Saturday, September 4, 2010

Back from Stockholm

I’m just back from Stockholm, which was a quick visit with family and friends. I enjoyed my birth city very much. However the return flight was something else. I flew Delta Airlines from Seattle via JFK to Stockholm, since SAS pulled out of here last summer. Couldn’t be easier. Right? Icelandair works great too, but the price was much higher and being MVP Gold with Alaska, I get better seats on Delta and the miles count towards my MVP status. Going over on Aug 18 went like clockwork and I had 5½ hours to kill at JFK. We arrived early! Going home was another matter though.

I was supposed to fly on Monday Aug 30. All seemed well when I checked in online. I arrived at ARN 3 hours early as requested. They are very thorough there with security at check-in, so it can take awhile. By 9am I was ready to go through; departure was scheduled for 11:05am, but we were informed that the plane would be 5 hours late arriving from JFK, due to some mechanical problem. I decided to just wait it out at ARN instead of going back with my sister. They live about an hour away and gas is expensive there and she had work to do.

I got a voucher for 85 kronor to eat lunch. How very generous of them!!! Hahaha!!! Mind you there’s NOTHING at ARN that cost 85 kronor except a bottle of water which was 39. You get 7 kronor to the dollar (about the same as the South African rand). Around 11am I got a shrimp salad for 139 kronor, a bottle of water and then I discovered Starbucks (opened on Feb 18, 2010 in Terminal 5, gate area 1-10). I just had to have it! About $100 lighter, I walked away with a double-tall wet-capp. Hmmmm … good!! I also taught the barista how to make a “Why Bother”.

Our plane arrived on-time (4.5 hours late) at the gate. Boarding was to be at 2:30pm, but they didn’t start boarding until 3:35, so there was no way we could leave at 3:40 as promised. Oh well, I would miss my 4:20pm Seattle flight anyway. There was another at 8:20pm that I was hoping to make, but it was looking tight. Stockholm is 6 hours ahead of NYC and the flight takes about 8-9 hours depending on the winds. Then there’s immigration and customs at JFK. We were all aboard at 4pm, it was a full flight, but I had secured an exit aisle seat that reclines. My status with Alaska Airlines allowed this as partners. I was also allowed to check 2 free bags. Others get to take only 1 free bag to Europe, so there were loads of carry-on bags and shopping bags. This was an old, formerly NWA 727 plane with very small luggage bins. Here we sat: there was another small matter to be fixed, which took maybe 20 minutes, but then we had to wait for a new clearance from ATL. There was confusion as to who owned the plane now that Delta took over NWA, etc… ad nauseum. That took another hour. And we sat there. 2 young kids were escorted off the plane. They were supposedly drunk, but the real reason was (I think) that the flight attendants were uncomfortable with their looks. They had green, red and blue hair, lots of tattoos, body piercing and various size rings in weird places, but they were nice and courteous. That they apologized and admitted that they had saved and looked forward to this trip for over a year didn’t matter. They offered to take a breathalyzer test. It didn’t matter; other drunks were sound asleep in their seats. The plane had that certain odor. These punks had to go and it was a bad omen.

Finally the required documentation arrived via fax from Atlanta and we took off. The movie system was the old kind with the TV sets hanging above the aisle; there was no sound. Half an hour out of Stockholm, the co-pilot lost his computer. The captain told us that FAA does not allow them to cross without 2 working computers even though it’s perfectly safe with just one, so we had to return to ARN. We dumped fuel for about an hour and a half, flying with the landing gears and flaps down. This shakes the plane a little, but too much for some! We got a drink and some peanuts, but no food. We landed again around 8pm with an extra 15 tons of fuel which required that all other traffic was stopped and all the fire-trucks at Arlanda lined up on both sides of the runway to meet us. The captain was very skilled and there was no emergency. Most likely the brakes were now shot and had to be replaced.

Delta offered to put us up at a hotel or pay for taxis for those who lived close by. Our departure time tomorrow would be 12:30pm – an hour and a half behind the regular scheduled time. OK, what to do? I decided to not bother my sister as they were out on Monday nights bowling. She’s the captain of the team and her husband bowls too. After collecting my bags, I proceeded to the Arrivals Hall as explained by the Delta attendant over the PA system on the plane before we disembarked. The Arrivals Hall is outside of customs. Once out there, I didn’t see the Delta help desk as described. Another couple also was helplessly lost. Where is everybody? I ran to the general information, but in typical Swedish hospitality, they were clueless and not helpful: “it’s not my table” kinda’ attitude. Not many people on the plane came out, just a few who were going home. The line is INSIDE customs in baggage claim. That is not the Arrivals Hall. How do I get back in? I have no place to go and no way to call my sister. I chanced it. The next time the door opened to let people out, I went back inside the holding room, blocked by another door that could only be opened from the other/customs side. I’m in no-man’s land here, alone and worried. OK, someone’s coming out now; I take my chances, backing in with my luggage cart, passing people going out as if I was doing the same!!! I feel like a genius passing the inspectors backwards. One of them looked at my sideways, so I asked him where the Delta help desk is and he told me. I was back inside!

