When Travel Plans Go Belly Up!

We have just returned from an amazing month long vacation. I have so many photographs and stories to share but I beg you for your patience just a little longer as I really do feel I need to share with you the rather unpleasant experiences that book-ended our splendid adventure.

Life isn’t always easy and the rose tinted glasses must come off from time to time. Even here on the blog. You see, Dear Reader, things did not go all that smoothly. In fact, as I look back now, with a cooler head and a little sleep, I believe that what could go wrong did, in fact, go wrong.

The Departure

We arrived on time to check in to our flight from Ottawa to Newark (the first leg of three), only to be told that due to heavy storms in Newark all flights had been canceled.  We asked if there was a later flight but nothing was available.  We would, it seemed, miss our flight from Newark to Geneva and thus our connection from Geneva to Athens.

This was not good.

Frantically, the airline assistant tried to find another way to get us to Athens as soon as possible. We could leave in two hours via Heathrow, said the young woman. Mom’s eyebrows went up. “Not with a dog, we can’t!” I could hear the irritation in Mom’s voice. The airline assistant should have known that the UK does not allow any animal to fly into the country.

“Well then, I can’t help you. The only thing I have leaves in 2 days,” said the woman.

Mom pulled out her phone and called Danielle, our amazing travel agent.  Mom told Danielle what was happening and put her on speaker phone. Together, the United Airlines agent and Danielle found a way to get us to Athens. The down side? We were leaving the next day. We would lose a day of vacation and as a result, would also lose a non-refundable hotel night in Athens.

But the weather gods had spoken and nothing else could be done. At least it was just one day lost.

We returned home (adding extra taxi fare to the mounting financial losses) and Mom was really quiet. Dad suddenly realized that it wasn’t just disappointment that had silenced her.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“We have been routed via Munich,”  Mom answered.

“Yes and …?” responded Dad.

“We don’t have papers for Montecristo for Germany, hon. I have the papers for Switzerland and I have EU form 998 in Greek and English but not in German and English. I have no idea what is going to happen when we try to clear customs in Munich.”

Dad and Mom were super quiet. This was indeed a problem. What to do?

Mom then decided she would simply print the form in German and English (thanks to our resource page we had easy access to that form!) and hope that the customs officer would understand. After all, the information is exactly the same, just the language is different. The German/English form could thus act as a translation document to the Greek/English form, if needed.

The next day, we left on time from Ottawa to Washington (Dullus Airport). I enjoyed the indoor potty availability at Dullus and things were looking up. And then … our flight from Washington was delayed and we left two hours late.  We would miss our connecting flight from Munich to Athens.

As we sat on the plane, Mom’s silence grew. Now we had not only the customs issue to deal with in Munich but we also had no idea if we would make it to Athens that day.

When we landed, we made our way to the customs desk.  Mom and Dad gave their passports and I sat quiet as a mouse in my bag. The German customs officer stamped the passports and waved us through.  He did not mention me at all. Not wanting to test their luck, the bipeds said nothing and moved along. We are guessing he did not see me. And in this case, we were not about to point it out.

Breathing a little lighter, we made our way to the Lufthansa help desk to see about getting to Athens. Mom was really tired, her nerves a little on edge. Dad did all he could to soothe her. Luckily Mom speaks German and when our turn came, she explained everything that had happened. The lady working the desk took pity on us and worked frantically to find a solution.  She booked us on the earliest flight to Athens the next morning.

The bipeds were gutted. Now two days – and the entire stay in Athens – were completely lost. And now, with our arrival time being still later, we would also lose our pre-booked and paid ferry ticket to Santorini.  Mom’s eyes welled up, but she took a deep breath, thanked the lady and asked about a voucher for a hotel night.

The lady replied in flawless English, “Wait for the hotel voucher. I have put you on standby for the flight to Athens that leaves in 3 hours. So you might still make it. Everything is overbooked so I can’t make a promise but you could get lucky. The list isn’t long. We try, yes? If no, you come back to see me and I give you the voucher.”

So with a tiny flutter of hope, we walked through the airport. We found a nice place to have a bite to eat and wait. Exhausted.

