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The Time A Trip Nearly Went Very Wrong Before It Had Even Started


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A little under 18 months ago, I was booked to fly out of Europe for a brief visit back to the US and for this particular trip, I had booked a fantastic Business Class fare out of Stockholm.

Not only was the fare a fantastic price but, because of the routing I chose, it also allowed me to finally try out BA1 – the British Airways all Business Class flight between London City Airport and New York JFK – which now, partly as a result of the current pandemic, has been discontinued.

The fare originated and terminated in Stockholm but, when I made the booking, I knew that I would be staying in London in the days leading up to the trip so, as well as the primary Business Class fare, I had also purchased a roundtrip British Airways Economy Class fare for travel between London Heathrow and Stockholm.

This is what my itinerary looked like:

  • Day 1: London – Stockholm (Economy Class positioning flight) & Stockholm – London (first leg of my Business Class fare back to the US). Overnight in London.
  • Day 2: London City – New York JFK (Business Class on BA1).
  • Day 3: New York JFK – Miami (Business Class on American)
  • Day 4: Miami
  • Day 5: Miami – London (Business Class on British Airways)
  • Day 6: London – Stockholm (last flight of my Business Class fare) & Stockholm – London (Economy Class flight to get me back to my London base).

It was a pretty hectic schedule but nothing that I haven’t done many times before.

Because I’ve done these kinds of trips so many times in the past, I knew not to cut things too fine when it came to connecting in Stockholm.

To make sure I had a little protection from any unexpected delays to the first flight in my itinerary, I booked an early flight to Stockholm which gave me a 3-hour layover in Sweden.

I was traveling with hand baggage only (no checked baggage to slow me down) and I was traveling during the summer (lower likelihood of bad weather causing delays) so I was confident that I’d taken sufficient precautions to make sure my plans didn’t go awry.

I probably shouldn’t have been as confident as I was.

I arrived at Heathrow in plenty of time for my early morning flight, I had breakfast in the First Class lounge and then made my way to the Heathrow Terminal 5 B-Gates from where my flight was due to depart.

Boarding went smoothly but, just as the last passengers were taking their seats, the Captain announced that there was a hydraulic issue with the aircraft’s braking systems and that maintenance crews were working on the problem.

I’m no engineer, but even I knew that didn’t sound good.

10 minutes later the Captain announced that the first attempt to fix the issue had failed and that the maintenance team was now “trying something else”.

That was all I needed to hear.

I was pretty sure that this aircraft wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon so I called the BA Gold desk to ask them to move my booking on to the next flight to Stockholm (which was departing in 75 minutes time).

After quite a few minutes on hold, the BA agent confirmed that there were seats available on the next flight but that as I was already checked in on another flight (the one I was sitting on) there was nothing she could do – only the staff in the terminal could change my booking.

I gathered up my laptop and phone, got my bag from the overhead bin, and walked to the front of the aircraft where the (very polite) cabin crew informed me that they couldn’t let me disembark the aircraft without the presence of a member of ground crew (they mentioned the person’s job title but I can’t remember what it was).

That member of the ground crew had been at the aircraft door moments before but had just gone back to the A gates.

This was a little annoying, especially as the aircraft door was wide open and I could see the freedom of the jet-bridge stretching out ahead of me.

A 20-minute wait then ensued but when the required member of ground staff finally returned, I still wasn’t allowed off the aircraft until he had collected the seat numbers of all the passengers wanting to change planes and had gone back into the terminal to do whatever it was he needed to do with them.

This was killing valuable time and I was starting to get a little worried.

If I missed my flight out of Stockholm (the first flight in my Business Class booking) I knew that I’d be put down as a ‘no-show’ and my entire Business Class fare would be cancelled. That wasn’t an outcome I wanted to contemplate but things were not looking good.

I was stuck in the forward galley of an aircraft at Heathrow’s B-Gates while the flight I wanted to catch was back at the A-gates (a good 7-minute run) and departing in 40 minutes.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I was allowed back into the terminal where I ran back to the A-gates as quickly as my aging legs and worn-out lungs could manage.

The BA service desks in the central part of the terminal were deserted and the secondary desks (near gate A10) had a line of 10 – 15 people waiting to be served.

