Spending an extra night in Paris? Sounds marvellous. Who wouldn’t be up for that? Spoiler alert – I wasn’t. When I tell you that the only time I actually saw the Eiffel Tower during my recent trip to Paris was when I finally took off from the airport, you might get an idea of why being stranded in Paris and spending an extra night there wasn’t too high on my agenda. You guessed it. We are not talking an extra night in the heart of Paris, we are talking being stranded in Paris Orly… the airport. Which clearly wasn’t my idea of a fun Friday night?
But I might be getting a little ahead of myself here. So let me start at the beginning…
Friday morning I had a meeting scheduled near Paris, so to get there in time, I took the Eurostar from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord on Thursday afternoon. After a quick Metro ride across town, a 30-minute train journey and a 15-minute walk, I eventually arrived at my destination. Quite literally in the middle of nowhere. So instead of a stroll along the Seine and a bottle of wine in a French brasserie, it was dinner for one in the hotel. On the upside, the next morning I only had to cross the road to get to my meeting. No risk of delays due to bad traffic or train strikes or anything.
As the meeting was scheduled last minute, I had already booked myself a trip to the Isle of Wight for that same weekend. But what are we, if not flexible. So I quickly adjusted my itinerary. All I needed to ensure was that I got back to London on time that Friday evening, to catch the last train down to the coast.
Mr T meanwhile would take the car and drive down to Portsmouth to catch a ferry in the early evening, sticking to our original itinerary.
As the meeting was outside Paris, it seemed the safer choice to opt for a flight out of Paris Orly to London City rather than heading back into Paris to catch the Eurostar to London. Gosh, if only I’d known.
My British Airways flight was scheduled for 7.10pm, getting me into London City for 7.35pm. Which would leave me sufficient time to get from London City Airport to Waterloo station to board my 9pm train down to Portsmouth to catch the last passenger ferry to Ryde. I had it all worked out so perfectly. What could possibly go wrong?
We were off to a smooth start. My meeting finished earlier than thought and I left to the airport well in time. Woohoo, despite Friday afternoon traffic, no real risk of missing that flight.
But whilst on the way, I checked the British Airways app and saw that my flight would be delayed by approx. 1 hour due to late arrival of the incoming aircraft. Dammit. Well it was still early days, maybe the aircraft would make up some of that time and the delay would be less. That had happened in the past, let’s not despair just yet.
If we really ended up with an hour delay, it would be almost impossible to catch my train to Portsmouth. So time to come up with plan B, just in case. There were later trains departing Waterloo, but they wouldn’t connect to the fast passenger ferry anymore. Instead I would need to make my way over to the other part of the port to board the car ferry instead. The last ferry was leaving just before midnight, so whilst not ideal, it was still doable.
I told Mr T that I might arrive a little later and I’d keep him updated.
Eventually the late aircraft arrived and boarding commenced. Yes, the one-hour delay was certain now. So I had already said goodbye to my original itinerary and called the train company to find out if my train ticket (and more importantly my ferry ticket) were still valid if I boarded the later train. Luckily they were.
As I scanned my boarding pass at the gate, I was informed that British Airways had upgraded me from economy to business class. Nice touch, that hadn’t happened in a long time. So at least I had some champagne to look forward to. To ease the pain of the extra-long journey that evening.
The flight wasn’t full and it was just 2 rows of business class that evening. My seat neighbour immediately started a conversation (little did I know he was to become my new best friend for the next couple of hours).
The crew went through their usual pre flight routine and we departed the gate, taxiing to the runway. Unfortunately we didn’t get very far before we came to a hold. The weather in London (or more specifically around City Airport) no longer allowed aircrafts to land into or start from City Airport due to heavy fog.
With air traffic around City Airport severely restricted, we were grounded and had to sit it out. Hopefully we would be given a slot and could take off soon. After all, we were all ready to go.
But with that further delay catching that later train and the last ferry became more and more unlikely, so it was time to start working out the alternatives… plan C and D. Checking hotels around Portsmouth and Waterloo Station, depending how far I would actually get that night. Whilst simultaneously keeping my husband, my colleague and my boss informed about my misery.
Most suitable option seemed a hotel next to Waterloo Station for the night, then the first train down to Portsmouth, getting me to the Isle of Wight for approx. 9am.
But for now we were still stuck in the plane somewhere on the airfield. We couldn’t go back to the gate, as another aircraft had in the meantime occupied that and we still weren’t allowed to take off. So we just sat there waiting.
Eventually the captain informed us that landing into City Airport was becoming more and more unlikely. Not only had the weather not improved at all, we were now also approaching closing time of the airport. But the flight deck was in discussion with dispatch to see if we could be re-routed to London Gatwick instead. Any passengers that didn’t want to fly into Gatwick were free to leave the aircraft and make their own way back, however it was made clear to us that if we decided to leave now, the airline wouldn’t be responsible for accommodation or alternative travel arrangements. At the same time the crew started handing out leaflets informing us of compensation and transport options if we were to arrive at a different airport than originally planned.
A handful of people left, but most of us decided to just sit tight. I sure did. Not a big fan of Gatwick Airport under normal circumstances (as it is just so far away from my home), for once I wouldn’t mind. As I could get a National Express bus down to Portsmouth and wouldn’t even need to change (Plan E… by now I really was grasping at straws).
