Making the most of a major flight delay

Making the most of a major flight delay

When your return journey on a short haul mini-break is scheduled for late evening, there’s always the possibility of a major flight delay. That plane that you are due to get on has probably done around half a dozen journeys since the first take off of the morning. Any subsequent delays have a knock on effect. As you get later in the day, if anything mechanical does happen to the plane, there’s less opportunity for the airlines to put their contingency plans into place.

Here’s how we faced such a delay head on and ended up with a real bonus.

Saturday 8th August 2015

Yes, we had been to Bilbao again and experienced another wonderful couple of nights away staying at the brilliantly themed Caravan Cinema.

Caravan Cinema

Enjoying ourselves in Bilbao

We had booked on to the 9.30pm easyJet flight back to Stansted. As it was a Saturday and with no work until Monday, we had also booked into the Express by Holiday Inn at the airport. Then we could leave the 2.5 hour drive back home until the follow morning.

Arrival at Bilbao Loiu Airport

We arrived at the airport with a couple of hours before the flight was due to take off. Everything seemed fine. We went through security in the usual 2 minutes and went to find a seat. Shortly afterwards I noticed the first delay message pop up on the screen – 15 minutes late. Over the next hour the delay became 1 hour. And then 1.5 hours.

Mrs L at the prospect of a delay

At about 10.30pm, we finally realised that the plane wasn’t coming. All of the other flights for the evening had departed. The news started to filter through that the airport closes at 1am,. There wouldn’t be time for a plane to take off from the UK now and then return the same evening.

Communication

As always in these situations, communication is lacking to say the least. With no airline staff in the airport it was left to three information desk employees to break the bad news to the 200 or so passengers. First things first, a queue formed to receive the vouchers for some refreshments. They eventually managed to get everyone through that one in about 45 minutes.

The staff then informed us that the flight had now been rescheduled to leave from Bilbao on Sunday lunch time and they were going to sort overnight accommodation. Some people with local connections left the airport at this point to go and get some much-needed rest.

So it’s now 11.30pm, the airport shuts at 1am and there were around 150 people sitting on a hard stone floor waiting for some further news. There were a real mix of people, old, young, English, Basque but everyone was in remarkably good spirits. These things happen.

At 12 midnight we hear the next bit of news that no one wants to hear – it is a Saturday night in August and there are no hotel rooms available in Bilbao or the nearby area. Cue frantic calls from individuals to the hotels that they have stayed at to see if there is a room spare. I’d guess that over the next hour or so around 30 or so people had managed to sort out accommodation themselves and hopped in cabs back to town. This was in spite of the instructions from the airport staff to stay around. They obviously knew something we didn’t.

Yay – we found a hotel.

Knowing Bilbao as well as I do, I’m quite well aware of most of the larger hotels and I scrambled for the telephone numbers while Mrs L made the calls. Eventually at 12.30am, we managed to find an available room. We joined the taxi queue which by now was fairly large and given the time, taxis were few and far between.

At 12.55am we were at the front of the queue. And that’s when the customer service staff member arrived at the door; “Everyone please come back inside. Your flight is now going from Madrid!”

Madrid sign

Apparently, in addition to no hotel rooms in Bilbao, there weren’t any in San Sebastian, Burgos or indeed anywhere within three hours of the airport.

The airport was still closing in the next few minutes as we all assembled once more in the arrivals area.

15 minutes later and a couple of coaches arrived to whisk us off to Madrid. Whilst some people employed the ‘women and children first’ approach there were others who simply pushed to the front to grab their spot. I’m glad we waited for the second coach where everything was a little more civilised.

What followed was one of the most uncomfortable 5 1/2 hour coach journeys I have ever encountered on a first world road. The bus had automatic air brakes which kicked in accompanied with a loud noise every time the vehicle reached a certain speed…which was every minute or so. And yet still, everyone was still very good natured – something of the Dunkirk spirit as they say.

At this point, people who had signed up for flight updates from easyJet were getting the first emails through confirming that the return flight would be from Madrid rather than Bilbao. At least we now had confirmation that we were heading in the right direction, if only by travelling some 400km in the wrong direction!

