Chaos at Schipol (Part 2)
The following morning it appeared that things were no better. By 7am the first two flights from Manchester to Schipol had been cancelled, and we had to search for alternatives.
Easyjet still had no options, and the Rotterdam To Hull ferry was showing as unavailable (apparently due to problems at the port). The Eurostar from Brussels to London was bookable, but we first had to ensure that we could get from Schipol to Brussels.
The hotel staff were a great help, confirming that the Thalys trains were still running so we would be able to get to Brussels, however by this time the last Eurostar seat from Brussels to London had gone. I used a bit of ingenuity and checked Paris to London, and this was still available. I booked two seats, then the hotel booked us two seats on the Thalys train to Paris so now we had a chance to get home.
The next Manchester flight was showing as delayed from 13.35 to 15.00, and we were not sure of the implications of this.
On the one hand it had not been cancelled, but on the other hand this was the same scenario as the previous day. We decided to head for the airport armed with our train tickets, though with one eye on the 17.10 flight on which we had a confirmed booking.
A couple returning from the airport told us that the queues were unbelievable. Four hours just to get a boarding card, and still no information. We had to get there anyway, as the train station is next to the airport, so we set off, fully expecting to take the train journey across Europe.
On arrival at Schipol the queue estimate of four hours looked to be quite conservative. Later in the day some travellers revealed that they had been waiting for up to nine hours. As we had train tickets we really did not want to wait in a queue to get a boarding card unless we were sure that our flight was going to take off, so we looked around for assistance. Two KLM staff were at the Air China desk, so we asked them for advice. The first lady, and with hindsight I should have asked for her name as her help was invaluable, checked our record locator (booking reference) and our passports, but could not find us on the system. Then she checked our cancelled e-ticket number, and there we were. She explained that the airline were definitely issuing boarding cards for this flight, but there were no guarantees, and then our luck really came in. She said that as we had no baggage other than hand luggage she could check us in without us having to queue, and twenty minutes after arriving at the airport we were through passport control and into the main terminal building.
The information desks were deserted, presumably because most people were still trying to get a boarding card, so we enquired about our flight and were given the encouraging news that our aircraft was actually at the gate (some four hours before departure time), but still there were no guarantees.
At the gate there was a "gate open", "boarding", and "gate closed" time posted, so the signs were good, and we decided to ditch the option of Eurostar and get some food.
I can thoroughly recommend the Hot Wok at Schipol, although the offer of a Tiger Beer could not be fulfilled as Schipol had stopped serving alcohol, presumably to reduce the possibility of frustration led riot!
Our next positive sign came when the 13.35 was shown as "Boarding", and it was still due to depart at 15.00. By this time the chance of a Eurostar journey had gone as the time for our train to Paris had passed, but our confidence was rising as other planes left.
There was a spate of cancellations across Europe, but telephone calls home confirmed that there was not much snow at Manchester. Heathrow and Gatwick were both struggling in the extreme conditions, but we were ok, and at 4.15pm our gate opened and passengers were being ushered through security.
It seemed, however, that all was not well, as many of the passengers did not have boarding cards and were, in fact, on standby. Those with confirmed boarding cards and seat numbers, including ourselves, were taken straight onto the plane, and there then followed an unseen selection process whereby the "most deserving" travellers were given the remaining seats (about half of the plane was filled using this process).
This meant that many passengers who were confirmed onto the flight were either not bothering to go to the airport due to the weather conditions, or were still stuck in the queue for a boarding card!
Half an hour later than scheduled we departed, and we landed in Manchester around 6pm. An hour later I was safely home, grateful that a combination of planning, perseverance, and a huge slice of luck, meant that we would not be stuck in Schipol or elsewhere any longer than was absolutely necessary!