Two weeks ago I booked a flight to Amsterdam for a short business trip. First I wanted to fly on Sunday already, but because we had the Tudou Festival on Saturday and I prefer to spend as much time in the Shanghai office as possible, I decided to fly on Tuesday. That turned out to be a lucky decision, because Sunday’s flight was cancelled because of the ash cloud. But I still wasn’t sure whether I could fly today.
Yesterday I had been in touch with KLM on Twitter a few times, and they even called me personally last night to inform me about the latest situation. I had tried to check-in the whole day, but that didn’t work. But finally late at night the check-in went through and I managed to get a good seat on the plane. So I packed my bag, not knowing whether the flight would take off or not.
In the morning I drove my wife to Tudou and then continued to the airport. There was hardly anybody waiting in the check-in line, but a long queue of people at the ticketing desk, so I assumed the worst. But it turned out that the flight would depart and would even be on time! But then I also found out that my Spil Games Asia colleague -who was booked on the evening flight- was not able to depart: his flight had been cancelled (or at least they did not allow him to take it). Not a good thing, because an important part of the reason for this trip was because of him.
I checked in without any problems and went to the lounge to have a pre-boarding coffee and work on my emails. In the lounge I noted that KLM would be the first plane to leave Shanghai, both the LH flight to Frankfurt and BA to London had been delayed for 7 and 12 hours respectively.
Well, so far so good, but when the boarding time came there was no announcement. Not a good sign. After about half an hour a fellow passenger checked with airline staff and they told him we would likely depart but that there were still a lot of people at check-in. Finally, about 1.5 hours after we should have been boarding, the boarding announcement was made. Everybody was very happy, especially the people that had been waiting for days to get on a plane back to Europe. Most people on the plane seemed to be passengers that had been waiting for days already to get back to Europe, I had the feeling that I was lucky to get on because of my frequent flyer status. That also explains why the captains apologized on the intercom that “we had several days delay”.
On the plane I had an emergency exit seat (first row of economy class), so I could chat a bit with the main flight attendant during take-off about the situation. She told me that only at 3 AM they had made the decision to fly (the plane had an official departure time of 12:50 PM). The original plan had actually been to fly to Istanbul or Budapest, but the ash cleared more than expected and now we had a good chance of flying all the way to Amsterdam. Only problem was that we were not allowed to land after sun set, so they had pushed the baggage people to work as fast as possible to get the plane ready for departure. We had to leave before 2:30 PM in order to arrive in Amsterdam by daylight. And guess what, when we were ready to go at 2:15 PM China air traffic control told us to wait for another 15 minutes… We eventually left at 2:35 PM.
Now that I am writing this I am on the plane halfway through the flight somewhere above Russia. Nobody knows whether we will make it on time to Schiphol airport, but I am not going to worry about it. I am glad I am on this plane, and even if I arrive half a day later it’s not a very big deal.
Update: We made it to Amsterdam just before sun set. I did not see any traces of ash clouds anywhere along the route, just clear blue skies and some clouds. When I arrived KLM sent me a direct message on Twitter to welcome me back to The Netherlands! My colleague who was supposed to fly as well heard that he has to wait until May 10 before he can fly… That’s almost 3 weeks! All flights from Shanghai to China are apparently fully booked until then…