Sunday, July 19, 2009

Are We There Yet?

DAY 1: Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sadly, our travel to Europe warrants its own post to get things started. I had hoped I would be able to just say "we left at 8:00, got there the next morning, and then...", but New York weather and Delta Airlines had other plans. What a fiasco the whole thing was.

The plan was pretty simple. My sister Heather and my mom were flying in from Tampa at 11:55 a.m. or so on Wednesday, and arriving at JFK around 2:30 p.m. My Uncle Peter was on a similar flight schedule from Indianapolis. Then they would all have a few hours to kill in the airport while they waited for our 8:05 p.m. flight from JFK to Budapest. Eric and I planned to meet them at JFK around 6:00 p.m. so we could all travel together on that flight. Easy, yes?

Uh, no. To start off, the Tampa flight departed about an hour late. Then, as they were about to land at JFK, they flew into a thunderstorm, which brought violent turbulence. Both Heather and Mom said they have never been so terrified. (Interestingly enough, we had no such thunderstorm on our side of Manhattan, so I don't know WHAT was going on in the airport area!) The plane was unable to land at JFK and had to be rerouted to Albany to refuel. However, the thunderstorm followed them to Albany and the plane could not be refueled due to lightning. So, they had to just sit there on the plane and wait. They waited for hours! Meanwhile, Uncle Peter was similarly delayed.

Eric and I had no idea all this was happening. We met on the subway around 5:00, and arrived at the airport around 6:00p.m. We went to our gate right away to try to find my family. Hmmm, no family. Not a single one of them. Meanwhile I got a text from Heather around 6:30 saying they were leaving Albany. I was all, "Albany?! What?!" Eric and I went ahead and had dinner at Chili's while we waited to find out what was going on, because our outgoing flight to Budapest was already saying it was delayed an hour. Oh boy, here we go.

As we finished up dinner I got a call from my Dad, who had heard from Heather and filled me in on what was going on. I also heard from my cousin Molly (Uncle Peter's daughter) who told me Uncle Peter was also delayed and just landing in New York as we spoke.

So, Eric and I made our way back to Gate 5 and waited and waited. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 9:00 p.m. by this point, and Uncle Peter finally arrived around 8:15. By then Heather and Mom had landed, but were stuck on the runway and in a total state of panic that they would miss the Budapest flight.

Thankfully our Budapest flight was delayed even more, because Mom and Heather finally arrived at our gate between 9:30 and 10:00 p.m. They sat on that plane from Tampa to New York for nearly NINE HOURS. They had originally had 6 hours of leeway time built in to their schedule - and now if the second flight had not been delayed they would have missed it! I have never before prayed for a flight to be continuously delayed. They had just enough time after getting to our gate to run to the restroom and then board the new plane. What an awful ordeal for them.

By 10:00 p.m., already 2 hours late, we were on board and ready to go. It looked like things were looking up!

On the plane, ready to get things started! Not so fast, though, my friends.

We taxi-ed out to the runway around 10:30 p.m....but then did not move for an hour. We just sat there. At 11:30 they finally told us there was some sort of mechanical problem they had been trying to troubleshoot, but were unsuccessful. So, back to the gate we went so that maintenance could take a look at it. And there we sat for another hour.

Heather and Mom expressing their displeasure with the delays from the other side of the plane

I was sad it was past 11:30 p.m. and we still had not taken off. If I only knew...

At 12:30 a.m. they finally announced that the problem had been fixed! Hooray! Uh, not so fast. We backed away from the gate, only to stop once again for another half hour or so. Deja vu all over again. At 1:00 a.m. they announced the problem had not, in fact, been fixed, so back to the gate we went again to await further instructions. At 1:30 a.m. they had us deplane to wait for the next step in the terminal. Oh, boy. That can't be a good sign.

My tired family (Eric, Heather, Mom, Uncle Peter) waiting in the terminal at almost 2:00 a.m.

Nope, not a good sign at all. At 2:00 a.m., after six hours of delay, they finally cancelled the flight. We made a mad dash for the desk to see about rebooking. It was pure pandemonium for a while, as nobody (Delta employees included) seemed to know what was going on. They finally moved us to a different check-in counter to get things taken care of.

Luckily, we were towards the front of the line, so we got through pretty quickly. They had to create a new flight for all of us at 3:00 p.m. the next day, Wednesday, July 8th. They told us to report back at noon, then sent us on our way with hotel and food vouchers.

The hotel was a Holiday Inn Express in Long Island - VERY far from the airport. They had a small shuttle to take us there. By shuttle, I mean van that seats 8-10 people. You know, to shuttle all 300 passengers on our flight to hotels. Stellar planning, no? Luckily we were able to get on the first shuttle that came, which got us to the hotel around 3:15 a.m. We heard that some people from our flight did not get to the hotel until 5:00 a.m. because of the shuttle service.

We checked in to the hotel and used one of our food vouchers to get some microwave meals from the hotel "shop" - poor Mom and Heather hardly ate all day! They were not served food on their Tampa flight, and since our Budapest flight never took off, they never served us dinner.

We ate as soon as we got to our rooms, and I emailed my cousin Jacob in Budapest about the turn of events. Then we FINALLY tried to get some sleep.

I am very sad that the first hotel picture I took on our vacation was of a Holiday Inn in Long Island. Not quite how I planned things.

As a small but very exciting side note: Although this day turned out to be a big super giant mess, we got some good news - I have a new cousin! My Uncle Nathan and Aimee had their baby, a boy named Jackson Donald! Welcome to the family, Jackson!

DAY 2: Wednesday, July 8, 2009

We all met for the hotel breakfast buffet around 9:30 a.m. That was when we figured out the shuttle issue - how do we get back to the airport? When we had arrived at the hotel the night (well, early morning) before, they told us we could take the shuttle back every hour on the hour. However, in the morning we were told we had to sign up for a shuttle, and the next available one was at 2:00 p.m.! Since we had to be back to the airport at noon, we decided to take a cab, so were able to get back to the airport right on time.

We got checked in (with new seat assignments), then requested reimbursement for the taxi. Delta refused, saying that because they had provided transportation (the shuttle) they would not reimburse us for the taxi. Infuriating! One shuttle that seats 10 people, going to the airport once an hour is hardly sufficient transportation for the 120 people they had at our hotel. The supervisors refused to speak with us, so we had no choice but to leave without reimbursement (not before being told we were "talking too much" by one of the employees - very rude!).

We had another Chili's lunch then made our way back to good ol' Gate 5 to try the whole thing again.

Very tired travelers waiting for our new flight

At Gate 5, where we spent so many hours the day before

We boarded the plane once again. This time, Heather and Mom were able to sit in the row behind Eric and me, which was nice, although Uncle Peter was still stuck at the back of the plane by himself. We finally took off around 3:40 p.m. FINALLY!!!!

Let's try this again.

Ah, we waited so long to see New York fading away in the distance from the plane!

Once we were finally in the air, everything went very smoothly. International flying is really quite nice. We had a nice dinner not long after taking off, and breakfast before we landed. Heather and I drank some wine, we watched movies, we slept as much as we could.

Toasting with our wine - cheers to finally being on our way!

Mom, Heather and me in flight

As the flight began to wind down we were treated to both a gorgeous nearly full-moon out the window, as well as a beautiful sunrise.

View out of my window

Good morning!

Before we knew it, we were landing in Budapest - nearly an hour early, at 5:30 a.m. Budapest time! At last, we had arrived!

We were so, so excited to see this airport!

Up next: Our first day in Budapest!

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