Planes, Trains, and Ferries: My Eyjafjallajokull Story

My wife and I flew into Galway, Ireland via Dublin and Frankfurt on Tuesday for a guest speaking invitation. Galway is a great little ocean town. The talk on Wednesday went well and dinner afterwards was even better. We were set to fly out of Galway at 7:30 am on Thursday. We had a short layover in Dublin and then back to Frankfurt. That was the plan. This is what happened.

Thursday 4/15 8:00 am: We arrived in Dublin, worked our way through immigration and security (for reasons unknown), checked our flight status, and then wandered the airport looking for our gate.

Thursday 4/15 8:30 am: We decided to stop into a restaurant for breakfast and sat next to a TV to watch the volcano.

Thursday 4/15 8:31 am: We ordered coffee and while watching the volcano on TV I thought to myself, “Hmm, maybe I should check our flight status”. 10 seconds later I read “canceled”. We canceled coffee and ran to the Lufthansa ticket counter. We waited in line for 3 hours.

Thursday 4/15 11:31 am: Besides the US flights, the flight status board read canceled down the line. Dublin airport was packed full of people. Everyone was either in a line or on the floor. The airport employees were a shining example of Irish friendliness and hard work. They were proactive with a smile. Something I’ve rarely seen in any other airport in the world. Finally at the counter, the customer service lady put us on the first flight out on Saturday. We were disappointed that we had to spend an extra day in Dublin, but were happy with seats on the next plane out.

Friday 4/16 1:00 pm: We received an SMS from Lufthansa stating that our Saturday flight had been canceled. Our hotel just happened to be on the other side of Dublin. So running to our hotel to get on the phone wasn’t realistic. We tried our cell phones, no luck. We tried an international pay phone that probably charged us a ton of money, nada. At this point we realized that we had to run to the hotel and then truck it back to our room.

Friday 4/16 2:00 pm: Back at the hotel and our calls were not going through. We made a Skype phone call and…it worked! Thank you Skype. We finally got through to Lufthansa and tried to book yet another flight. We were put on a Sunday morning Swiss Air flight to Zurich.

Saturday 4/16 10:00 am: The Swiss Air flight was canceled. Back to Skype and Lufthansa. This time we were put on a waiting list for Sunday evening. My wife flew 130,000 miles with Lufthansa last year and this is all we get?!?! We took it and hoped for the best.

Saturday 4/17 1:00 pm: We heard of a 4-5 day blackout on all flights in Europe and completely freaked out. We didn’t know whom to trust. Lufthansa kept pushing us back a day. Ryan Air canceled all flights until Monday. And to top things off, the one organization that could forecast the ash cloud’s movement over the next ten days was only giving 24-hour forecasts to the public. We decided that it was time to start looking at ferries and trains.

Saturday 4/17 2:00 pm: After an hour of fighting the Internet, we still had very little information. The Irish Ferries website was completely worthless. The information on ferries between Dublin and Holy head, England was not updating and we could never get past the booking page. We did see that there were trains from Holy head to London. We also saw that there were seats available for the late Sunday trip on Eurostar between London and Paris, the tunnel train between England and mainland Europe. We figured that if we could get to the mainland, we could get home. With our phone calls to Irish Ferries not going through and their website failing, we decide to take a cab to the port and see what we could find in person.

Saturday 4/17 3:00 pm: We arrived at the public transport terminal at Dublin port and wait in line with about 200 people.

Saturday 4/17 4:00 pm: After waiting in line for about an hour, we decided to go with a different carrier that would take us at 7:00 pm to London via ferry and bus. It was expensive and non-refundable, but we figured it didn’t matter as long as we were getting closer to home.

Saturday 4/17 4:30 pm: We arrived back at our hotel and started the process of purchasing the Eurostar tickets between London and Paris or Brussels. What once appeared to be available was gone. We didn’t understand. How could thousands upon thousands of tickets be sold out in a couple of hours? It turned out that our problem wasn’t instant demand, but the fact that the Eurostar website did not tell you that some trains were sold out until you attempted to finalized your ticket sale.

Saturday 4/17 6:00 pm: After more research, we found out that Eurostar was booked out until Tuesday. This would mean we would have arrived in London at 2:00 am with no place to stay and no hopes of even getting access to the train terminal until at least Tuesday. Not only was Eurostar a mess, but also ferries between Dover, England and mainland Europe were booked until Wednesday. We decide to call Lufthansa again.

Between 6:00 pm and 6:25 pm was by far the most dramatic and tear-causing period of this entire ordeal until now. We did not trust the stand-by flight we were given or the information from the news, and we knew that hotels in London and Dover were booked to capacity. We had to decide on whether or not to stay in Dublin or test our luck in London.

Saturday 4/17 6:25 pm: Lufthansa finally answers our call. All of our bags were packed and I was ready to check out. We literally did not have a minute to spare. The service representative at Lufthansa tells us we were moved from stand-by to verified.

“We’re staying here”, was my decision.

I don’t know if it was the right decision, but I believe it was the best decision I could make considering the information I had at the time. London was too uncertain and if the skies were opened, we would have to book a completely new ticket to Frankfurt from London. Since the decision was made, I have learned that Lufthansa has been flying planes around Germany in order to prepare for the lifting of the flight ban. I also learned that Germany is discussing lifting their night flight ban for the duration of the crisis. The good news is that planes are safely flying over Germany RIGHT NOW. The bad news is that we are in Dublin and we have to fly through UK space before we arrive in Germany. We will find out about our Sunday flight at 7:00 am Sunday. We’ve set the alarm and will be ready to call Lufthansa again.

The communication, or lack there-of, has been more than troubling. The lack of reaction from the different EU governments has also been troubling. This entire situation has been exhausting and traumatizing. To top things off, we are scheduled to fly to Los Angeles on Tuesday, but that feels like, well…. 1,089 kilometers away.

Saturday 4/17 10:16 pm: Swiss air sent us an SMS notifying us of our already canceled flight. Thanks for nothing.

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3 Responses to Planes, Trains, and Ferries: My Eyjafjallajokull Story

  1. elijahs1 says:

    Hi Shannonlee,

    Enjoyed the post and the fatalistic humor. One day, once past the immediacy of it and the inconvenience, it will be a memorable adventure.

    Good to see your site…especially liked your classification of Kathy K as part of the “loony left” :-).

    I will add your site to my blogroll. Don’t know how much traffic that will generate for you, but it won’t hurt. If you’d ever be inclined to cross post at Elijah’s Sweete Spot, email the piece to e.sweete@hotmail.com.

    Best of luck with your travels.

    tidbits

  2. doriancito says:

    Hi Shannonlee:

    Thanks for sharing with us your travails and hope that you may be back in Germany by now. I have heard that the airlines are begionning to get back to near-normal.

    Just wanted to let you know that we spent a few days in Galway a few years ago, and loved it, and all of Ireland–in spite of the fact that we could not drink the water in the Galway area as it was contaminated…another story.

    Again, thanks for sharing,

    Dorian

  3. themoderateamerican says:

    Thanks for your comments!

    We’re home safely and I am writing up the ending. Needless to say…it has been quite the trip.

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