The flight to Athens was called and we made our way to the gate. We sat literally on the edge of our seats. They started boarding. First class, business class … economy. We waited. Just as Mom looked like she was going to cry, the Lufthansa lady at the counter called the bipeds’ names.

“I have seats for you!” she beamed.

I have never seen the bipeds so happy to get on a plane. And that is how our vacation started, Dear Reader. We lost a day. It was touch and go all the way. But we made it.

The Return

I wish I could say our return to Ottawa was smooth. But alas, Dear Reader, it too was unpleasant.

Our return was a simpler situation. Our flight from Sofia to Munich was on time, but once we arrived in Munich, we learned that our plane was delayed. First it was just an hour’s delay. That was okay we thought; we would still make our connecting flight in Newark to Ottawa, even with clearing customs.

But then they announced a two hour delay and then … a three hour delay.

“At least we are still leaving,” said Dad. Mom smiled halfheartedly. If there is one thing she hates, my friends, it is waiting for nothing.

We finally boarded our flights and arrived in Newark. In the absolute chaos that is this particular airport, we managed to make our way to the desk that would find us a way home. At this point Mom was certain we would be staying the night. She was resigned to our fate. Dad was tired and jet lag had settled in. It was 3:00 p.m. in Newark but for us it was 6 hours later. A lingering cold was not helping his mood. Tired and grumpy the bipeds did their best to go with the flow.

The United Airways Representative found us a flight home. The only set-back? It left at 9:15 pm. It would be past midnight before we’d be home and in our beds.

We accepted the food voucher and found a place to eat. We killed some time walking up and down the dreary and boring common area of Newark airport.

We finally headed to security only to learn the metal detector was not working, leaving only the x-ray scanner for clearance. Mom refused to go through the x-ray scanner with me. So security forced her to walk all the way down a hallway, barefoot, to another area where she and I could go through a working metal detector, and then walk back. Mom was not amused.

Then we sat and waited for our flight.

And the weather turned nasty.

Our flight was delayed 15 min …

Then another 15 min …

By the time we boarded, it was 10:30 pm.

But, we made it. We made it home. It was 1:30 a.m. when we opened our front door. We had been awake and in transit for over 24 hours. But we were home! I got Moby and curled up in bed next to my exhausted bipeds and we all slept deeply.

What We Learned

Being in transit is a lesson in gratitude. After all, we got to our destination and then back home safely.  The planes all took off, flew, and landed. There was no crash, no illness, no tragedy. Remaining grateful when everything else is going belly up is a challenging exercise. The bipeds kept saying, “Be a fish. Go with the flow.”

We also learned:

  • People are both the biggest problem and the greatest assets when in transit. One particular instance on our flight home really conveys this the best. When we checked in at the Sofia airport, the agent working at the Lufthansa desk didn’t check our backpack all the way to Ottawa. (We had to check our carry-on backpack because the plane was too small to accept any carry on.) Instead, the agent just checked our backpack in to Munich. The agent was rude and seemed annoyed.  She was particularly unpleasant when having to check me in on a boarding pass. She didn’t know how and I think it bothered her to be faced with that lack of skill. Twenty minutes later, as we sat waiting for our flight, Mom realized we had no boarding pass for the next two flights. She then checked the baggage claim sticker and noticed the sticker only said, “Munich.” When the agent working the gate showed up, the bipeds went to her and explained the situation. She was remarkable. She got a technician to go down in the belly of the plane, find our backpack and change the tag to go all the way to Ottawa. Then she called ahead to Munich and informed the other airline (she was with Lufthansa and we were continuing our journey with United) that we were in fact on the way and should have been given boarding passes. She then told us what to do when we got to Munich.  All this with a smile, a lovely demeanor and an air of apology.  A person had caused the problem but another had gone far beyond the call of duty to fix it.
  • A travel agent makes all the difference. I can’t stress this point enough. I know many of you still refuse to use a travel agent, thinking you will save big bucks by booking your flight on your own online. But believe me when I tell you that if Danielle had not been there, we would never have made it to Athens when we did. Her insisting to keep looking, over and over again, found an option previously not seen.  Find yourself an travel agent you love, who knows your likes and needs, and you have an amazing travel ally at your fingertips. Oh and … have them on speed dial!
  • Non-refundable isn’t always the best option. We had a lot of hotel nights booked in advance. In order to pay a lower price, we often chose the non-refundable option. But now we know that, at least for our first night or two, that is not always a good idea. What started as a $30 savings ended up being a $90 loss. We would have been better off paying the $120 for the first night, leaving that booking open for possible cancellation. Flights do get cancelled. Plans do unravel. It is good to remember that booking something non-refundable is a gamble and sometimes you lose.
  • Summer is the worst time to travel. It had been years since the bipeds had traveled in the summer and now they remember why. Spring and fall have better fares, fewer storms, and fewer people in the air. Other than December and January, summer is really the worst time to travel.
  • If you have an unmovable date, put in a buffer of 4 days or more if you can. The sailing part of our trip was unmovable. The sailboat would leave, with or without us, on a certain day, at a certain time. Luckily, Mom’s experience with travel meant she had booked two nights in Athens followed by two nights in Santorini before our sailing date. We are so glad she booked us this way!

