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Ice Storm, Plane Crash & Volcano

by admin on April 22, 2010

On April 8th – I woke up at 4am for what was set to be a busy week but one that felt doable.  I had no idea how hard the travel would be.

I was set to speak in:

  • Edmonton Apr 8
  • Manama, Kingdom of Bahrain Apr 10
  • Dubai, UAE on April 14th
  • Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on April 15th
  • I’d them fly home on the 16th – have a couple days rest and fly out to Montreal on the 19th for another talk on the 20th.  Tight ya, but do able…

You can’t make this shit up…

Flight to Edmonton went fine.  My talk in Edmonton went great.  My flight to Calgary from Edmonton went fine.  And the lounge in Calgary was empty and I waited 2 hours for my Calgary to Frankfurt flight which was to leave at 4pm.

I boarded the plane at 3:30. At 3:35 it started snowing. At 7:30pm we were still on the tarmac and they canceled our flight as the crew would now have been on too long.  Re-scheduled for 1am.  So the next five hours were mixed with me spending time on cell phones to Air Canada trying to re-book my connecting flight from Frankfurt to Bahrain – after 28 min on hold I hung up by accident, then calling a 2nd time I had to phone while sitting on the floor to keep my phone plugged in as the battery was down to 3% – amazingly they said they’d make it happen.  OK. Now for food.  Everything was closed.  The Calgary airport was under lockdown due to a 2 hour power outage from the storm. And the lounge was also closed.  At midnight I found a little shop that had left their fridge unlocked.  So like Jean Valjean from Les Miserable I took a bottle of water and a handful of crackers from the bar area – and I left a $5 bill in the fridge so as to not get called a thief 😉  We boarded our plane at 1am – and that flight was delayed until 4:20am due to the ice buildup on the plane.  The crew gave it a 4:30am cut off and said if it was’t ready they’d be cancelling this one too – we finally left Calgary 12.5 hours after our scheduled start – luckily I was in Business Class – unluckily I’d already missed my new re-booked connections in Frankfurt so I was showing up there with no booked flight to Bahrain.

On the whole flight I knew I needed to have a few people ready to help me on arrival in Europe, so while all the other passengers complained and ranted, I became the best friends of three flight attendants.  I told them how much I needed a connecting flight to appear – and they got on Telex to the airport while we were in flight and made it happen for me.  I was met at the gate by the Concierge for Air Canada Super Elite passengers (I’m only Elite which is still pretty high up) – Air Canada had purchased a Business Class ticket for me on Emerites Airlines – no questions asked – and they wisked me past hundreds of lined up people at Security where I just made my flight to Dubai.

On landing in Dubai I raced to get the connecting Bahrain flight – and dripping with sweat I boarded as the gates closed.  I was wearing a Blazer at every interaction with airline people to try to look professional – even though I’d been traveling for 28 hours at this point – and awake for about 40.

My flight to Bahrain went perfectly until just as we were getting ready to land a DHL plane crash landed on the only runway – causing our flight to be diverted to Dumman, Saudi Arabia for 3 hours.  In all I made it to Bahrain in time to do my talk – however I arrived 16 hours later than planned.

And amazingly my trip home was almost as crazy.

Upon arriving in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on the 15th, five minutes before my talk started I was told that a Volcano in Iceland was shutting down Heathrow where my flights were connecting to.  I had a two flights connecting in Heathrow that would have had me in Vancouver 16 hours later.  So the saga continues…  I’m back on the phone with Air Canada from a wireless hotel lobby phone – which dies just as they are ticketing my new connecting flights via Frankfurt.  So I borrow phone number two, and call back.  They’ve booked me on Luftansa an Air Canada partner via Frankfurt and my trip will now be 24 hours later yet still 16 hours travel – feels OK – so I fly off to Riyadh to wait in a pre-war decorated, airport hotel, with 2 hour wireless cards that fail every 7-8 minutes.

I wake in the middle of the night thinking about the Volcanic Ash cloud and wondering if Frankfurt would be impacted – so at 4am I’m back online and sure enough German airports are beginning to close.  I toss and turn all night and at 10am am frantically trying to get ahold of Air Canada or Luftansa with no luck due to time zones, and the fact that Friday in Saudi is a day when virtually no offices are open.  So at 11:00am I decide to pack up from the hotel, head to the airport and take matters into my own hands.  I’m determined to find a way home – and in my mind I already know that I won’t be flying via Europe – it’ll be via Cairo or Asia…

After getting lost in the Bowels of Riyadh airport at ‘airline offices’ which turn out to be where the baggage is controlled from it dawns on me – maybe there is a travel agent here.  And sure enough – 20 minutes walk through 3 terminals I find one.  Bear in mind I’m the only person not wearing the traditional Saudi Dress – and when everyone is walking towards the mosque to pray at noon I’m walking against the flow…

I did it though – I found a place – while booking my ticket the man looked up and said “what is your religion” I replied “catholic” – and he smiled and whispered – oh – do you like Johnny Walker Black Label – umm ya – connnection made – they ‘can’t drink’ in Saudi but most do privately 😉  I paid $3,700 for a one-way, Business class ticket home to Vancouver.  Total flight time 26 hours, total time including connections would be 33.5 hours – Riyadh-Bahrain-Manila-Vancouver – but I’d get home.

And get home I did.  30 hours later than planned – but days ahead if I’d gone to Europe…  11 flights in 8 days.

And yesterday – to my surprise & joy – Air Canada blew me away and credited my $4,200 for the tickets I didn’t use coming home 😉  So I actually covered my hotel costs, wireless cards, and some of the crazy data roaming I’m sure to get creamed with…

Lessons:

  1. Carry a kit with Deoderant, Tooth Brush, Hair Brush etc.
  2. Carry a change of clothes to wear on flights
  3. Change back into Dress Shirt & Blazer at all times
  4. Have a Travel Agent back home who can look into options while I’m on flights
  5. Constantly be re-charging laptop & cell phones
  6. Don’t wait for the airlines to re-book you – re-book yourself
  7. Go to the Business Lounges to ask for help
  8. A $28, 1 hour massage in Manila airport cured almost everything
  9. Sleep as much as you can on flights so I’m thinking sharp when the plane arrives
  10. Be the first off the plane and right away ask for the concierge

3 thoughts on “Ice Storm, Plane Crash & Volcano”

  1. Excellent story Cameron and just goes to show what you can do when you open your mind to finding a solution, instead of moaning and bitching about the situation you are in.

    You took control as opposed to letting those around you have the control of what was going to happen to you.

    I watched your TED talk via the internet and found it captivating.

    I’ve took some learning from it and it has made a difference in how I interact with my 6 year old son.

    All the best.

    Kevin

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