After an unduly long stop at a Motorway service station which I presume was due to the drivers requiring a certain length of break, we eventually arrived in Madrid at around 6.30am.

Madrid airport hotel

Our lodgings for the next few hours were to be at the Melia Avenida America, a pleasant four star hotel close to the airport. And this was our karma moment. Our bus arrived slightly ahead of the other one. As a result, we were towards the front of the queue for check-in. We we’re given our key at around 7am with the instruction that the bus would be picking us up at 1.30pm to go to airport and a 3.30pm flight.

Our unexpected bonus

We joined a few others for breakfast and most people we’re making their plans for 4 or 5 hours rest before the journey would start again.

Not us.

While Mrs L was freshening up I discovered that there was a bus stop immediately outside the hotel. We could travel to the centre of Madrid in about 20 minutes.

Now we had visited Madrid a couple of years earlier and while we had enjoyed ourselves, it wasn’t necessarily on our list of places to return to in a real hurry.

But this time was different. Maybe it’s because we knew that we only had 3 hours. Perhaps it was because no one else was doing it. Probably its because we were running on pure adrenaline. But we ended up having the most fabulous mini of mini visits.

The bus to Madrid

The following photos will show you how much we managed to cram in to that short window of opportunity.

Madrid bull ring

Madrid Jamon in Madrid Cafe and tapas Mercado with Txiki Stu

Madrid selfie Mrs L at the Mercado Palacio Real Palacio Real Mrs L is a-Costa-d Palacio Real

The journey back – attempt two

We arrived back at the hotel about one hour before the coach was due to leave. And that’s when the fun started all over again!

Here are the potted highlights of the next stage of our adventure:

The bus was now due to leave 45 minutes earlier than we had been told earlier that morning – resulting in a rush upstairs to get back down in time. It’s a really good job that we had given ourselves a bit of leeway.

At Barajas, fed and watered again courtesy of the airline,  we all assembled at the allocated gate and began to tell our individual tales of woe…and about our pleasant surprise.

And then we saw that the flight would be delayed for a further hour.

Then we had a change of gate and a further 30 minute delay.

And yet everyone although tired, was in a remarkably positive mood. It certainly had been a different experience – one to tell the grandchildren about.

Once on the plane, the crew were incredibly apologetic and appreciated what we had been through. They served complimentary food and soft drinks to everyone on board. We were made to feel rather special for budget airline passengers. Again no one complained about a thing, well not within my hearing.

After a fairly uneventful flight, we landed back at Stansted. We had reached the end of our odyssey and would be home in a few short hours.

Or maybe not…

An idiot security guard (I’d love to call him worse) at the gate opened the wrong set of doors and as a result we exited towards departures instead of arrivals.

We had caused a security breach and a team of officials soon arrived, with weapons. They demanded that we went through security again to mitigate any possible contamination with departing passengers.

Finally, 20 hours after notification of the first delay, it all kicked off. We had put up with enough and people, quite rightly, started to vent their anger. Others videoed the situation (either for Watchdog or You’ve Been Framed). Security told them in no uncertain terms to stop or face arrest.

I’m quite diplomatic in nature and have developed a reputation over the years for calming potentially difficult situations whilst travelling. I managed to speak to the duty manager to calmly explain everything that the group had been through and why they were reacting in that particular manner.

After about half an hour and further discussions, the staff finally relented. They escorted us all back down to arrivals and eventually out of the airport and on our way.

The aftermath

The following day I put in my claim to easyJet for the flight delay compensation in the usual way. This is not the first time I’ve had to claim! I mentioned in passing the ordeal we had been through. As usual in my experience they were apologetic and efficient in processing the claim. Less than 2 weeks later I received €500 back in my bank account.

Effectively that trip ended up costing us around £100 including flights, accommodation and spending money.

Was it worth all the frustration and disruption at the time?

Looking back I’d say yes. Our glimpse of Madrid was a real bonus and the escapade has provided me with another rather unique travel story, which is why I’m sharing it here.

Would I do it all over again?

Hmmm…

 

Have you ever had a travel experience like this? I’d love to hear about it.

 

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