In the end, Dear Reader, it is over and the good news is our vacation was absolutely amazing. The bad flying experiences on the way there and home have not darkened our view of this trip. It was what it was.

And it is important at some point to stop complaining and remember how extraordinary it is that within a day, one can cross the Atlantic and be on another continent. Every time a plane takes off, especially the big 747 types, I am in awe.  Thousands of planes fly every day. They have fewer accidents than cars even though the planes fly faster and further. The coordination required to move people and goods is astounding. So when things go wrong, it is important to remember how often it goes right.

Do you have a travel horror story to share?

36 Comments on “When Travel Plans Go Belly Up!

  1. For better or worse, travel is an adventure. Multiple legs, multiple countries, weather – they all make our travels all the more memorable. I’m happy that you found airline employees that went the extra mile for you. I used to work for American and nothing made me happier than to make the difference for a passenger in distress. I’ve had my share of disaster stories. My ex-wife and I were in transit to Aruba through San Juan, PR. Before we landed in San Juan, the aircraft for our final leg was downsized and we were bumped off the flight. Airline employees fly standby so there was nothing we could do about it. We backtracked to Miami, the closest airport that had direct flights to Aruba, but were bumped off the last flight of the day. Dazed and confused, we sat in the terminal trying to plan our next move. I had packed a supplement that was included with a budget travel subscription. There were recommendations for nice budget accommodations in different cities and Miami was one. I found a nice hotel in South Beach that didn’t break our budget and had a wonderful night taking in the sights, sounds, and tastes of South Beach. We had no problem boarding our flight to Aruba the following day and enjoyed a tropical vacation.
    As always, a wonderful post which I enjoyed immensely. It would be nice is all the followers of Montecristo Travels could enjoy an evening (or two)of trading travel or dog stories.

  2. I certainly have a horror story to tell, dealing with Lufthansa in Frankfurt, but I will not share it, because thinking about it still makes my blood broil. This happened 10 years ago, and ever since that day I refuse to fly Lufthansa in protest. That being said, it is most unfortunate when flights do not connect as planned and I am so happy to hear that your holiday was splendid and that you have returned home, safe and sound. Welcome back!

    • Thank you Ingrid. Unfortunately bad stories like this have become the norm. Sadly the industry is no longer all that interested in the service aspect. The reality is all flights are booked. People will fly no matter what – because that is todays world… we fly. I doubt Lufthansa is alone … United messed up royally as well. I have had terrible experience with KLM and Air Canada as well … not to mention Air France. *sigh*

  3. Awesome post!

    And what a horror story indeed!

    Travel by plane remains an adventure, even in the 2nd decade of the 21st century.

      • In the 50’s and 60’s flying was an adventure and an experience on its own. Because it was so very expensive, you always flew in style, with a taste of luxury and it was already a part of your journey, expedition or vacation.

        As there were only a few flights a day from your airport, only weatherconditions could interfere your flight. Connection flights even waited for intercontinental planes to arrive, before departing themselves, because passengers were important.

        Not so more today.
        Passengers are not important anymore. There are even a nuisance in modern aviation.

