God Bless the Irish – Discounts for Stranded Travelers

April 20, 2010

You hear about it on TV and read it on the Internet. Hotels increasing their rates up to 300% per night due to the demand created by the current travel crisis. Well, not every country is full of greedy, spineless, uncaring business owners that lack any sense of compassion.

My wife and I were stuck in Dublin, Ireland for 4 days. Not only did our hotel, The Gresham, not once increase our room fees, they also gave us a discount when we first checked in. The largest ferry companies in Dublin, Irish Ferries\Stena, did not raise their trip rates, but they did increase the number of trips to England. The bus system added coach/ferry rides to London, but they did not add fees.

I am not a big fan of the city of Dublin, but I do love the Irish. They were friendly. They were caring. They did all they could to take care of their stranded travels.

I wish I could say the same for the rest of Europe.


Buses, Trains, and Ferries: The End of My Eyjafjallajokull Story

April 20, 2010

At the end of the beginning, I had just decided that we were to stay in Dublin and wait for our Sunday evening flight to Frankfurt. Our seats had moved from stand-by to verified and in my best judgment at the time, that was safer than arriving in London with no plan, no place to stay, and absolutely no trust in any of the travel booking websites nor the information we were receiving from the media. Lufthansa told us that they would update our Sunday flight information at 7:00 am Sunday morning.

Sunday 4/18 7:00 am: In case you didn’t notice, the word “Planes” was removed from the title. In other words, our flight was canceled…again. We jumped on Skype, our savior, and called Lufthansa.

Sunday 4/18 7:30 am: We finally reached a Lufthansa representative and he told us the next available flight is on Wednesday. My wife and I gave each other the same look; “No way in hell”, but we still took the flight. We spent the next hour on the Internet trying all of the same unreliable sites.

Sunday 4/18 8:30 am: Thanks to the early hour, the sites were getting less traffic and we could book a Sunday evening ferry ride with Irish Ferries from Dublin to Holyhead, England. This would put us in England at midnight with no plan, but we would be off of the first island. We then managed to purchase 5:25 am tickets on the Eurostar train between London and Paris. We didn’t know if we could get there on time, but the tickets were refundable so we purchased them anyway. The next step was to find out how to get from Holyhead to London for our 5:25 am train. After some research, we found out that it could not be done. At this point, we decided to eat breakfast, check out of the hotel, and take a cab to the Dublin port to see if there were any smaller companies running ferries to England.

Sunday 4/18 9:30 am: We arrived at the port and Irish Ferries was the only company with an open counter. There was a smaller company working the day before, but they were not going to open until 3:00 pm Sunday. We knew the smaller companies were selling somewhat overpriced tickets to London and decided to come back at 2:00 pm to queue for a chance at those tickets. As we were leaving, three people from separate Dublin radio stations asked me for an interview. I spoke for 30 seconds and mention the word “canceled” fifteen times. It had been 4 days since the eruption and one journalist almost fell over from shock. Apparently, Dublin wasn’t fully aware of what its tourists were going through.

Sunday 4/18 10:00 am: We got back to the hotel and ran into a nice Irish lady in the lobby. She told us that Bus Eireann, Ireland’s national bus service, sells coach tickets to London via different ferry companies. We had no idea. We didn’t even know there was a national bus system. We asked for the station address, which happened to be just down the street, and walked to the station to see if we could purchase tickets. We were told that all of the scheduled buses were sold out, but they would be adding more evening routes around 1:00 pm that day and our best bet would be to purchase tickets online.

Sunday 4/18 11:00 am: Back at the hotel again and we sat down for coffee and terribly slow wireless Internet access. We spent the next 45 minutes on the Bus Eireann website retrying the search for tickets that we hoped would suddenly occur sometime between then and 2:00 pm that afternoon.

Sunday 4/18 11:45 am: The Internet was too slow. The Bus Eireann site only loaded half of the time and we couldn’t risk losing seats because of connectivity problems. I recalled seeing a Wi-Fi router on the 2nd floor hallway of the hotel and decided to try my connectivity from there. It turned out that the connectivity was much better, but I had to stand right in front of the router while dodging other customers and the cleaning department.

