It was lunchtime when my instincts started sending me their subtle vibe. “Perhaps you should take the earlier airport shuttle.”, they whispered. By the time I had eaten and had finished packing my bags, I had no other choice but to take the one I had reserved.
Dashing through the snow…
The road from Lugano, Switzerland to Milano Malpensa Airport was just beginning to get a thorough dusting of snow. “It snows every year so they certainly must be prepared.”, I thought. The highway was quite free of traffic until just after the Swiss-Italian border. I felt the shuttle bus inch forward as I continued to convince myself that I would make it.
The weather outside is frightful…
“Your flight is delayed by 20 minutes and your gate is D11”, my boyfriend said when he called, giving me a little more hope. We pulled up to the departure gate of Terminal 2 at 5:36pm. I had exactly four minutes to make my flight and was going to try with all my might in order to make it. I grabbed my suitcase, ran across the snow-covered parking lot, slipped on a metal grating but managed to stay balanced. There were about a hundred people in the security clearance line. “Excuse me! Excuse me, please! My flight is leaving now!”, I repeated to everyone as I ran past them and cut into the front of the line.
I took off my coat, gloves and placed my computer in the bin. Beep! I went back and took off my boots. “Whew! One more minute to go!” I ran as fast as I could towards the gate. I could see a crowd in front of me, waiting on line for food. “Excuse me!”, I screamed from a distance. No one budged. “Excuse me!” I yelled again as I got closer. Nothing. They obviously had not realized that I fully expected them to move and since I was not prepared to stop, they should move in order to avoid me plowing into them. “Moooove!”, I yelled just moments before impact. They did. It works every time.
The flight was still boarding its final passengers when I arrived and all I could think about was how I had known I would somehow make it in time. Droplets of sweat began to collect at the bottom of my spine as we all waited for the doors to open so we could choose our seats on the plane. I leaned against the wall of the long corridor and watched the snow continue to blanket the pavement. Then, we were called back out. We waited at the gate for about 40 minutes before they informed us that our flight had been cancelled.
All is calm, all is bright…NOT!
I had experienced having a canceled flight with Easy Jet once before. They had put us all in a 4-star hotel and had given us tickets for the first morning flight. They had provided transportation to and from the hotel, dinner and breakfast. Unfortunately, when an entire airport closes down, this service is not always provided.
We were told we would have to go to the ticket counter and book new flights or call their Customer Service number, which is quite useless. My boyfriend had been trying to call as well as check online. In the end, we both realized that my only viable option was the ticket counter.
As I approached the ticket counter, I began to notice the immense line of over 1,000 people spiraling around the airport. There was only one available agent. I know my chickens and I was fully aware of the fact that Italians never wait in line. While the line was orderly in the part that spiraled around, which was mainly composed of Northern Europeans. The beginning of it was a crowd of people.
Well, when in Rome…
There was a pillar toward the front of the line where a new addition to the line was beginning to form. I followed suit and two hours later I had advanced about three feet. The line at this point was the width of five people. There were people cutting in from all sides. The girl a few feet in front of me was on the phone complaining about how she had been there for half an hour. At this point, all of the people in front of me were people who had cut in line after me.
Suddenly, a man started yelling and pounding on the ticket counter windows as others joined in. There were now two frazzled agents but not enough to handle a mob of what was nearing 2,000 passengers. An elderly woman began to melodramatically scream – as only an Italian could – about how she must get flown home because she needs her medication, otherwise she would die. She was so overly dramatic – like a bad theatre actor – that I highly doubted her story and would be willing to bet that she will outlive us all.
I was caught in the midst of this angry mob and when one pushed I lost my balance and began to fall backwards as I screamed. Just before I hit the floor, I felt hands from all sides pulling me up. “Don’t worry Miss, I’ll make sure you go next.”, said one of the guys who helped me avoid the fall. Finally, after 4 hours since my flight had been cancelled, I had a reservation on a flight for the following morning.
I was told to go outside to catch the bus that would take me to the hotel. I ran out into another crowd of people. After another two hours of waiting outside with my high heel boots in the snow, I began to imagine how those people escaping Saigon during the Vietnam war must have felt.
