What the hell am I doing here? Why do I always start planning my travels by searching cheap flights even if I could have found something much more exciting to do for these eight hours (rather than sitting at an airport)? I could have seen so many new places. I could have met so many new people. Gained so many new experiences. If I only had chosen a different way of travelling instead of a plane.
I had been so excited about our holiday in Crete. Partly, because I love to start my journey from my nearest airport Turku – it saves money but also a lot of time when we don’t need to drive all the way to Helsinki.
Little did I know how badly the irony of the ‘fast and easy’ local airport would kick me in the butt during this trip.
Lesson learned: never travel without an entertaining book. It’ll never run out of battery.
“Difficulties are nothing but a misunderstood adventure”
–Freely modified quote by G. K. Chesterton
On Monday the 16th of April Daniel and I were ready to start our journey home after a successful 7-day road trip holiday in Crete. As always, we got to the airport way too early. Chania Airport is small, and there are not many people nor much to do; besides the duty-free shop, there are two cafés of which one serves baguettes and sandwiches, and the other one sells pizza slices. As a traveller whose tummy doesn’t much care about grain, I was happy I had a big breakfast (even if it was hours ago).
I can’t help wondering why it always feels like every other flight starts their boarding and takes off on time, but the schedule of my flights stretch like playdough. Have you ever felt the same?
It happened on the way to Chania a week before. Our boarding was completed almost on time and everything seemed ready for taking off, but… we didn’t. Our plane, with us passengers inside, just stood at the airport for an hour before nothing happened. Delays happen, I get that, and there’s usually a (good?) reason for it. I just can’t understand why it’s so impossible to tell passengers about the mysterious reason that causes the delay?
Our return flight from Chania back to Turku was supposed to take off around 4 pm. The plane was ready and slightly moving until suddenly, we felt quite a big thud and heard some suspicious noise. The aircraft stopped moving immediately.
Soon we had an announcement; the captain kindly told us that the pushback tractor moving the plane had somehow managed to break the towbar, which is attached to the cam gear. We’d need to wait a while until the mechanics check the plane and give us permission for taking off.
Lovely. For once we were told the reason for the delay.
An hour went by. And another one. After the third one, we were transferred back to the terminal to stretch our legs.
Detour with Detur – Are we ever gonna get back home?
We had bought our flights from the Turkish travel agency Detur, which meant the plane was carrying 150+ Finns for a package holiday in Crete. The minority of the passengers had purchased only flights as we had. The flight operator was a Latvian charter company Small Planet Airlines.
At Chania Airport, the hours passed by slooooowly. We received very little information about the state of our flight. Other planes arrived and departed, but ours stood still. I was a bit amused by the ongoing discussion about reimbursements that would soon fatten our bank accounts. The ones who weren’t yet excited about the possible benefits were joking whether the pushback driver would still have his job the next morning.
Hours began to feel longer and longer, but Finnish passengers couldn’t get enough of their jokes. We even overheard the airport staff whispering how calmly Finns adopted the situation. Daniel was sure a riot would be going on by now if it was Britts in question.
Once the dusk fell, we were promised some snacks from the baguette place. Except that instead of filling baguettes, we got one small, dry sandwich each with a little ham and cheese in it, plus a half a litre lemonade (not even water, lemonade). Very soon we noticed that our plane was getting emptied from luggage. Everyone started whispering around, and in the next moment, we were told we’d be transferred to hotels for the night.
Around 10 pm, after eight full airport hours, we and our luggage were packed in buses. At this point, the travel agency Detur washed its hands from the whole case. The Finnish guide announced that from now on, we’d be on Small Planet Airline’s responsibility. The news didn’t much please the majority of the passengers, the 65+ years old retirees whose English skills contained three words; ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’.
Instead of any of the nearest hotels to Chania Airport, the bus drove us at the edge of Platanias, an hour away. Around midnight we had finally received our room keys. We were told that the bus would pick us up at 5 am, and the hotel would serve breakfast at 4.00.
Return to Chania Airport
At 4.15 am, after three sleepless hours rolling in the hotel bed, we dragged our butts and luggage to the breakfast room. The early breakfast meant bread, ham, cheese and coffee. Except that when we got there, foodwise there was only bread and one slice of cheese left. With one glance, I noticed how one youngish hero had piled a mountain of ham and cheese on his plate.
This was when I got really annoyed for the first time. Could you PLEASE think of other people (who are in the same situation as you, by the way) enough to leave at least SOMETHING to eat for the rest of us? So no breakfast, thank you very much, but at least there was coffee.
Our bus arrived at Chania Airport at 6 am. We immediately saw on the screen that our flight was due to take off at 8 am. Phew. At least we’d get back home today.
When the clock hit 8 am, our plane was still pitch black, standing at the same spot we left it the night before. The luggage carts were waiting outside the aircraft. The doors were closed, and we couldn’t see any staff near the plane.
An hour went by. And another one. The next moment, the airport staff began giving out some papers explaining our rights as passengers in the case of a long delay or cancellation of a flight (in English, of course, as the most of the passengers spoke nothing but Finnish).
I looked at the paper they gave me.
Did this mean our flight would be cancelled completely?