Sunday 4/18 High Noon: I hit search again and the tickets appeared. I worked through three or four web pages while trying to balance out the distance between the Wi-Fi router and the stairway door. I arrived at the final web page and then went tearing downstairs to my wife for our credit card number. I entered our payment information and then clicked submit, purchased verified…thank you God. We decided to leave coffee in the lobby and both stand in front of Wi-Fi router on the second floor. Fifteen minutes later we purchased 7:00 pm Eurostar tickets between London and Paris.

At this moment in time, we had verified tickets to London and then Paris.

Sunday 4/18 12:45 pm: We called Lufthansa Germany and ask them to cancel our Wednesday flight from Dublin to Frankfurt …and they wouldn’t do it. We told them that if they would cancel our tickets now, they could then give them to someone on stand-by. We were told that we must call Lufthansa USA to cancel the flight since it was purchased in US Dollar. Unbelievable.

Sunday 4/18 1:00 pm: We decided to walk down to the bus station and grab our bus/ferry tickets to London. We were told to come back at 6:30 pm to get them. With nothing else to do, we wandered the streets of Dublin looking for a restaurant with Wi-Fi access.

Sunday 4/18 2:00 – 4:00 pm: We stopped at the Wynn Hotel for lunch and Internet access. Over a very long lunch, we exchanged our 5:25 am Eurostar tickets for 10:00 am tickets, purchased train tickets between Paris and Strasbourg, and purchased train tickets between Strasbourg and Stuttgart…bringing us home Monday evening.

Sunday 4/18 5:30 pm: We decided to wait for the ticket counter to open at the bus station. We arrived at the station to absolute chaos. No one knew where to wait and everyone was paranoid that they would be left behind. Yes, we all had verified tickets, but at that point in time, you couldn’t blame anyone for feeling desperate.

Sunday 4/18 7:00 pm: We left the station with two full buses. Goodbye Dublin.

Sunday 4/18 8:30 pm: We had just left our parked bus and grabbed the first available open seats on the ferry, quite possibly the same seats we paid for earlier that morning. We didn’t feel too bad about losing the money. At least two people on the waiting list were now on the ferry thanks to our double purchase. The ferry was packed. There were people sleeping under stairs and open spaces on the floor.

Monday 4/19 12:30 am: The ferry arrived in Holyhead and things started to get ugly. Almost everyone headed for the stairs, but a few healthy adults went for the elevator. As I stood in line for the stairs, I watched a group of grown men allow the elevator door to shut in front of a 90-year old woman with a cane. On the next trip down, I watched another group of healthy people shut out a lady and her mentally handicapped and blind teenage son. It had been a long time since I had seen something that ugly and disgusting. Had I been near the elevator at the time I would have physically pulled someone out of it.

Monday 4/19 7:30 am: We safely arrived in London in plenty of time for our 10:00 am trip to Paris. Things were looking good, but from what I read on the Internet, the Eurostar terminal was a mad house and the British government only wanted ticketed passengers anywhere near it.

Monday 4/19 8:00 am: We arrived at the London North Eurostar terminal. Compared to typical London Tube traffic, the terminal was a ghost town. It didn’t make any sense. I knew they had added new trains between London and Paris, but those trains were booked quickly too. We were lucky to acquire flip seats next to the luggage racks. I was at least expecting long lines at the ticket booths.

Monday 4/19 10:00 am: Our train departed for Paris and IT WAS NOT FULL. This is unforgivable. It is unimaginable. How could this be? There were people stranded all over England and our train was not full. The government and media had warned people to stay away because of the chaos, but they were allowing trains to depart with empty seats! They could have at least created some sort of waiting list staging area away from the main terminal.

Monday 4/19 12:30 pm – 8:00 pm: From Paris to Stuttgart was pretty uneventful. The train terminal at Paris East was very busy and the ticket line was very long. We booked everything online, so we didn’t need to fight through those crowds. We made 3 more train changes and all of those trains were full, but nothing different than the typical summer time traffic. We arrived safely home to our happy dog and bored out of her mind friend and dog-sitter.