        Prices dropped significant. 15 years ago, a retourticket Brussels-Vienna costed around 600 euro when you could find a cheap travel agency. Last year, I could fly the same trip with the same airline for 1 euro and 55 euro airporttaxes.

        Travel in luxury remains only for businessclass, because of the price difference. 150 euro for economy and 1500 euro for business class. So why should an airline even consider those irritating economy passengers?

        Due to the immense trafficjam of planes; delay, cancellation, overbooking is the new standard in the world of flying.

        But Monte asked me personnal experiences with airplanes… So this is my story…

        I don’t like flying.
        Yes, I have fear of flying and it limits my horizon.
        But sometims you have to if you want to see and enjoy a little part of the world. Or when your boss sends you on a business trip.
        So I start my travels always with mixed feelings.

        Brussels airport is the place where all my flying experiences begin.
        When I am honest, I have to tell you I never started my trips with any delays.
        Ok, a delay of 20 minutes I don’t count. And once when the plane had to be de-iced because temperature dropped to -20° Celsius, take-off was 45 minutes later. But boarding took place as scheduled.
        Even connection flights went smoothly, when I don’t think about my nerves when one time there was only 10 minutes between landing with plane 1 and take-off with plane 2 at the other end of the airport. And we managed. We found even our luggage at the destination airport without delay.

        Return flights are another discussion.
        For some reason, it must be me? Because after 25 years of flying within Europe, I can’t remember 5 flights where I landed on time back in Brussels.

        Greece is my ‘favourite’ country concerning delays. For a return flight of 3 1/2 hours, it is normal for me to have delays of 12 or more hours. I travelled 6 times to Crete and my fastest return had only 8 hours delay. Twice I returned more than 1 day later. The reasons for the delays where engine problems, failure of cockpit screens, strikes form the Greece customs or airtraffic controllers. The last 2 are the most common reasons for delays.

        The United Kingdom is second on my list. Flights lasts no more than 1 hour or 1 hour and a half.
        Returning from a businessmeeting was always an adventure. Manchester has a very very busy airport. Overcrowded, thus a lot of delays varying from 2 to 6 hours for an 1 hour flight.
        Other reasons for delays? Engine problems.
        Or not finding a crew!!! No joking! Flying for my job, meant flying with British Airways!! And how often did I heard that no flight crew was available! Not in the middle of nowhere in Australia or Africa during the beginning of the 20th century, but in the middle of modern civilisation and towards the Capital of Europe nowadays!

        I will not talk about trips to Italy or I start to weep.

        (Hoping everything is readable as my English has become somewhat rusty)

        • Goes to show — the problems exist all over. We had no issues with Greece at all. Most of our delays were caused by storms in the US. I think we all have to approach travel now with a new set of expectations… that there will be delays. But should we have to settle? or should we demand that airlines DO something about this?

  4. Ay caramba, amigo! That is an odyssey! My people dad is a very frequent traveler, and he visits Newark airport once every three months or so. He loathes that airport so much that he’s twitching as I type this! EWR is the second-most delayed airport in the US, and virtually ALL flights after 2 or 3 pm are delayed every day. And so depressing! Some of the airport is still ‘under construction’, but it’s been that way for a couple of years. It’s NOT GOOD. It is BAD.

  5. Whhhheeeewww! Reading this gave me terrible anxiety. lol

  6. We haven’t had smooth air travels for some time. My husband’s last attempt to fly from Chicago to Philly ended up with an overnight in Dallas —not exactly on the way. Here’s the story of another of our attempts to fly from Chicago to Philly. My advice—stay out of ORDhttp://www.boomeresque.com/getting-there-eventually/.

  7. So glad for the bright spots in the tale — the airline reps who helped, and the work of your own travel agent! I’m not that surprised that things went smoothly in Germany — as long as you’re just transiting through a destination, and you don’t leave the secured area of the airport while you’re there, your pup doesn’t need the paperwork FOR that country (and of course you had the back-up of having EU paperwork, too).

    • As a result we never really cleared customs on the “dog side”. Once in Athens … nothing. Was very … odd. But we were happy to let it be. And yes, it is very important to remember the good and not just the bad. It would be easy to harp on all the negatives but some people really did all they could and some. And that means a lot.

