Travels to Reykjavik
January 30, 2019
Another auspicious beginning to a trip overseas. Some of you may know I got a chance to go to Iceland on WOW Airlines at an unbelievable price of $220 ROUND TRIP. How can you pass that up? Well, I couldn’t. So here I am, sitting is a puddle of water up to my ankles at gate D9 inside the Detroit Airport. Please allow me to explain.
This week, for work, I had to fly to Louisville KY on Monday for meetings Monday and Tuesday. A typical week for me on the job, but this week was anything but typical. It seems the entire corridor of the mid-west was stuck right in the middle of an Artic Blast subjecting the population to temperatures approaching 40 degrees below zero. Add to this the potential for substantial snow falls and you have a recipe for disaster.
My flight Monday went perfectly. Ontime departure and landing. Two very successful meetings and a nice long two-hour drive to a dinner meeting. So far so good. Things went south on Tuesday when the snow storm hit driving the temperatures to very dangerous levels. Add to this wind in the range of 40 miles per hour and just being outside was a danger to life and limb.
My problem began at 3:00 PM on Tuesday when I arrived at the Louisville Airport to board my Delta flight to Detroit. The plan was to go home to Toledo, finish packing and pick up my travel buddy, Bob, and return to the airport for the five-hour thirty-minute flight to Reykjavik. Good plan, lousy execution.
Due to extreme weather, the Chicago – Detroit -New York corridor, flights were delayed and outright cancelled. Chicago saw 2700 flights cancelled, Detroit an additional 270 and New York Airports over 100. It was bad in the mid-west for sure.
So, I get to Louisville, as I said, and my flight was first delayed an hour. As I approached the ticket podium, it was delayed another hour. This did not bode well. Since I am a high traffic traveler with Delta, I called the special phone number and got Maria as my service representative.
She gave me two options. Option one, wait it out and see what happens. Option two, cancel the flight and drive to Toledo. I knew that the first option had a low probability of execution, she agreed. We then went to option two, and Delta rented me a car and for the next four and one-half hours drove north on Route 75 all the way home. The weather was perfect, albeit cold. Light traffic the whole way, I arrived home at about the same time I would have had I taken the original flight. So far so good…. BUT.
My car was still in Detroit! Now I had a small problem. I had planned for a potential delay on Monday, so I packed my Iceland bags and left them in my car in Detroit thinking the worst thing that could happen was I would spend the night in Detroit. Now I had a rental car in Toledo, my personal car in Detroit and my bags in my car.
So, the plan now was to leave Toledo around 2 PM, pick up Bob at his house, drive to Detroit, go to my parked car, swap out my bags, drop off the rental car and get to the North Terminal to make the flight to Iceland. Whew, just thinking about it made me tired.
Believe it or not, everything went perfectly. The drive to my car was no issue. Swapped out the bags, bought gas for the rental car, even had extra time to buy Bob dinner to go, dropped off the car and made it to the terminal with hours to spare.
So, I go to the WOW desk to check in with my “carry on bag.” If anyone ever flew a budget airline, you will see this coming. My carry on was “too big” and as such I had to pay extra to carry it on. Nothing I could do, so I shell out $50 and head to TSA.
No issue so far, I sail through TSA and head to the gate when all hell breaks loose. The fire alarms sound off but for less than thirty seconds. Everyone assumes it was a false alarm and after a brief look around, I continue my walk to gate D9.
As I pass gate D12, I notice a commotion right in front of my gate. There are firemen everywhere. I look down and notice a small lake of water is heading in my direction! Thinking quickly, I cross the flowing water and get to the passenger sitting area, find a seat, and plop down to watch the drama unfold.
Firemen, policemen, janitors and various emergency workers spring into action. They start moping, vacuuming and bailing thousands of gallons of water off the floor. I asked a fireman what happened, and he advised, “An 8-inch water main froze and broke inside the fire suppression closet. It took some time to find the shut off. We did shut it down, but it is under extreme pressure and will take some time to drain.”
It has been forty-five minutes so far and the mopping continues. Unfortunately for newly arriving passengers, the police will not let anyone cross the small lake to get either home or to a connecting flight. You know what means, yup pissed people.
So now we have police arguing with passengers, firemen walking around mopping water, emergency folks trying to keep everyone calm and me just sitting here typing. Hell-of-a-beginning, you think?
The news came over the loud speaker, our flight is moving to gate D5, so I pack up and move to the gate, as we are scheduled to board in ten minutes. Well once again much drama BEFORE the flight, imagine what happened next!