I ended up pretty close to the end of the line. At 10:30pm they run out of hotel rooms in Stockholm! There was a big heart surgeons’ convention going on with 40,000 people attending. There were maybe 10 more rooms needed for us. Delta gave us food vouchers to eat dinner at the airport while we waited to find out if she could get any more rooms anywhere around Stockholm. At this point my sister was home again, I was able to call from the Delta phone, I got taxi vouchers and ended up with Britten and Hasse overnight again. She was so happy I couldn’t believe it. I even got dinner! Then late to bed at 1am.

The next morning (Tuesday Aug 31), the taxi came to get me at 8:30 as scheduled. Now the checkin line was twice as long as yesterday. There were 2 full flights to load today. The regular flight was on-time. The funny-haired, body-pierced couple looked rested and somewhat less colorful today as they left with this plane. They were the lucky ones as it turns out. They got to JFK before we did!!!!

Delta had flown in the required parts from Amsterdam overnight and worked on the plane all morning. They fixed the sound system too or so they thought. The movie started and there was sound alright at my seat and in front of me, but the back apparently had no sound. The flight attendants decided to stop the movie and reboot the system. Now we all got sound, but it’s in French, so they rebooted it again; this time the actors are speaking Spanish; the third time we’re treated to Italian! They decided to change the movie, but we still got French again. It was like Christmas Eve … we were guessing and looking forward what it would be next with great anticipation. “What do you in German”, I asked the attendant who looked a bit - not-so-amused! Another movie in French came on. Have you ever heard Morgan Freeman speak French as Nelson Mandela in Invictus? It was funny and people were laughing. Twice more they tried and both time we got the safety movie again … twice. Then they turned the system off. Nobody seemed to care anymore. There was no compensation offered for this inconvenience. However, we all got a $50 certificate yesterday good towards another purchase only good at of another airline ticket on Delta, non-transferable. Thank YOU, Delta for your super generosity: that’s about the average daily wage in America, I suppose. Maybe the captain makes a little more, I hope.

Normal arriving time if you leave at 11:05 is 1:55pm at JFK; our arrival time was scheduled for 2:02pm – how can that be if we leave 1.5 hours later? Everyone was therefore rebooked on their same connections as yesterday, which wouldn’t work for most people. Would I make a flight departing JFK at 4:20pm? It was recently moved back from 3:40pm, which was tight even with the 11am departure time. Some people had connections booked at 3pm!!! They wouldn’t rebook us in Stockholm. So, the only option presented to us was to get in line (for another 3 hours??) at JFK to be re-booked there after we arrived. By that time, most will miss the next flight too. I was prepared mentally to have to overnight at JFK. Why worry now as there’s nothing you can do anyway. I used to get tied in knots (to the point of feeling ill), but have learned to relax in these situations. It’s not easy, but it feels so much better. My friend Kennedy in Nairobi told me: "I've chosen not to be petty; it keeps me in good form"; this keeps me calm too. 

I had a great book to read “Blue-Eyed in Luhya-Land”. An old friend of mine Gunilla Fagerholm (the author) and her husband decided at 50 years old, after their kids were gone to sell all their belongings and move to Kenya. They settled right outside the Kakamega Rain Forest. I’m not done with the book, but it’s incredible what they went through. I must see her next time I go. Her brother Per-Erik is also an old friend and I did meet him that first night at the re-union and he told me about her and gave me the book. He’d been down there several times and filmed certain subjects. I got his DVD on the Kakamega Rain Forest. What interesting friends I have!

We took off at 12:45 and were airborne by 1pm. We have a good tailwind today: scheduled flying time 8:03 hours. This puts us at JFK around 3:05pm! Oh my God, maybe I can make that flight to SEA after all? I was sitting fairly close to the door, so I deplaned quickly; immigration was a breeze and my luggage was marked priority, so it came out first at JFK. Sure enough my SEA flight was delayed about half an hour at JFK and I got home!

The lesson learned here is: always leave early, like 3 days, if you have a boat to catch!

To top if off: I've been denied my miles on Alaska Airlines for the flight from Stockholm to New York because Delta gave my flight an ineligible flight number that won't accrue any mileage. Mind you, I'm GOLD MVP and accrue double miles with Alaska. That is what really ticks me off the most!!! SIGH!!!