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Scumpy's trip to Prague and Cyprus and frequent flyer horror story

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Dec 12th, 2003, 09:57 PM
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scumpy
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Scumpy's trip to Prague and Cyprus and frequent flyer horror story



Here is, not really a trip report, but an account primarily of our experience on the trip home. I sent this to family and friends earlier. I had it posted in another thread here, and a fellow poster suggested I give it its own thread.

*********************************

Hello friends and family,

We returned from Cyprus last Saturday night, December 6, 2003, and are happy to be home despite the short, cool, gray, drizzly days here. We thought we were never going to GET home, and I'll go into that in a minute. It was a real adventure, the horror of which is just beginning to fade.

In brief summary, we left Bellingham Washington October 10 via Amtrak to Seattle, then took a regular city bus to Seattle airport area for overnight stay at a hotel. I'd always wondered if you could go to the airport from Amtrak on a city bus, and it turned out to be quite doable. We only had one small carry-on sized rolling suitcase each and a backpack each.

Next morning we flew to New York's JFK, changed planes, and flew to Prague, Czech Republic. We had rented an apartment there, maybe ten miles out from the city center. We met our temporary landlord in the airport and got keys and instructions to the apartment, then bought one week Metro (subway) and bus passes and set off via bus and Metro for the apartment. We made it to the correct Metro stop, but then got lost after we got out of the Metro. With the help of non-English speaking strangers, we made it to the apartment.

Prague was wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, and if you get an opportunity to go there, do go. It was one of the few cities not bombed to bits during World War II. They say it is what a lot of Europe used to look like before the war. Everywhere you turn is a mind-boggling work of architecture, a statue, a bridge, a bridge full of statues, a castle, an astounding church, a square, and somehow a restaurant every other building. We were there six days and could have stayed longer. It did turn cold, though, below freezing our last few days and us with semitropical clothing for Cyprus.

Next we flew to Cyprus, where we met up with cousin Geoffrey and Frances, who flew in from Australia, where they live. We rented apartments in Larnaca for two weeks and rented a car for about five days and explored the island of Cyprus with cousin Geoffrey driving on the left side of the road as he does at home. While there were a number of negatives about our apartments, one positive aspect was that they were just a half block from the Mediterranean, so we had sea views from our balcony and were able to easily go swimming in the Mediterranean.

After Larnaca, we went to Limassol, Cyprus with Geoffrey and Frances to a friendship meeting of the International Police Association, of which Frances, Geoffrey, and I are members. The IPA took us on several sightseeing excursions by bus, and then we took a two night cruise to the island of Rhodes in Greece. We were supposed to also visit the island of Kos, but weather conditions were such that we could not dock there.

After the IPA conference, Geoffrey and Frances returned to Australia, and Ted and I stayed another ten days in Limassol, then went to Paphos for another ten days, then back to Larnaca for three days and then started home December 5.

During our time in Cyprus, we saw most of the island, or at least those parts not in the Turkish occupied sector. For those who don't know, Cyprus has been a divided island since 1974 when Turkey invaded and captured approximately 38% of the territory in the northern part of the island. It is an island rich in history, religion, and mythology. It lies at the juncture of three continents and has been subject to capture and conquest for all of its history. The sheer antiquity of the civilization of the place gives one pause, as it has been occupied by advanced human society since many centuries B.C.

We had originally intended to stay until mid-January, but we could tell within our first week in Cyprus that it was not a place we wanted to spend three months, so soon after we got there, I contacted Czech Air and requested they arrange to book us back to Seattle on the first date they could find available after the IPA tour ended. We had flown on Delta Airlines frequent flyer credits, so there are only a certain number of seats on each flight for which those tickets are available, and we had to coordinate using the frequent flyer tickets on three legs. After many phone conversations with Czech Air (the girl originally told me she could not book the flights, and I would have to call Delta, who doesn't have an office in Cyprus; I told her of course she could book us since they are a travel partner with Delta. Lesson here: don't contradict somebody when they tell you they don't know how to do their job; they are probably correct.), they finally got us booked out on December 5, and here begins another saga.

