Breakfast could not have been more inviting and vast with staff who strolled about making sure everyone had everything they need.
The Shannon airport has the best duty free shops and prices we’ve seen. It was, ahem, hard to limit myself to a scarf (a fetish akin to my love of socks) and two books (buy one, get one half off!).
This time our plane was from the 21st century, had TVs at each seat with seats that hadn’t been crushed to uncomfortable by sumo wrestlers, and home we headed.
Our Zurich friend was able to get all his transfers and connections rescheduled and we were able to get back to Pittsburgh via Chicago.
So, what do you do when travel plans go awry? You sigh, say a prayer that you’re safe, and dive into making the best of it. We got to set foot in Ireland, collect a green passport stamp, take photos of the road-notes intended for pedestrians, and talk with people we would otherwise never have spoken with. All in, it was a good trip home.
Read: Leaving Traces