I overheard a few concerned passengers speaking English. No one at the airport had bothered to explain anything to them. All announcements had been in Italian and those who did not speak it felt lost. I explained the situation and gave them all the advice I could. I suddenly found myself surrounded by numerous English-speaking passengers who looked to me for any sign of hope. “Ask her, she knows everything!”, said a Dutch woman to an approaching man. “Do you speak French?”, asked another in Italian. An African man who spoke French and English aided me in translating to a French woman and her Italian helper.
The man who had been yelling at the ticket agents earlier had transferred his soapbox to the exterior and was now making speeches against the Italian Prime-Minister, Silvio Berlusconi. He provoked the police the entire time as well as his fellow countrymen by telling them how stupid they all were. He ended his speech with a shocking admission of how he wished Hitler would have won the war. At that moment, when he uttered that last phrase, anyone who had sided with him until then, turned their back and walked away embarrassed for having listened to him at all.
There was a woman standing next to me with a two-year old toddler who ran around their multiple suitcases for two hours straight. Cigarette smoke choked me from every angle. Elderly couples shivered in the snow. I gazed upon an elderly woman in a wheelchair and wondered how she would ever get through the mob that would eventually surround the bus.
“Remember, when the bus comes, you must attack for that is the only way you will manage to get a seat.”, I warned my English speakers who would otherwise be too polite to stand their ground. The bus appeared at 12:30am. Immediately, the police officers insisted on only boarding children, senior citizens and those in need of assistance. It is a dog eat dog world and I was happy to see that someone in charge was protecting those in need.
Once they were all boarded and seated, they made a final announcement for any who may have gotten stuck in the midst. After that, having already placed my luggage onboard, I was the first to be allowed on. I never saw any of the other English speakers again. I suppose you have to live here for a while before you learn to defend your spot.
Sleep in heavenly peace…
We were taken to a 4-star hotel but when I asked about dinner, the hotel pointed to a vending machine. They informed us that the first shuttle bus to the airport would depart at 5:30am. I purchased a bag of potato chips and went to my room where I called for a 5am wake-up call.
At 5.30am, I was showered, dressed and awaiting the shuttle bus with my luggage in hand. Easy Jet had not sent the bus since the airport was still closed due to the snow. How could a mere 4 inches of snow cause such havoc? I went back to my room and slept until breakfast…sort of
6:00am: “Any news?”
6:30am: “Is the airport open yet?”
7:00am: “I dreamed the bus came!”
After my third time eating breakfast, I was told that some charter buses were taking people to the airport for a small fee. Easy Jet had not given any news. I got my luggage and took the next one out. My morning flight had already been cancelled and there were no seats available on any flight to Rome or Naples until December 27th. I took the first bus to Milano Central Station and got a ticket on the 3:15pm train.
I tried to sneak on the 12:15 train, but a screeching voice halted me in my tracks. I tried again with the 2:15 but was told I would have to pay €8 to change the ticket. “I don’t have any money left! My flight was cancelled and I’ve spent all my cash on this train ticket. I don’t walk around with more than €100 on me and this ticket was €103. I was lucky I had loose change!”, I explained. “Just get on and we’ll see about it later.”, the conductor said. “What does that mean?”, I asked. “Just get on.”, he repeated.
The train departed 45 minutes late. “Maybe I should just get off and take my own train.”, I thought just as it began to move. My ticket was for standing room only as all the seats were booked. “We’re lucky!”, I said to my fellow passengers who like myself happened to find an empty seat. “I’m not lucky, I’ve been here all morning!”, complained the woman next to me. “It’s all about how you see things. I feel lucky to no longer be stuck in the snow, to have a seat and to be on my way. You should feel lucky too, since I called out to you and told you about this empty seat. Had I not, you would still be standing like everyone else who got on with you.”
At the following stop I had to change seats when those with reservations had boarded. I immediately found another in the next car. When we arrived in Naples 5 hours later, I looked at the arrivals and saw that the 3:15pm train would arrive 5 hours late. The conductor never came to check anyone’s tickets. “Yes, lucky, indeed.”