The flight back to Seattle was hellish to begin with. We were to leave Cyprus at 3:20 a.m., arrive in Prague at 6 a.m., leave again at noon, arrive JFK 4 p.m., leave there 5:45, arrive Seattle 9:30 p.m.; while losing ten hours on the clock, meaning our travel time would be about 30 hours minimum by the time we drove 2 more hours home to Bellingham. But we really did not have any choice. We could only make one stopover on the round trip, and we had used that up on Prague on the way over. Anyway, we figured it would be tough but we would get through it somehow.

We kept our hotel room in Larnaca for a third day so we would not be out on the streets December 4 and we could hope to sleep in the room until maybe midnight. We did manage to sleep 4 or 5 hours and went to the airport about 1 a.m. Many planes seem to fly in and out of Cyprus at that hour, so the airport was busy. When we checked our luggage for the flight, I noticed as the bags were going down the conveyor belt that although they had a tag that said SEA (Seattle, our final destination) on them, they also had intermediate destinations of PRG and EWR. PRG seemed okay, but where the hell is EWR? Seemed like it should have been JFK. So I told the woman that, and she screamed at me about why didn't I tell her sooner, and she raced off to retrieve the bags. So they got the bags back, crabbing at ME some more, and checked further and told me EWR, which turns out to be Newark, was correct, according to what was in the computer, and the connection in New York must have been changed to Newark instead of JFK. Okay, I guess we are going to Newark.

Flight to Prague was fine. We slept a couple hours, didn't feel too bad on arrival, so we decided to go into Prague, got some Metro tickets and went into town, which was every bit as wonderful as we remembered it even though it was colder and grayer. We went to the Tesco department store and bought a few souvenir food items and then walked around, ending up at Old Town Square which was all set up with its Christmas bazaar booths, although it was early morning and they were just opening. We got back to the airport in plenty of time for the flight out. I verified that our next flight was indeed going to Newark. Fine. That is where our bags are going. We ate as much breakfast as we could hold, since on the way over our Czech Air food was nearly inedible. We left on time for Newark, had a good flight, maybe slept a couple hours more and arrived in the vicinity of Newark almost early. This wasn't going to be so bad after all, change planes, sleep some more, land in Seattle in not such bad shape.

And then began travel hell. Seems there was a snowstorm going on below us, and we had to circle the airport for about an hour. Not to worry. We had a couple hours to change planes, even if we did have to pick up our luggage and clear customs with it then re-check it. Even if we were getting pinched on time to clear customs, all the outgoing flights would no doubt be delayed too. Besides, they knew we were coming. They might even hold the plane for us. No big deal.

We finally landed about an hour late. Then we waited in the baggage claim area for another hour. After about 55 minutes wait and some other passengers raising hell, we were told our luggage had all frozen together on the tarmac and they had to separate it. That was the delay. We finally got our luggage and proceeded to customs. We had expected to find a Delta person just beyond customs to re-check our luggage, but the security guy gave us a funny look and sent us to Czech Air, who sent us upstairs to check in with Delta at the regular check-in counters. Seemed a bit strange, but we have never done this before. Maybe it is normal. At the ticketing/departure counters, it was bedlam, long lines which were not moving, frantic and upset passengers. I finally made it to the front of the line about fifteen minutes after my plane was to depart, but still figured we would make it because all flights would be delayed. Girl at the counter said there is no flight from Newark to Seattle. My flight left a few minutes ago from JFK!!!

So we are stranded in Newark with the snow now coming down even more furiously. And probably no more flights to Seattle until the following day. I had already heard the baggage harridan downstairs say there were no hotel rooms. Oh well, we would work something out. The nice Delta clerk would fix me up. Wrong! She flat out REFUSED to look for other flights for me and insisted I had to use the Delta Direct bank of phones behind me.