Monday 4/19 9:00 pm: The first leg of our Tuesday morning flight to Los Angeles was canceled, but the Frankfurt to Los Angeles leg was still on. My wife was exhausted and wanted to cancel the trip all together. Neither of us wanted to take the train to Frankfurt to just sit there all morning and then have the flight finally canceled. We also did not want to end up stuck in Los Angeles because the volcano decided to let loose once again. Germany had extended its flight ban until Tuesday evening and was only allowing a handful of special flights out of the country. It appeared that our flight was one of the special exceptions. We called Lufthansa to find the next flight to Los Angeles. They told us the 28th, which was about two days after the event we were traveling to Los Angeles to attend. We decided to cancel the trip all together along with our “uncancelable” Wednesday Dublin to Frankfurt flight. It would have been irresponsible to fly to Los Angeles considering the current travel conditions. Hopefully, a family stuck in Frankfurt will find their way home thanks to our exhausted condition.

Tuesday 4/20 Afternoon: We are home. We are safe. We are not flying again for quite some time. People are still stranded all over the world and there are probably empty seats traveling between London and Paris. People are still being good to each other, but old women and handicapped children are probably being cut off from handicapped access points by healthy men. Ferries and trains were added between major destinations all over Europe, but people weren’t given the information needed to understand how to get to them. Media did its best to keep us informed, but only managed to confuse most travelers and keep some of us away from possible travel sources. On our way home, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. I tried to part of the good and had to once get ugly.

The bad will be our credit card bill.

Planes, Trains, and Ferries: My Eyjafjallajokull Story

April 18, 2010

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.

Eyjafjallajokull: You F’in Suck

April 16, 2010

Flight canceled. We are now booked on a Sunday flight. All of the ferries between Dublin and UK are booked. The train between London and Paris is booked. I have a Sunday flight that I will miss and a Tuesday flight that…well…I have no idea.

Eyjafjallajokull: I wish I never knew your name

April 15, 2010

I’m stuck in Ireland. I spent the last 3 days in sunny and green Galway, but now I am stuck in dark dreary Dublin. If you visit Ireland, don’t stay in Dublin. It is a dirty world city, minus the “worldly” part. The next flight out is scheduled for Saturday…we are on it…if it flies.

This sucks.

Know Your Enemy

April 12, 2010

Terrorists converge at the scene of the Good Friday Massacre

It is a song from Rage Against the Machine. It is something Afghani fighters have lived by for centuries. Know your enemy. Know your terrain. Know your neighbors. Know how to take advantage of the ignorance of your invaders.

And know when to bring in special forces.
from Der Spiegel (in German)

The picture above shows the faces of the German enemy that killed 3 soldiers on Good Friday in Kunduz – and they are not Afghani.

This enemy is not the common face of the Taliban, who are – nationwide – mostly Pashtuns. The fighters of Chahar Darreh are non-Afghani holy warriors from former Soviet republics with the best military training and advanced weaponry.

Not all come from neighboring Uzbekistan, but some come from Tajikistan and Chechnya. There are trained professional killers. They belong to the network of the “Central Asia Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan” and are supported by Osama Bin Laden’s al Qaeda.

Roughly in the middle of the photo is a man who calls himself Maulawi Ahmed. It is his fighting name, Asadullah really is his name and he comes from the region around Kanam. Ahmed has brown short hair and receding hairlines. The 35-year-old is the new militia chief in Kunduz, he inherited the shadow of the Taliban governor, Mullah Salam, who was arrested in February in Pakistan. Salam is responsible for almost all fatal attacks in recent years against the German military.

Ahmed’s soldiers carry Kalashnikovs with modern plastic handgun magazines. Their bazookas shoot aerosol TBG-7V grenades.

I wrote earlier that Germany plans on sending 200 tanks to Afghanistan.

Now that Germany knows its enemy. They should know that 200 tanks are not enough.

Germany Looking to send 200 Armored Vehicles to Afghanistan

April 12, 2010

After the tragic deaths on Good Friday. Germany is finally starting to act

According to Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the Bundeswehr will move from 150 to 200 more armored vehicles to Afghanistan this year. This is intended to protect the soldiers there, the CSU politician said on ARD television, after claims of insufficient equipment and training had arisen after the fatal battle of Kunduz on Good Friday. With regard to the wear and repair needs of the material, he added: “We must always improve. This is an ongoing process.”

Germany is dancing a fine line. Public opinion is against their presence in Afghanistan and sending heavy armor to the area is a sign that Germany is truly waging war, an action that has not been federally authorized. Without heavy armor, the chances of more soldiers coming home wounded or killed is greatly increased. This would further turn the population against the war.

This is a positive sign. It shows the government is more worried about protecting their soldiers than they are the political consequences of providing them that protection.