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Michael Madden

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Chaos at Schipol
By Michael Madden   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Sunday, December 19, 2010
Posted: Sunday, December 19, 2010

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I had the misfortune to be stuck at Schipol airport when the snow came down on Friday 17th December.

Chaos at Schipol

We knew the snow was about to arrive, they knew the snow was about to arrive, but were they prepared for it? Absolutely not!

I was away on business in Dordrecht in the Netherlands, flying out on Thursday 16th December and returning the following day. On the evening of the 16th the snow began to fall, as predicted, and it became heavier later in the evening and overnight. The following morning my colleague announced that our return flight had been cancelled and we immediately put into action a plan to get back to Manchester by whatever means were available.

We booked ourselves onto the Easyjet flight at 5pm, and took the train from Dordrecht to Schipol which was on time and ran smoothly despite the wintry conditions.

On arriving at Schipol we proceeded through passport control as we already had boarding cards, and looked with some trepidation at the boards that said "cancelled" on the majority of flights.

The airport itself was under several inches of snow, but not enough, we thought, to cause the chaos that was unfolding before us.

Many flights to the UK were still operational, but most of Europe was not, leading KLM to cancel all flights across the continent. At this stage this did not involve the UK. Our travel company, and particular praise must go to Janice, the PA to our IT director, for her part in this, booked us on to the 21.30 as well as the 17.10 the following day in the hope that we could get home.

It seemed that elsewhere the trains were grinding to a halt, and the Eurostar was full so the airport was our only solution.

By 1pm our Easyjet flight had the message "delayed 20.50" against it, but this at least meant that it was still scheduled to depart as opposed to being completely cancelled.

The KLM staff did their best in trying conditions, but as more and more flights were cancelled tempers became frayed. The lack of information was astonishing, made worse by the hindsight of what really happened. One girl was berated because the airport should have been better prepared, though from the bemused look on her face I suspect that she was not the KLM Executive in charge of bad weather planning!

Rumours circulated that there was to be a decision made at 4pm as to whether the airport would remain open, however transatlantic and other long haul flights were still leaving which we took as a good sign.

Shortly after 4pm the Easyjet website stated that the airport was closed, however the airport itself had not made this announcement, flights were still leaving and our flight was still showing as delayed until 20.50.

Flights landed, and transit passengers were forced to queue for hours to change bookings from cancelled flights. We searched in vain for an Easyjet representative, and the KLM staff had no idea what was happening. The food outlets were under severe pressure, however the duty free shops were doing a brisk trade despite their extortionate prices, but that is another matter.

The later it got, the less information seemed to emerge, and even the KLM staff agreed that the information boards were not doing their job. The fact that KLM had cancelled all of their flights and yet some were still showing with a departure time bore this out, and one KLM representative described this as "amazing", though I could think of a few stronger words.

By 6.30pm we finally got notification that the Easyjet flight was not going to depart, and we were fortunate that our travel company could get us rooms at the Best Western International airport hotel. Others were not so fortunate. Making the assumption that the 21.30 KLM flight would not be leaving, which was correct, we headed outside to a huge taxi queue and a very confused area where hotel shuttle buses were struggling to cope.

After around half an hour we managed to locate the correct bus, and twenty minutes later we arrived at the hotel. Once again, others were less fortunate, with unscrupulous drivers offering to take passengers the three mile journey for the princely sum of 100 Euros.

After a quick change we decided to head to the hotel bar and restaurant, but once again there was chaos and disappointment as the hotel struggled due to lack of staff. The bar service was erratic and the restaurant was closed, though one glance through the porthole into the kitchen showed that I would probably not want to eat there as a mountain of unwashed dishes and partly eaten food had been left unattended and untouched, presumably from lunchtime.

Our only option was the MacDonalds opposite the hotel (our second of the day!), so my colleague disappeared over there whilst I looked for alternative routes.

The following day we could have taken the Eurostar or even the ferry from Rotterdam to Hull, but we decided to see what the morning would bring. Our cancelled Easyjet flight could have been rebooked, but there were no flights available for two days.

After what seemed like an incredibly long day we decided to sleep on it.....

More to follow - were you caught up in the Schipol chaos? If so I would be pleased to hear from you.


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