So I get on the phone to Delta Direct. The woman answering the phone flat out REFUSED to help me book another flight. She said I had to go to the counter because they had to change the ticket. By now the line is twice as long and everybody else is even madder than I am. I flat out refused to get back in line and insisted that the phone person find me another flight. We went round and round. I outlasted her, and she finally in a matter of seconds booked me on a flight the next day to Seattle at 3:30 p.m. via Atlanta. She was probably laughing herself silly, having heard the weather reports I had not heard, that the snowstorm was expected to get much worse by midday Saturday. So, about four hours after we were supposed to be out of there, we had to figure out what to do until 3:30 the next day. We got some food and contemplated our position. We were dressed for about 40 degree weather. It had been just a bit colder than that in Prague. I called several hotels and found out they were all indeed full. One woman at a hotel gave me a suggestion to get a taxi and go out Highway 109 toward Elizabeth, NJ, about ten miles where there are all kinds of mom and pop hotels, and she was sure they would not be full. She assured me there were dozens. So we thought we would try that. We went to the taxi line and saw it was outside in the blowing snow and so long we couldn't see the end of it. Ted spoke to the dispatcher, and the dispatcher thought the line would remain that long for the foreseeable future. (found out next day from a young man who stood in the line that the actual wait was two and a half hours)

We decided we were stuck spending the night in the airport and began to look for a place to sleep. There were no couches or even benches. We were looking over a 3'x8' alcove between the elevator and the escalator, that at least was out of the path of traffic and had a defensible area where we could put our bags and sleep in front of them. An airport employee of some sort came by, looked to be getting off work, and asked us if we were going to sleep there. We said we were thinking about it. He told us to go upstairs to the departure area and sleep in the window behind the arrivals and departures board. He said it only had one way in and one way out and was warm. So we went up there, and it wasn't so bad. It was warm because we would be sleeping on top of the hot air vents. A few minutes later, the same young man came by and gave us a furniture moving pad and some newspapers for cushions to sleep on. We happened to have in our luggage an extra bed pillow that I had bought in Cyprus and two cheap beach towels we had bought in Cyprus. We had intended to leave these items in Cyprus but brought them along at the last minute as padding in the extra suitcase we had bought. We also had earplugs and eye masks in our backpacks and a couple of inflatable neck pillows. As we were bedding down, a second airport employee discovered us and said there was a better place to sleep in Terminal C in the Meet and Greet area. He said there were couches over there. He said the monorail was not working just then and the buses were a mess, but to wait a couple hours and it would be back running.

So, even though it was about 9 p.m. and the terminal was swarming with people and noise, we bedded down behind the sign in the front window of the departures area on the hot air grate and went to sleep. A couple hours later I woke up and decided to leave Ted sleeping while I went to check out Terminal C. The monorail was working. I took it to Terminal C and found the lounge. It was packed. I went back to the monorail. An announcement came on saying the monorails were no longer running and to go take buses. A group of people who had been waiting forever for buses got into an argument with the girl who made the announcement, saying the bus people had just sent them upstairs to the monorail. Just then the monorail came, and I dashed on it. Last monorail out of Terminal C. Then being sleep deprived, I wasn't sure which Terminal I had been sleeping in. I got off at B, not sure that was my station. So now I am in a snowstorm with no coat, no transportation, no money (forgot I had loads in my money belt), no i.d. (also in my money belt), sneakers, buses all snarled up, in the middle of the night dead tired, and my spouse has no idea where I am. Turns out I was in the right terminal. I crawled back into my hole and didn't even curse the announcements that played at a thousand decibels every two minutes ALL NIGHT LONG. One announced that only passengers could go beyond security. The other told passengers not to leave their luggage unattended. Every two minutes, I swear.

And so passed the night. Early a.m., I found lattes for us. Around 8 a.m. I decided to double-check with Delta to make sure we had a flight and to get an opinion on whether they thought it might actually leave that day. A very nice clerk offered to put us on standby for two earlier flights, the first leaving for Atlanta at 9:30 and the second at 12:15 . She said thus far 60 people had not yet checked in for the 9:30 flight, so it looked possible for getting on that flight. I jumped at the chance and we went to the gate. We were listed on the board as standby passengers 27 and 28. Not hopeful. And the snow continued to worsen. We got on the flight!!! Middle seats in different parts of the plane, but we got on. And the snow continued to worsen. My seat mate, a seasoned northeast traveler, said if we didn't get in the air real soon, we wouldn't be going that day. He said he expected ours would be the last flight out that day. I expect he was right. We took off about 10, gladder to leave Newark than we had ever been to leave any place.

And we got to Atlanta where it was gray and cool but not snowing, and planes were taking off and landing. And we waited a few hours and took off on a plane to Seattle. And we got to Seattle and found our car our neighbor had parked for us in a remote commercial lot with valet parking. And we drove home. And 54 hours after we started traveling, we arrived home about 10 p.m. on a Saturday night. And the water company had not turned on the water as the neighbor, who was now in Hawaii, had assured us they would.

