When You Fly Frequently, Travel Going Awry is Inevitable

Our most recent travel snafu was on a flight back to Pittsburgh from Zurich, Switzerland. Why we were in Zurich, via Lucerne, via Mannheim, Germany is an entirely different story. The Zurich airport is amazing. It’s too bad Tom Hanks’ character in Terminal wasn’t stuck there—he’d have been stranded in style.

My husband has learned to allow a lot of time between connections on international trips. When the flight out of Zurich was delayed by an hour, we weren’t concerned. Not thrilled, but oh well, right?

One thing I look forward to on transAtlantic flights is indulging in my love of movies. I can overdose on films guilt-free (even though, yes, I should be writing or reading or wisely sleeping). We boarded this plane and I groaned. The old 757 had the big TV at the bulkhead and one further back. I hadn’t been on one of these in decades.

I could already see our travel going awry!

Old US Airways Plane
Ancient United Airlines Plane

The Real Travel Issues Began

But for the TV’s, I swear this was the same plane Jackie and I flew to Italy on in 2007. The condition of the seats had not improved. At 5’2”, I was cramped. At a foot taller, Alex was squashed. Still, what are you going to do? We settled in, commented on how sparse the plane was with flyers and prepared for take off.

When the plane headed down the runway, I thought to myself, man oh day, this plane sounds old and rattly. If it were a car, I would opt to walk. I read, did some work, then tuned in to the end of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Alex popped onto the channel where you can listen to the pilot’s talk. He turned to me and said, “There’s a plane without navigation. I don’t know if it’s ours.” A few minutes later, the pilot announced, “Folks, we’re having a computer issue. It’s not an emergency, but we’re going to head back to Shannon, Ireland and get it looked at.”

Everyone Collectively Groaned

Some passengers were hopeful it would be a quick fix and we’d be airborne again in no time. We knew better. Figure the repair time and re-fueling the plane since the pilot burnt off a bunch so we could land. The crew would have been flying for more hours than they’re supposed to. Restocking the galley would have been required. You get the idea, right? 

No sooner did our tires hit the pavement and we came to a stop when the pilot told us we would be disembarking and spending the night in Shannon. The flight attendants came through assigning hotels to some people, not telling others, handing out a card for us to call customer service and that they were already rebooking everyone, providing another paper with a one-shot calling card for people to call a family member/friend.

We retrieved our suitcases, went through passport control (they are a pre-site for the USA, so that was helpful), (“Good for you to visit Ireland with your last name–Griffiths are plentiful here.”) and wandered out to the front of the airport. Now what? Oh, a bus would be coming. Okay, where was it taking us? No idea. Other passengers meandered off across the parking lot to the hotel where they were staying. There we were. Waiting. Having another new experience.

When Alex saw the crew come out, he went over to chat with the pilot. In typical Alex fashion, he said, “You know you could get antique plates for that plane, right?” The pilot laughed, “I think this plane is older than that!”

How We React When Travel Goes Awry

I always pray when I fly and ask that God give the pilot the courage, strength, knowledge and skill to get us safely to our destination. This pilot and crew handled the situation calmly and professionally. Out of the 200+ people on the plane, one woman cried and that was more because she wasn’t getting to the USA when she wanted than out of fear.

I talked with a young Swiss man sitting behind us. He was en route to Santa Barbara, California, so obviously this was going to add some chaos up his trip. I said, “Since 9/11, it all comes down to the plane going up and landing properly. If that is okay then everything else is a bonus.” It took a moment for what I was saying to register for him. I’m only guessing, but I think it was a combination of the language (although his English was very good), the cultures of our nations, and the fact that he was probably five years old when 9/11 happened.

Accommodations in Shannon

Our hotel was old. The beds were hard and the pillows flat. There were separate faucets for the hot and cold water. The old hairdryer was bolted inside a drawer—who would steal such a thing? And the TV had tubes. 

The attached pub was fantastic. The food was great—they had all meat main course items, my husband said I am a vegetarian, so they offered to stir fry me something. Wow. The service was impeccable. They were friendly and charming. The desserts were five star. The Guinness was good.

Breakfast could not have been more inviting. They provided a vast amount of food with staff who twittered about making sure everyone had everything they need.

The Shannon airport has the best duty free shops and prices we’ve seen. It was, ahem, hard to limit myself to a scarf (a fetish akin to my love of socks) and two books (buy one, get one half off!).

This time our plane was from the 21st century, had TVs at each seat with seats that hadn’t been crushed to uncomfortable by sumo wrestlers, and home we headed. Tada, travel issues resolved.

Our Zurich friend was able to get all his transfers and connections rescheduled and we were able to get back to Pittsburgh via Chicago.

So, what do you do when travel plans go awry? You sigh, say a prayer that you’re safe, and dive into making the best of it. We got to set foot in Ireland, collect a green passport stamp, take photos of the road-notes intended for pedestrians, and talk with people we would otherwise never have spoken with. All in, it was a good trip home.

driving in Ireland
Look Left, Look Right Road signs in Ireland

PS. I sure wish we had more time to explore in Shannon, Ireland.

I did get to explore Wales ….

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Read: Leaving Traces