A Trip That Wasn’t
On departure day at breakfast we mentioned more than once what a pleasure these easy trips are – short, direct flights – as opposed to the major trips across the Atlantic…or all the way to California: no pre-dawn, groggy wake-ups, no rush by car to the Rome airport, minimum luggage, no jet-lag ahead of us…. The train pulled into our tiny Spello station on time, we settled comfortably in our good seats, we arrived on time and got a taxi immediately, whisking us to the Florence airport on a gorgeous, sunny, breezy day. Our excitement was crescendo as we got in the short line for check-in. Instead of taking our luggage, it was tagged and given back to us! There might be a small problem! The incoming flight might land in Bologna – we might have to be bussed to Bologna for the departure…but, we were assured, it would all be done quickly and efficiently, getting us to Brussels just about on time. Official word would be imminent.
We grabbed a stand-up table and a dry piadina at the only snack bar, still excited and accepting this possible complication with our usual spirit. As we ate we listened for the imminent announcement, still hoping that the plane would indeed land in Florence. We also kept our eye on the Departures’ Board.
While other flights showed as cancelled or rerouted, ours showed as At Gate even well past the scheduled departure time of 2:30 PM. No announcement, no information in spite of Mar’s patient and frequent requests for updates at the counter. By now, the entire hall was packed with unhappy travelers.
The Departures’ Board was never updated – it showed our flight as at Gate still at 4:45 PM!. Information was somehow miraculously gleaned, passed unofficially by word of mouth from passenger to passenger, that the flight had landed in Bologna…but that we were to be bussed all the way to Venice to join other delayed passengers there – to take a 1:00 AM flight for Brussels! Big busses were lining up outside for the 4-5 hour trip. Mar and I were not willing to start our trip this way, to spend hours on a crowded bus, to cut our stay by a day, to arrive in Brussels at 3:00 AM, not knowing if we could get a train at that wee hour to Bruges.
The logistic scrambling began: the ground personnel was rude, incompetent and very uninterested in helping. We were told we needed to call the various numbers to ask about rescheduling or reimbursement. The numbers were in Belgium – they were not toll free. We were told everything and the opposite of everything from Brussels Airlines. We still don’t know the status of our request for rescheduling or reimbursement.
The bright spot, the only bright spot in this nightmare was our Pand Hotel in Bruges. The manager and her entire staff did everything they could to help. They proved to be accommodating, understanding, extremely helpful and professional. Thank you for your help, Lyne, and thank you to all the other Reception staff.
Our disappointment was palpable. Our anger also grew as various “locals” who work at the airport said, “Oh, this is nothing new – this is a racket by the company to save money – to use less planes – to combine half-full flights – this happens SO often”. There is no other convincing reason for what happened. What was called wind was instead a glorious breeze – but it gave the company a wonderful excuse to enact its money-saving scheme.
While we had Florence at our fingertips to go into the center for dinner…we simply didn’t feel like it by now. We returned to the train station and took the next train home. Rarely had one of our Mother-Daughter trips been so well planned, so well coordinated, so seemingly easy, or so lovingly anticipated.
It was the rudest reminder, as Robert Burns so aptly wrote, that “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry”.
We will continue to dream of Bruges, somehow finding the time and way to make a second try, next time, whenever that will be… from the Rome airport!