More waiting, a round of water and snacks (unfortunately no stronger drinks, as the crew wasn’t allowed to start bar service before we were airborne, gosh were we longing for that champagne they promised us earlier).
Surprisingly everyone seemed to take it rather well. After all, we could all see that the crew was doing their best and it hadn’t just ruined our weekend, but theirs as well. No riots not even much moaning. The captain and the rest of the crew did their best to keep us informed (with the little information they actually had) and explain to us what might happen if things went south.
Eventually the inevitable happened. Ground crew started unloading the luggage and we were informed that we weren’t going anywhere that night.
Instead it was back to the terminal, where we should collect our luggage and head to the BA check in desk for further arrangements.
All of a sudden missing my train in London was the least of my problems.
We disembarked, went through passport control (which seemed a little strange, given that we didn’t actually leave the country, so why check us again), collected our bags (well those that had bags, I was travelling hand luggage only) and made our way to the BA desk as instructed. There we formed an orderly queue (we are British after all) and waited patiently what was to come.
I must say, kudos to British Airways. They did actually get it all sorted fairly quickly. We were told to head to the ibis hotel opposite the airport for the night and then report back at the desk at 7.45 in the morning. Our flight would be rescheduled for 9.45am. And yes, even if you didn’t have any checked luggage, you needed to be there two hours before the flight.
OK, so we weren’t going anywhere that night, but at least we wouldn’t be standing around for hours trying to work out what would happen next.
Off we went to the hotel to get a room … and to hit the bar whilst it was still open. By now we were all longing for a drink, not the least as we didn’t actually get any dinner during our ‘flight’ and by now it was after 11pm.
After a few drinks with my new best friends and a rather short night (with a mere four hours of sleep) we grabbed breakfast, checked out and headed over to the airport once more. Back at the check in desk 7.45 sharp as instructed. Only to find a massive queue there and no priority check in open. Great. So back of the queue it was.
Eventually we were told that this wasn’t actually our queue yet, but the one for the cancelled 7.45am flight to London City. Our flight had meanwhile been rescheduled to 10.50 (to allow for sufficient rest time for the crew, shame they didn’t tell us that the evening before, sure we could have done with an extra hour of sleep as well), so check in wouldn’t open until 8.50am.
Time for a coffee and back for a second attempt an hour later. This time priority check in was open and we were given new boarding passes (same seat numbers as the previous day, so I was still upgraded to business class – small mercies) and eventually headed back through security, eagerly awaiting that flight.
Mr T had meanwhile started sending me photos of the glorious morning down on the Isle of Wight, just to ease my pain a little (needless to say it didn’t. But at least one of us was enjoying our weekend away).
A 10.50 start meant we should land into city around 11ish. The 11.30 train from Waterloo would be a little too tight, but I should be able to comfortably get the 12.30 train down and make it to the island by 2.30pm.
As we waited at the gate for boarding to commence, we once again noticed the app updating the arrival time. From 10.57 it moved to 11.50 to eventually 0.07 (WHAT???) and back to 11.50.
Checking the City Airport website, we could see that so far not a single flight had actually landed in or taken off City Airport that morning as the fog was still as thick as the previous night. This was not going well.
The ground staff wasn’t really sure what was happening either. So all we could do was wait in the queue (we were getting quite good at this by now). But eventually a bus arrived to take us back to the aircraft (that was still parked away from the terminal, where we abandoned it the previous night).
The crew started the pre-flight checks again, it was all looking promising. But we were careful to get our hopes up too soon. After all we had been there before (and it didn’t get us very far).
Instead we all kept checking the City Airport website and various flight tracker apps to see what was going on. Would City Airport eventually reopen and allow flights to land? Up until now all incoming flights were re-routed to other airports and all outgoing flights were cancelled or severely delayed.
As it was approaching 12 o’clock we could see that the first few flights were finally allowed to land into City Airport and come 12.10 we were given the all clear to finally start our flight. A mere 17 hours behind schedule.
The flight itself was quiet and uneventful. Between all of us in business class we made it our mission to empty the bar of champagne (which we had been waiting for the last 17 hours) and dutifully succeeded – well then again, what else where we meant to do. Big thumbs up to James, who had the pleasure of looking after us in business class and who sure did an excellent job.
By the time we landed into London City it was past 12 and getting the 12.30 train was no longer an option. But I eventually made it to the 1.30 train, getting me down to Ryde just after half four. F I N A L L Y .
What shall I say? This wasn’t the first time I had a flight cancelled or severely delayed. And it is never convenient (well apart from that one time were I came down with a heavy cold so unexpectedly that I was delighted to see my flight being cancelled due to weather. Only to then be terribly disappointed to be instantly re-booked onto the next flight an hour later rather than the next day).
Whilst this sure wasn’t how I expected my weekend away with the husband to start, it could have been a lot worse. At least British Airways took good care of us. They quickly organised hotel rooms and re-arranged our flight for the next morning.
Unlike that time when my SAS flight from Stavanger back to London was cancelled due to a snowstorm and they didn’t offer any help at all. They didn’t give me a room or rebook me, they just told me to wait until I receive a text message from their head office with details on how to rebook and how to get a hotel room. To this day I am still waiting for said message.
So tell me, were you stranded before?