I ran to the First Class lounge (which is where I probably should have headed to in the first place) and asked an agent there to get me on the next flight to Stockholm which, at this point, was departing in a little under 30 minutes.

At first, the agent’s computer screen told him that the flight was closed…but then he had an idea.

After 10 minutes of tapping on a keyboard while conferring with someone on the phone he handed me a boarding pass with the words: “Gate 20, you have 2-3 minutes to make it otherwise they’ll go without you”.

Fortunately, Gate 20 is one of the closest gates to the First Class lounge at Heathrow T5, so I made it with time to spare (although I did nearly mow down a couple of dithering passengers on my way).

I was hot, I was tired, and I was annoyed at how complicated BA makes it to change flights when one of their aircraft breaks down – even American Airlines could have sorted a mess like this out over the phone – but at least I had made it in time.

Just as I was slumping into my new seat and wondering if my burning lungs would ever recover (I really need to get back to the gym) the Captain’s voice came over the public address system.

“Ladies and gentlemen thank you for boarding so efficiently. Unfortunately, we’re going to be delayed this morning as we’re still waiting for a First Officer”.

Arrrrrrgggggghhhhhh!!!!!!!

Our pushback time came and went and, eventually, 40 minutes after the flight’s scheduled departure we were rolled back into the taxiway.

20 minutes after that we were airborne…2 hours and 50 minutes after my original flight was supposed to depart.

So much for my 3-hour layover in Stockholm.

Fortunately, the aircraft I was now on was also the aircraft that was scheduled to bring me back from Stockholm later in the day and a quick check of the BA app showed that my return flight had been pushed back due to the delay to the incoming aircraft.

Stockholm is a reasonably easy airport at which to turn around quickly so my connection was safe…but my nerves were more than a little frayed!

I’d love to be able to say that that’s where the less enjoyable elements of my trip came to an end but, as I’ve mentioned and discussed before, my flight between New York and Miami didn’t really go according to plan either.

If you want to know the details of that particular experience, you’ll find the write-up here, but suffice it to say that my flight started off with an annoying delay (and very poor communications from American Airlines), and included a diversion to Orlando due to bad weather in the Miami area and a shortage of fuel onboard. Fun times! 😁

Overall, this was a trip to forget. I love traveling and if you travel as much as I do you have to expect things to go wrong (it’s just a fact of life) and you have to learn to roll with the punches…but sometimes it can feel like a trip is a little cursed.

Having an aircraft breakdown at the gate is nothing new for me (or for anyone who travels with any kind of frequency) but to have that followed up by a major delay on my replacement flight and then a delay and a diversion on another flight in the same trip is virgin territory for me…and it’s territory I’d rather not revisit any time soon!

They say that all’s well that ends well so, as I ended up getting to all my destinations on the days that I planned to arrive (albeit very late in the case of my arrival into Miami) and as the only damage done was to my nerves, I have to look back on these experiences and admit that things could have been a lot worse.

At the time these experiences were frustrating and infuriating, but as long as I don’t have to deal with this kind of stuff with any regularity, I’ll take the occasional highly frustrating trip in return for all the amazing ones that I get to take too.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Reminds me a bit of my ALMOST travel catastrophe… 4 hour layover in CPH. Leaving from Lisbon on TAP. Late boarding the bus that takes you to the plane. Bus gets to the plane and we have to wait on the bus. Get on the plane and sit there forever. We finally leave and get to CPH as our outbound to the US is boarding. We are on the far side of the airport and RUN the entire way (after the fact I figured it was close to 1/2 mile) We get there about 10 min before they close the door. And the most surprising thing was that our bags made it.
    As we were running through the airport I was sure wishing we could of had that layover and been able to check out the airport as well as the lounge. The airport looked pretty nice.

  2. For positioning, I would either travel the day before or (as you ended up on!) take the back to back flight. Any reason you didn’t want to do that?

  3. Yes, two reasons (on this particular trip). At the time I wasn’t 100% sure how easy it would be to turn around in Stockholm and get back on the same aircraft that I arrived on, and I wanted to have a look around at least one (possibly two) lounges for the purposes of a review.

    You’ll see in a Tier Point run post that I’ve written today that I’m considering a trip out of Sofia in December and that will involve flying in on the same aircraft as I’ll be catching to fly out.

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