Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Trying for Turkey

We’d just settled in for the long flight from LA to Istanbul, via Dave’s most hated airport (Frankfurt, Germany), but about 6 hours into the flight there was a call for a doctor which was followed shortly by an announcement that we would be making an emergency landing in Halifax, Canada.  We think that a lady went into labour as we saw her being laid down in the galley and then stretchered off the plane once we’d arrived.  

When we landed in the icy, extreme coastal town, we knew that we would have to wait a while to take back off again due to the required de-icing procedures (how many hundreds of planes have we been on??!) and since we didn’t have much time between our connecting flights there was a real concern that we may miss our onward flight.  In the end we sat on the runway at Halifax for an hour and a half after the medical emergency was over because, in the words of the Captain:

 ‘I’ve had a little (long pause) discussion with ground crew here at Halifax as their policy is to only de-ice the plane once.  However, the Lufthansa policy is to do it twice.  So after our (pause) discussion, we will be de-icing the plane again, so please be patient.’

While we were thankful that the Captain was looking after our safety, we did end up missing our connection and so instead we were put on a flight to Basel (didn’t think we’d end up in Switzerland again so soon!) and from there we were meant to catch another flight to Istanbul.  However, our flight to Basel left 40 minutes late and we missed the next connection to Istanbul. To cut a long story short, we actually made it in time for the next flight as our onward plane was also late but the security guard did not know this and sent us back.  The transfer desk then told us there were technical difficulties with the plane so we could still board while they fixed the problem, so we ran through security and passport control (both of which decided a more thorough inspection was warranted this time) and upon arriving out of breath at the gate, we were told that the Captain would not allow us on as their technical problem wasn’t serious enough to delay the flight further.

The assistant at the gate told us to go and collect our luggage, and to go back to the transfer desk to get yet another new flight.  However, as we turned to leave, thoroughly annoyed, he told us to go with him the ‘back way’ to the luggage belts as it was faster.  We asked him if that was ok for us to do as we had technically left the country when we passed through passport control and would need a re-entry stamp.  He said not to worry and let us through the employee’s only door into the luggage room.  We were not thinking properly and shouldn’t have gone with him as we really needed that re-entry stamp. We were essentially illegal aliens in Europe!

Back at the transfer desk our ‘friendly’ lady blamed us for not making the flight, grumpily booked us on the next flight to Munich where we were to spend the night, and then booked us on a morning flight to Istanbul.
So it was back on another plane, a small one this time full of businessmen bound for business in Munich.  We arrived around 9pm and went straight to the airport helpdesk to explain our little stamp and illegal status problem.  The guy was bewildered and told us that the employee should lose his job for taking us the back way and then called the police to see what they thought.  We waited, exhausted and nervous, until a policeman who towered several inches above Dave arrived. He examined our passports closely and then decided that since our entry into Frankfurt and exit in Basel were on the same day, and there was no time stamp, it simply looked like we left Basel and arrived in Frankfurt and the next day we’d just be leaving Munich.  It was a little un-German like, but he was quite happy for us to lie about the situation so who we were to argue with that?

We collected our voucher for the hotel and headed out into the cold to wait for the shuttle bus. We had no real winter gear on as we’d had no access to our luggage, and it took 15 minutes in the -15°C temperatures for the bus to arrive.  It was a freezing cold wait and Sarah was struggling by the time the bus arrived with tears of pain welling up as toes and fingers were completely numb.  We were still thoroughly frozen when we arrived at the Best Western, but there was no time to shower as we were told we had 10 minutes till they closed the buffet so we ate our full and then enjoyed an extremely hot shower before a short night’s sleep as we had to return to the airport again by 7am the next morning.

We arrived in time the next morning, wishing we had more time to spend at the sumptuous buffet breakfast that was free, and nervously walked up to passport control and handed over our passports – where the border guard looked at the pages… picked up his stamp… looked a bit harder, put his stamp down, looked a bit more and finally stamped it and told us to have a nice flight, phew!! And finally, three hours later (but a full day later than intended), we arrived in Istanbul!

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