We are never traveling again.

Unless we go to Florida for the rest of the winter.



 
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Dec 12th, 2003, 11:41 PM
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Thanks for the report, I can really feel for you and that flight, something similiar happened to me during a snow storm in Chicago and I was running from desk to desk and phone to phone - pulled by unseen strings by the airline employees.

I am glad you had the insight to leave when you saw it wasn't working out in Cyprus, good for you.

When do you start planning your next trip ?
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Dec 13th, 2003, 03:55 AM
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ira
 
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Boy scumpy,

You think that just because you hold tickets on our aircraft that you are entitled to some sort of customer service, don't you?

Airline Consumer Relations Person

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Dec 13th, 2003, 07:27 AM
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Degas
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Cheer up, Scumpy - you've seen the worst. It can only get better in the future.
 
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Dec 13th, 2003, 08:54 AM
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scumpy
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Yeah, silly me, Ira. A friend of mine who is an oldtimer in the hotel business pointed out to me that I am dealing with a "service" industry when I fly. LOL.

Not to worry, all. I was lying about never traveling again. I booked the Go-Today $499 super special to Hong Kong as I was out the door to Cyprus.
 
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Dec 13th, 2003, 12:45 PM
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Hi Scumpy -- Your experience brought back many memories of sleeping in airports when I traveled in my younger days. I can remember checking out various places for "defensibility." I also had a similar experience to yours during a huge Dallas snowstorm which closed the airport for a couple of days.

I think the airline personnel do their best, but they are often severely understaffed in these situations (the next shift can't make it to the airport due to the same weather that has you delayed). And many passengers are so incredibly hostile. No matter how frustrated they are there is no reason to take it out on the person behind the desk. I think it would require the patience of a saint to deal with it all.
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Dec 13th, 2003, 02:16 PM
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Flying out of the west coast for Europe, especially flying out of Sea-Tac, which, has the worst ontime-performance in the country, is definitely a test. To compound the challenge, add a connection in Newark, which has the second-worst ontime record, and, well, good luck.

We flew Continental out of Seattle for Amsterdam via Newark in September 2003 and missed our connection in Newark due to weather-related delays (electrical storms) and had to spend the night, losing a precious day of vacation. Continental consented to put us up for the night at a Howard Johnson's motel, but they weren't obligated to do so, since the delay was weather-related. And what the heck do you do in Newark for the day, especially when you're bunking in an industrial area near the airport?

Our experience wasn't nearly the nightmare yours was, but I vowed that in booking European flights in the future, I'll avoid connections in the States, especially in Newark, instead flying nonstop from Seattle to connections in London, Amsterdam, or Copenhagen.
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Dec 13th, 2003, 02:35 PM
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ira
 
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Marilyn writes:
>...many passengers are so incredibly hostile. No matter how frustrated they are there is no reason to take it out on the person behind the desk.<

This brought to mind a horrible experience when it snowed in Washington, DC (I know, it's a European forum, and I should have changed it to Paris, but I am being honest) and we had a flight booked to Miami.

We left 5 hours early. We called the airline three times on the way in (having to stop because this was pre- cell phone). They assured us that all flights were leaving on time. WRONG!

We left 4 hours late.

At the ticket counter there was a huge horde of people trying to reschedule. Amazingly, the desk personnel gave priority to people calling on the phone. The woman behind me said, "This is ridiculous. Where are the phones?", and she and I went to the phone bank, about 20 feet behind us, called the airline and booked tickets for the next flight.

Why is a person on the phone more important than a person standing in front of you?
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Dec 13th, 2003, 02:57 PM
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I dunno, Ira, but it's the same in a shop. Haven't you ever noticed that a clerk will stop waiting on you to answer a phone call?

Meanwhile, standing in the counter line while using your cell phone to call the airline would seem to be the most efficient use of your time!
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Dec 13th, 2003, 06:56 PM
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gb
 
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Wait until you get your charge card bill when they charge you $100 for changing your frequent flyer ticket.
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Dec 13th, 2003, 09:39 PM
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Ack!!!
 
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