Now even the calm Finns began getting nervous and frustrated. Some of them kept calling to the Detur guide and threatening her if she didn’t act immediately. Other passengers started calling to Finnish newspapers to aim Detur’s attention to the situation. It worked; one (perhaps a bit questionable) newspaper published three articles about us being stuck in Crete. Unfortunately, the only correct fact in these stories was the one that we were indeed jammed in Crete.
After five hours of waiting, we got the first piece of information that day. We’d get our luggage and go back to the hotels.
Return to Platanias
I wasn’t too resentful about returning to the hotel. We’d finally get a proper meal for the first time in 1,5 days, and based on what I was able to see in the dark the night before, the hotel made a good impression. If only we could stay there until we’re guaranteed to have a working plane. Tossing us between the airport and hotels for nothing started to feel too tiring and annoying (besides that greedy moron at breakfast).
If someone now told us nothing would happen until the next morning, I’d unpack just enough to find my bikini, grab my book and head to one of the many pools. Perhaps the colour-changing jacuzzi one. We got the same room as the previous night and to be honest; it looked like the hotel staff knew we’d be coming back. Our room was exactly as we left it at 4.15 am.
Our co-passengers’ phone bombing apparently worked, as at lunch the Detur guide honoured us with her presence. She kindly informed us that the bus would pick us up at 2.15 pm, and this time we were guaranteed to take off; a new plane was coming for us.
Is that so? Like many others, I had begun to lose the last remains of faith. I’d have rather stayed at the hotel and took a little break from all this hassle, but – as they say – the show must go on.
(Another) return to Chania Airport
Once we reached the airport for the third time within 24 hours, the screens showed our departure time as 3.55 pm. I couldn’t help thinking of the poor vacationers who were supposed to start their holiday in Crete with the same plane we were meant to arrive at Turku Airport a day ago. If I had to choose the lesser of two evils, I’d take the delayed return rather than delayed outbound flight. At least in this case; besides a rental car, we had booked accommodation in five different locations. If we had been delayed this heavily, we would have been fucked, so to say.
Suddenly, it was 4 pm. Nothing happened.
Who was surprised? Not me.
During the next 1,5 hours, we followed from the airport window how the staff prepared our crippled plane. At this point, I didn’t even WANT to step my foot on that plane anymore. Rumours were circling the group of Finnish travellers. Some people kept calling to Finnish newspapers. Every time someone asked the airport staff about the new plane, the answer was ’10 to 15 minutes’.
Until the news broke; we were finally told we’d soon board on a mysterious plane that had stood at the airport for a while. This plane, with no sign of the operating company, would take us back to Turku. Around 6 pm, the plane was packed, and we FINALLY started our journey home.
How do you know you’ve spent enough time at an airport? While getting on a plane, the airport staff cheers and shouts out loud; “Wow, are you really going to get back home?”
Would I travel with Detur again?
If we observe the facts behind the delay (the ones the newspaper couldn’t get right), the original reason for this episode was a broken towbar. It wasn’t the travel agency’s fault, not even the airline’s fault. Accidents happen, and as many travellers hopefully think, better safe than sorry – especially, when we’re talking about a crippled plane.
However, during these 26 hours both, Detur and Small Planet Airlines could have dealt with the situation better. A lot better. Of course, I understand an event like this doesn’t happen too often to them, either. If it did, I doubt neither company would be up and running today.
What comes to the aftermath and those famous reimbursements, all that hassle is still ahead of me. I’ll give you a detailed report once I have something to report on.
If I had been travelling for the first time in my life without any previous experience and language skills, then yes, I might boycott Detur for the rest of my life. As someone who has seen the world and delayed flights, too, I know things aren’t all black and white. But I’ll definitely provide some suggestions for Detur in the feedback questionnaire they sent to my email (to add some irony, I received the first automated ‘How was your holiday’ email while we were still stuck at Chania Airport).
How all this changed my view on travelling
It was a pure coincidence that I happened to choose Dan Kieran’s book The Idle Traveller: The Art of Slow Travel as my travel reading for this trip. If you don’t know the book, it’s all about avoiding flying; not for ecological reasons as much as for the aspect of travelling slowly; without quick shortcuts above the clouds. For living and experiencing. For the thirst for adventures and learning.
In the end, our neverending holiday in Crete only lengthened by 26 hours. And yet I can’t help wondering what else I could have done with those precious hours. What if it wasn’t a plane in Chania that got delayed, but a train in Berlin? Instead of being stuck in one building without a possibility to go outside, I could have jumped on the next train to anywhere and seen a lot more than I could ever imagine when flying above the clouds.
Or would I have taken a bus instead of a train, or perhaps lifted my thumb up on the side of a road? How far would I have gone in 26 hours? How many new places I would have seen and how many new experiences gain?
What if I had been travelling with a campervan I recently told I’ve been dreaming of? Where would I be now?
I do have some flights booked for the rest of the year, but when I next spot a tempting deal, will I consider twice before booking? Will I remember this thought; what else could I do and how far would I get during the hours I’d waste on driving to the airport, organising parking, queuing to check-in, waiting at the airport and struggling with delayed flights? What if I chose another way of travelling? Such way that would allow me spontaneously change my mind and get lost – by accident or on purpose.
Such ways that are meant for travelling instead of only reaching the destination, as the Idle traveller so wisely summarises.