  8. Dear Monte & Bipeds.

    I cried when I read your experience… and I am not a cry baby! But it is so anxiety producing when you have plans that go awry.

    We have traveled quite a bit.. and the fact is that you invest so much time and effort in the planning and then … anything can happen to change up the plans. 🙁

    Our mini poodle traveled with us this June to France. And that does add an incredibly wonderful enjoyable layer to the travel experience. We have loved reading your adventures.

    You inspire us to continue traveling!

    • thank you Linda!! glad you had a great experience with your mini poodle in France!! I highly recomend Greece or Tuscany for your next trip!! 🙂

  9. Oh My Monte!!!! What an adventure! But look at the bright side, it gave you an article to write about! Travels usually come with some ups and some downs. But in the end, it’s what you make of it, and the bipeds and you always seem to make it a good one, that’s all that matters!!!! We had some minor travel problems over the years, but luckily nothing major. Delays are to be expected unfortunately, so as the bipeds put it: be a fish, go with the flow!

    Hoping your next travels go smoother and looking forward to all the beautiful pictures!


    • We are in the process of writing a letter to the airlines to both place a complaint but also praise the staff along the way. I think that is important to do.

  10. oh my God,honey I am glad you are all home safe,but what an ordeal why people can make life so complicated for a dogglie to travel.Is beyond me!!!
    I’ve never had a holiday like just go sight seen and all,but when I got Victor I was afraid of driving into UK,so it was a flight in the Midlands ,a bus ,2 trains to Lincolnshire and 8 trains an overnight and a ferry back from Holyhead ( thankfully no passport required there)but detailed plan.when I got Bebe from same house I say Volvo I say ferry,best thing I’ve ever done.
    Now when I got Thunder and Gino that was the scariest experience of my life! they came from your same breeder,via Netherlands Schiphol the more unhelpful horrible place I’ve ever been to!!!!
    Vets who were clueless scared the dogs who bit their staff handler, they couldn’t locate the microchip ( only because the dogs had USA papers they didn’t want to help) ,made me pay more and more re -chip Thunder (who now has two chips my vet here located both easily while getting kisses from Thunder) and they wanted to keep him there for 21 days,5 days stuck in that god forsaken country and a round trip by trains various to find a friend of a friend ( an angel) when I finally could get out of the dam airport ,a night sleeping in my car with the dogs who were calm and lovely as they are normally soon as out of the hell airport,a second and finally a third very intelligent vet who said “this is utter bull” giving them both EU passports,Dutch identities,I was never so happy to be home.
    Now our next trip is different,is already plan ,is a dog show for my Madoc the Sealyham Terrier,who is currently with his handler for his “schoolings and bonding”, Madoc travel with his Handler by ferry and drive there ,me and my Angel friend travel by plane straight up,no fuss ,no problem ,passport ,entries ,all done,they have done this trip years and years and are used to it,me I get coffee ,smile ,nod and listen,those are my jobs.
    As for a holiday only if it was in the UK and deffo no planes involved ,EVER!
    I may take Madoc somewhere but always like this ,the EU is a scary place for small people like me, Victor and Bebe .
    That is one more reason of the thousands reasons as to why we love your blog we travel through your eyes and bipeds and photos ,places we never will see ,I like USA,I like France and I love UK Im sure I would like Canada but until the world of airlines understand the people of fur and why should they always travel with us and make our life easier and the lives of our people of fur we stick to our weekly trips right here ,Kerry,Kildare,Dublin,that is 4,2,3 hours on the roads ( most of them filled with pot holes that we memorise)but is home.As for you Monte you deserve a rest and no mater where you are we do love you lots xxxx
    and your lovely adventuring bipeds too xxx
    lots of cuddles and hugs from us and the zoo x

    • Travel Agents IMHO are the best $25-30 you’ll spend (that’s there cut). They are also responsible for finding new flights if your airline should go belly up while you are traveling, or if your hotel is double booked, or (like happened to a friend) your accomodations burnt to the ground. In many ways I find it the cheapest travel insurance out there!

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