Boarding in ten minutes, that’s a laugh. I get to my new gate and there are airport customer services people all over the gate area. They are talking, gesticulating and generally running around unglued.
Naturally curious, I mosey in to see if I can hear what is happening. It seems that our initial gate D9 is an international gate which has special unloading areas for international arriving gates. These gates allow passengers to embark on the plane through a jetway, but disembarking passengers go through a tunnel and are directed to the international arrival desk and customs for entry into the US. Makes sense.
Gate D5 is also so equipped and services two gates, D5A and D5B. No big deal, right? Wrong.
Gate D5A has a Lufthansa aircraft in the loading area. The gate is not designed to handle two planes simultaneously. The Lufthansa flight is not due to load for at least an three hours, it is delayed due to weather, so they decide to leave the WOW plane out on the tarmac!
So here we are, our plane is on the tarmac, our gate is blocked by another aircraft and we are supposed to depart in ten minutes. Forty-five minutes later, we are in the same place!
Someone finally decides to move the Lufthansa plane out of the gate, let the WOW flight in, then return the Lufthansa plane for loading once WOW vacates the gate. Simple. Should have been, but nothing tonight is simple.
The door to the Lufthansa plane is frozen shut! It takes a work crew another fifteen minutes to open the door, find a pilot and move the plane out of the gate to allow the WOW flight in. People are now in a panic. The reason: we are well over an hour late and many of the people had connecting flights out of Reykjavik. It seems that WOW allows a connection as short as thirty minutes. With such a short window, anything that goes wrong can impact a connecting flight.
So, people heading to London, Paris and points elsewhere are more than likely to miss connections and be stranded because WOW has a very limited schedule. Miss a flight and you could be stranded for twenty-four hours!
The WOW gate agents can not rebook a missed flight, so they hand out purple cards, the color of WOW, with phone numbers for passengers to call to reschedule flights. So now we have a bunch of worried passengers flooding WOW customer service trying to book a connecting flight. What a mess.
The WOW flight was finally in position and the next thing I notice is six heavily armed Detroit Police officers open the door to the jet way and head down the ramp. They lock the door behind them and station another officer at the gate blocking anyone from entering. Figuring this was unique, I headed over to see what was happening.
No one would say a word. About fifteen minutes later, the officer opens the gate and disappears down the ramp, never to be seen again. Finally, WOW agents announce that the plane is ready for boarding.
It turns out the problem was due to the water main break way back at gate D9. The story I was told was that a “stupid employee of Spirit Airlines left a door open downstairs and caused the pipe to freeze and break.” The subsequent deluge caused unsafe conditions in the customs tunnel, so people had to be taken off the plane, onto the ground, in sub zero weather, and walk, outside, to the customs area. The officers were there to prevent someone from making a break for it!
When we finally got going, boarding was quick and efficient, the only thing tonight to be so far. I hauled my expensive carry on to seat D8. I expected a tight bare cloth seat. I was pleasantly surprised to find a well-appointed wide seat with plenty of legroom. I did pay $20 extra for this seat and I tell you, it was well worth it. I settled in and prepared for the overnight flight.
Some interesting facts about WOW onboard service. Number one: everything costs something. A pillow, a blanket, eye shades are all available for a cost. Water bottles must be paid for ($3.29) as is soda, food, coffee etc. There is nothing for nothing on this flight.
Second thing I learned is that international flights, unlike domestic carriers, allow you to bring your own food and water. That is really odd, because, on a domestic flight they will not allow food or water from outside the “clean zone” into the airport. They will take your water bottles or food unless it is for a baby and meets certain size limitations.
The international terminal had no such rule. People had brought, literally, sacks containing a wide assortment of foods and beverages for consumption on the plane. One person had a picnic basket complete with dishware and plastic cups and utensils! I was amazed to see pull out sandwiches, full dinner plates, hot and cold foods. These they laid out on their tray tables. The only forbidden item was alcohol, otherwise you were free to bring anything you desired. The smells were overpowering.
After a few moments, I settled into my aisle seat and dozed off dreaming of the Aurora Borealis only to be awakened four times by the young woman in the window seat to my right, who drank water and peed the entire flight. Oh well, next stop ICELAND!
It will be warmer in Iceland than it will be at home in Toledo
They rarely use cash in Iceland
The exchange rate is 120 ISK to the US dollar, very favorable
They DO NOT ACCEPT the American Express Card. Wish I knew that earlier as all I have is AMEX!