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Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Three Hour Flight that Turned into Three Days

It normally takes about three hours to fly from Paris to Madeira, a Portuguese island hundreds of miles out in the Atlantic.  It took us a bit longer.  

After we boarded our plane on time in Paris, the captain announced that there was a problem and we could not leave for three hours.  There was a hubbub through the plane, and then we sat, and sat some more.  Crew were coming and going from the cockpit for a couple of hours.  Finally, they announced we could leave.  Yea!


So we took off and flew for three hours.  When we started to descend, there was powerful turbulence and thick cloud cover.  The plane bucked and swerved like crazy as we approached the runway.  Suddenly, the pilot goosed the engine and we started ascending again.   The pilot announced the winds were too strong and had to go around and try again - before we ran out of fuel 

So, we flew in a big circle for ten bumpy minutes, and then we started our approach again.  Again, the plane bucked and swerved alarmingly.  Jennifer's fingernails dug into my quads.  Again, the pilot pulled up and we passed the island.  

So, he announced we had to go land on the only other tiny island nearby, get more fuel, and hope for the wind to die down.  Madeira is a tiny island hundreds of miles out in the Pacific.  There's nothing to slow down the wind in all that vastness. 

When we landed on Porto Santo, we were thinking we could stay in a hotel, or take a boat if things didn't go well. Instead, the first thing the pilot says is "there are no hotels in this island."  And it occurs to us that with wind this strong, boats aren't going anywhere. It's a two and a half hour ride between the islands by boat, so definitely out in the open ocean. 

The little refueling truck loaded us up with a little fuel so we could try again. The pilot announced we'll try again, but if we can't land, we'll have to fly back to this little island and get more fuel so we can fly to Lisbon.  

While we sat on the runway frustrated and tired, the French woman next to us had a phone that worked in all Europe.  She said a British guy was supposed to fly down from London the same day on another airline, but they cancelled his flight before it ever took off.

Then we sat on that runway for another two hours.  During this time, there is an animated discussion between the pilot and two elderly passengers.  Next thing we hear is the pilot announcing we have to fly to Lisbon and try again another day.  The passengers had convinced him that it was too risky to try to land again.

So, we had an hour and fifteen minute flight back to the mainland, and landed in Lisbon.  When we arrived, we parked the plane way out on the tarmac, not at a gate.  That's not unusual, but it does mean that we need buses to take passengers safely across the runways, etc, into the terminal.  So, they said the buses were coming.  When?  No one knows because they weren't expecting us.  I could see out the window a normal car pulled up next to the plane with someone inside wearing a safety vest and talking on a mobile phone.  They came and looked at us more than once while we waited.  An hour and a half later, our buses finally arrived.  The passengers were amazingly calm after all this.  

So, we finally arrived into the terminal at 11:45 PM, but the story doesn't end there.  We had to wait for our bags.  No problem.  You would think they could have offloaded the bags during that one and a half hours we were stuck in the plane. Nope.  We'd had nothing to eat or drink,, and all the airport restaurants were closed.  

We sat. We waited. Other passengers filed out of the airport while our baggage belt sat motionless.  Another hour later, at 1:00 am, our bags started coming out. By 1:30 AM, we all had our bags.  We got on the buses and made it to the hotel by 2 AM.  Check-in was mercifully quick and we feel into bed exhausted with no idea what was coming next 

After all this, we still had no information about when our flight to Madeira would be.  They had told us they reserved the hotel in Lisbon for two nights.  Why are they saying two nights, if we're leaving tomorrow morning?  Or are we?  We eventually heard there would be no flights to Madeira the next day.  All day the next day, we kept asking the hotel desk if they had any info about when we would be flying out.  Nope, no info.  By noon, all they could tell us was, you'll be staying in the hotel another night.  No flight.  Argh!  The next day, it was the same thing.  We could barely believe our ears.  It was two days later before Aigle Azure was able to arrange a flight for us.  When we got to the airport, we had to wait an hour in line before the gate agents even set up the desks.

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I talk about a day in Lisbon and a sea cliff hike on Madeira in other posts, but here I have to bring up the return end of our trip.  On the morning we were supposed to fly home, a lunatic bent on murder ran into the Orly airport terminal and fought with a soldier over her machine gun.  They shot him dead on the spot.  Can you guess which airport we were flying to?  Orly, of course.  We were busily packing our bags in our hotel room, getting ready to have breakfast, then go to the airport, when I got a news alert from my French news app about the attack.  It didn't take a genius to figure out that our flight would be delayed.

Later that morning, we got a text from the airline that, due to the Orly airport closure, our flight would leave at 1:45.  But not 1:45 PM, they meant 1:45 AM that "night."  Ugh.  We killed time around town all day, then went to the airport about 11:30 PM.  The airport was basically closed when we arrived.  The only people at the airport were a few employees preparing to leave, and most of the same long-suffering 200 passengers we'd spent so many hours with at the start of our trip.  To top it all off, even that 1:45 AM flight was delayed until 3:00 AM.  We finally made it back to Paris at 7:30 AM.  

We won't be flying Aigle Azure again, even though not all of the delays were their fault.  This certainly qualifies as the most ill-fated travel experience we've ever had, and it will forever dim the memories of what could have been a much better trip.  As much as we travel, it could be said we were overdue for a travel disaster, but this seems pretty excessive!


  

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