Amsterdam There are a lot of rules in my house. They come and go, but one has been permanent for over forty years: don’t ever miss a flight home! It’s a rule worth taking seriously, and I believe in it heartily. One old colleague, based in Dallas, once memorably turned to her staff on some provocation from me and said, “never get in the way of Wade and his leaving.” All of which just goes to date the long legacy of this particular home dictate. Now in the time of airline apocalypse, there’s an added degree of difficulty to the rule’s observance.
There are fewer flights, and they are more expensive, that’s for sure, but on top of that cancellations are out of control. As I transferred in Denver to fly to London at the beginning of this trip since my flight to Washington Dulles had been canceled, one airport worker advised me to fly British Airways because they were cheaper and had more flights. Yeah, right, and now they have discontinued 10,000 flights because of staff shortages and other issues. Reports of thousands of cancellations and delays over the July 4th holiday in the US were national news in the UK and Europe. Booking is a bit of roulette. With a transfer to home at Heathrow, I didn’t want to take a chance, so the KLM at 720 AM would give me plenty of cushion on a noon United to the USA.
Then reading the KLM website when checking in, they advised getting to the airport four hours early and offered to rebook because of problems at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. I was staying with colleagues, one of whom was a longtime organizer with FNV, the giant Dutch union, which also represents thousands of workers at the airport. She also agreed, better early than never, essentially. All of which had me imposing on the family, as I turned in at 7PM after a huge and delicious Surinam dinner to wake up by 2AM to catch a lift to the airport and find my way in the queue. She turned on the news as we got ready to leave and a FNV ground steward and staffer were on last night’s news talking about the horror of Schiphol lines, short staffing, and more cancellations recommended.
Arriving at 3AM, I stumbled into one forever-line that snaked from inside to outside, and then realized it was not to my set of gates. I then jumped into another forever-line, but after 5 minutes realized it might just be for baggage drop-off. I begged my way through another line to ask a KLM worker where I should line up if I already had a boarding pass, and she pointed the way to an area with no line at all. I knew I had to be lost at that point, but dutifully made my way, unbelievably was able to scan my boarding pass from my phone into the machine, and then found myself zipping through baggage security and in front of the customs agent. It took him a minute to find my UK stamp, he hit it hard for the Netherlands, and, bam, I was on the concourse in less than an hour, easy-peasey.
Holiday travel and the baggage that goes with it turns out to be the unresolved issue for staffing and equipment here, but three hours will pass quickly. The wi-fi is fast and free. I found the only open shop for coffee, and a worker has been cleaning the inside of the giant clock for the last hour, a thankless, but noble task, and I for one appreciate his effort.
My friends’ advice for holiday travel in Europe now was “staycation.” Go camping. Walk in the park. Wait until next year. My advice is “go to bed early, wake up early, and hope that luck goes your way and the force is with you.”