Disaster of a Christmas Flight
JERICHO, NEW YORK -- Background: My wife (Katy) and I (Gary) have both lived in multiple countries, love to travel and, with our children (2-year old Sophie and 4-year old Liam), continue to do so several times each year. The following is a description of our travel experience with Aer Lingus, returning to Boston in the US via NY (JFK) from Shannon, Ireland, on December 27th 2010. It is without a doubt the worst travel experience of our lives and thought others might find it interesting/entertaining.
Planned route: Shannon to JFK to Boston - 10 hours
Actual route:Shannon to JFK to Boston - 30 hours
The morning of December 27th we arrived at the airport two hours in advance of our 12:30 flight and checked in without any problem and went to our gate. There we learned that JFK was closed but that it planned on opening in approximately eight hours so they delayed our flight for 1.5 hours so that by the time we took off and flew to JFK it would be opened. We left at approximately 2pm and had an uneventful seven hour flight. The kids watched a lot of TV and Liam slept for an hour. Sophie managed to go the distance and refused to nap.
As we got closer to our destination, the pilot came on the intercom and told us that JFK was still closed and that we were going to land in Boston. Gary and I were in the process of high-fiving one another when the pilot added that unfortunately, although a number of passengers had Boston as a final destination, no one would be allowed to deplane due to immigration rules. That was strange since we had already cleared US immigrations in Ireland so both Gary and I questioned various flight attendants about why we weren't allowed off but no one could explain and no one would let us off. We thought up various creative ideas of how to get thrown off the plane, including having one of the kids take the fall, but in the end decided it wasn't worth it. Had we known how the next twelve hours would go, one of us probably would have resorted to drastic measures. But we didn't, so we sat tight with everyone else.
We sat at the gate not allowed to get off the plane for a total of three hours. Every hour the pilot would get on the PA and say we'd requested to leave but that JFK wasn't open. Our pilot wanted to get to NYC that night and was going to stop at nothing. Having refueled the plane, the pilot wanted to get airborne over JFK and circle until they opened but flight control wouldn't allow that. He was hell-bent on leaving Boston and getting to NYC while Gary and I were praying that JFK would remain closed and we would have to deplane.
After three hours (we landed at 4pm and it was now 7pm) we were granted permission to fly to JFK so we took off in blowing snow and flew the hour to JFK. We landed on a very snowy runway and taxied to the airport. That was when the fun started. We had already been on the plane an additional four hours to the seven hour flight and now we were being told that they couldn't find a gate for us. We waited 30 minutes and then were told that we were waiting for another plane to back out of the gate. Unfortunately, while backing out, that plane got stuck in a pile of snow, and then the truck trying to tow it out got stuck. As Gary says, you really couldn't make this sh*t up. So there we sat for an additional 2.5 hours waiting for a gate. We landed at 8pm and at 10:20pm we were allowed to deplane.
By then the kids had slept for three hours of fly time and wait time and were not thrilled to be on the move again. But we got off and looked for someone to tell us where to go. An Aer Lingus ground-crew lady told us to go to the arrivals hall: we walked for about ten minutes and found the arrivals hall but were then told we needed to go back to baggage claim. Unhappily we did, and by then the line to talk to anyone from Aer Lingus was a mile long but Gary joined the queue and the kids and I sat in a corner reading books to pass the time. It took about 45 minutes but when Gary got to the front of the line we learned that we were on the 6:30am Jet Blue flight out but that there were no available hotels in the area. At this point it was after 11:30pm(EST or 4:30am Irish-time) and the kids were hungry and our bags had still not come to baggage claim so we went upstairs to use our food vouchers.
The terminal was filled with stranded passengers, most of them lying on the floor with their possessions strewn around them. All the food shops started closing at midnight but we were able to get in line at McDonald's. And wait and wait and wait. Everyone there was ordering 30 meals for them and their friends and the lines were agonizingly slow. It took Gary over an hour to place his order and when he did we all sat on the floor and dined on french fries and milkshakes. This helped wake up the kids and with the new fast food energy we returned to the baggage claim and got our bags, which had finally arrived, and loaded them onto a cart and tried to decide what to do next.
