By the time we get on the plane to Grenada, Spain we will have been stuck in Frankfurt for 52 hours. The label on the sparkling apple juice Lufthansa was passing out says it all, “Gold Hell!” At one point there were 7,000 of us stranded here.
It started with one of those muffled airport announcements. “Due to security concerns we ask that you exit the waiting areas A and Zed.” A few random security guards herded us away from our gates. Someone said a woman forgot something in a cafe. She decided to bypass security after retrieving it. Old hands expected this adventure to last two hours. No one was in a hurry to swarm out of the building. No one wanted to go through security again.
The initial announcement was repeated with regularity. Armed security personnel wandered through. They shrugged their shoulders when asked what was going on. Every once in awhile an aggressive pair of guards would herd more people into the already packed space. No one was exiting the secure area. The thinking was that this was going to wind up being a minor inconvenience. We’d soon be on our way.
Just when most passengers figured this was a routine false alarm, new armed personnel came along to drive us out of the secure area. It never felt like there was a threat. It seemed like we had been asked to comply and failed to do so. We were going to Obey!
As soon as we were herded together into one huge soft target, thousands of us were asked to go through security again. Every once in awhile a very quiet person without a megaphone would mumble directions to the assembled crowd. People hushed to hear. Hearing was impossible. Conversations resumed.
In the meantime we got phone messages informing us our flight had been postponed, and finally cancelled. Once past security we checked the flight board. Yes, our flight had been cancelled. A very long line had formed to rebook flights. We tried the abbreviated process at a machine. We were on standby for the next morning’s flight. We booked a hotel and caught a cab.
The people who waited 8 to 10 hours in line to rebook got put on standby too. They got food and hotel vouchers. Some were actually able to use them. We met Peter who was going to Romania to build his retirement home. He waited in line for 9 hours, took a cab to a hotel and waited another 45 minutes. He was told there was no room at the inn. He slept on a bench in the airport clutching his unused voucher.
We arrived at the airport early after one of those fitful jet lagged nights of what can’t really be called sleep. We’d been told standby would be on a first come first serve basis. We were second in line. I tried to confirm our status with an attendant at another gate. “We are really not supposed to do that. I can only share information for the flight to Milan. You will have to wait.”
This was to be the pattern. There was a protocol and it would be strictly adhered to. Information was difficult to get and contradictory when you did get it. Get ten stranded passengers from the same flight together and you’d get ten different versions. What we were really being told was, “I have no idea. Maybe, but probably not. Let me send you to the other side of the building. Go bother someone else for awhile.”
Our attendant finally arrived and told us there were 60 people on the waiting list, and only ten available seats. “Don’t waste your time here. You are not getting on this flight. Go out to the front desk and rebook.” We did. Everyone was told we’d get on the next flight. We were on standby, but don’t worry. Several passengers were told a second plane had been ordered.
We didn’t get on the next plane. The second plane had been cancelled. So, we waited several hours and got food and hotel vouchers. We also got confirmed tickets on a confirmed flight. 52 hours after our arrival we’ll escape Frankfurt. Although, I won’t actually believe it until our plane takes off.