At this point it was 1:30am. We needed to get to the adjacent terminal to catch our 6:30am flight and wanted to go there as soon as possible but the AirTrain was not running and the buses weren't running and, as Gary found out by doing some initial scouting, the sidewalks were not cleared. Even the taxi line was about 200 people long so we decided to spend a few hours in the terminal and try our luck closer to 5am by which point we hoped the sidewalks would be cleared.
We took the elevator upstairs and found a free area of floor on which to park ourselves and put the kids in their car seats, read them a book and told them to get a little sleep. We lay down on Gary's coat and tried to get a few hours of sleep but the lights were bright, people were all over and the PA system was constant. And of course I was worried someone would take off, not with our stuff, but with our kids. Neither of us really slept, although the kids did, and at 4:30a Gary and I woke them up and told them it was time to move again. They were less than thrilled.
And that's when the fun really started.
The sidewalks had not been cleared and the train and buses still weren't running but we needed to get to the other terminal for our 6:30am flight. The taxi line was still incredibly long but we were told that it wasn't worth waiting in as no taxi would take us just to the other terminal. The only airport guy we could find suggested we walk on the road. So we did.
It started out okay. Dangerous, but okay. I carried Sophie and held Liam's hand and Gary pushed the cart with our two bags, two car seats and two carry-ons. About ten steps in Liam starts sobbing about the cold and the wind. Sophie is quickly in tears herself. Then the road starts getting worse and now there is snow and ice to contend with. A car inches past us and honks. Gary is now pushing the trolley in crud and ice and it's not moving...as the wheels refused to turn in the snow. He starts to pull it instead and things start to fall off. I throw the kids over the embankment onto the sidewalk and run back to help Gary. The kids are screaming and crying. Gary yells at me to let him do it and to get the kids inside. I run back to the kids who are sobbing wildly, pick up Sophie and start dragging Liam. I look over my shoulder every few steps and there is Gary, valiantly pushing or pulling our crap through snow and ice with car seats sliding off into the snow every few inches. The line of cars behind him grows longer and longer but at this point no one is honking. After about five minutes of pushing and pulling he manages to get on better ground and reaches the terminal before we do but he is sweating profusely and not impressed. The kids have stopped crying at this point as we're indoors and we all gather ourselves together. Amazingly, we still have all our possessions. Thank you Gary.
We take the elevator upstairs at 5:15a and there we are almost knocked over by the crowd of people overflowing the JetBlue check in area. The line stretches for miles and we get in it with trepidation. We are never going to make our flight at this point. Gary goes to see if there is self check in and there is. He checks us in and comes back to collect us and our bags and we get in another line for bag check. This line is as long as the last and is not moving. It's a madhouse with people jumping lines all over and there are no airline personnel to help. We wait for another 20 minutes before catching someone's eye and asking for help as its 5:45 and our flight leaves at 6:30. Then it's to the security checkpoint where again, it's chaos and the line stretches for miles. At this point we've teamed up with a really nice couple who had been on our Aer Lingus flight. They are both doctors at MGH and she's from NYC and he's from Kerry, Ireland. They help us with our bags and we manage the kids who at this point are about to collapse and need constant carrying.
The security line also has no rhyme or reason and we can't seem to move forward. It's not until 6:45 am that we clear security and literally run to our plane which fortunately has waited for those unable to navigate the crowds and at 7:15am we take off.
The flight to Boston was easy and the taxi ride home wonderfully short. The fact that the airline lost one of our bags was in keeping with the day but virtually a non-event as it was delivered later that evening. Then while the kids napped it was out to shovel out our cars from the mountains of snow.... a real treat.