Some sad news today for us here at Pestiside.hu. One of our most longstanding and cherished tipsters/contributors, Sean Jordan, is leaving Hungary. It’s not all gloom and doom, because Sean is about to embark on a year-plus trip around the world by Vespa, and hasn’t closed the door for a return to Hungary at some future date. But it’s also sad given that he’s leaving overland in part because of the scars he suffered during a recent, abortive attempt to travel from Budapest to Canada via Hungary’s often equally punitive and dysfunctional “flag carrier,” Malév Hungarian Airlines.
The sad story you are about to hear began at the crack of dawn on December 20th, when Sean arrived at a snow-dusted Ferihegy airport to board a 7:10 a.m. flight to Amsterdam for a connection on to Toronto, and discovered that the first segment was being operated by Malév rather than KLM, as promised on the ticket. While the ensuing nightmare can not be fully pinned on Malév, the airline’s personnel play a crucial and infuriating role in the entire fuckup. So without any further delay, here, in Sean’s own words, is what happened:
08:10 (Dec. 20): Our 07:10 flight to Amsterdam departs an hour late.
09:45 (Dec. 20): We circle Amsterdam for an hour, and then the pilot tells us we’ll have to land in Frankfurt on account of Schiphol airport being closed.
10:45 (Dec. 20): We land in Frankfurt, and wait on the tarmac for two hours. It’s snowing harder.
12:45 (Dec. 20): The flight crew says that we’re invited to leave the plane and wait in the departure lounge until 17:00, at which point we’ll re-board and move on to Amsterdam.
13:30 (Dec. 20): After hanging out in the departures lounge for a while, a group of fellow passengers band together and start looking for a Malév employee to see what’s up. The flight crew is nowhere to be found. There’s no mention of our flight on the big board, either. Nobody at any of the departures gates knows anything about the Malév flight, or where we might find the Malév flight crew. An Alitalia ticket-checker recommends that we go into the main hall and try and find somebody there.
13:45 (Dec. 20): And off we go, past the luggage claim and into the arrivals hall. There’s nobody at the Malév desk. Frankfurt airport is filling up.
13:50 (Dec. 20): The few dozen of us who’ve banded together then go to the main information kiosk. Nobody there knows what’s going on. The information guy gets on the PA and several times asks for somebody from Malév to show up and get us. Half an hour passes. Nobody shows.
14:45 (Dec. 20): Worried that the plane might leave without us, we head back to the departures lounge – but first, it’s an hour and a half to go back through security. With much pleading, our original boarding passes are sufficient to get us through.
16:15 (Dec. 20): A mad dash to the original gate where we parked, and there we confront a harried Alitalia employee tasked to deal with us. The plane’s heading back to Budapest in 10 minutes, she says. I’m thinking it might be best if I just head back to Hungary. I produce my boarding pass stub and she says, nope, that’s not good enough -you need a new boarding pass. But this original one got me back through security, says I. Sorry, them’s the rules, says she. Based on the chaos I witnessed out at the check-in counters and transfer desks, getting a new boarding pass would take quite some time. Meanwhile, none of us is getting on that plane, and the two dozen or so passengers take turns screaming at the Alitalia lady. She doesn’t even know where our luggage is.
16:20 (Dec. 20): And so, the empty plane flies back to Budapest.
16:30 (Dec. 20): Resigned to its fate, the abandoned mob shuffles out into the main hall and waits. And waits. A lone Czech airlines employee announces she’ll be processing us, and epic queuing begins. Two oldsters in our group who don’t have the stamina to stand in line sit off to the side instead, unloved and defeated. Then a horrible Greek woman repeatedly elbows her way to the front of the line, and the rest of us fantasize about murdering her. It takes 10 hours to process everybody. The last five passengers to be get their re-routed tickets, including myself, are a cross-section of the Anglosphere: the UK, the US, Canada, and Australia. Go figure.
01:00 (Dec. 21): I’m given a routing to Toronto three days later, via Warsaw. It’s all the Czech airlines lady can offer me – but then I look at expedia.com on my Blackberry, and there are plenty of available seats on direct flights from Frankfurt to Toronto, and I show it to her. Aha, she says, she doesn’t have access to those blocks of seats on that flight, which cost $4,000 by the way, but if I’ve got $4,000, I should just buy a seat. I don’t have $4,000, and I opt for the Warsaw flight. I then take a train downtown and check into a hotel.
06:00 (Dec. 23): I show up at Frankfurt airport, and it’s like a Chinese railway station in there – merely checking in would take half a day. As I contemplate the mass of humanity before me, the polizei comes rushing in, screaming at people who’ve been queueing for hours to clear the check-in hall. Within minutes, a hundred check-in counters stand empty, presumably because of some suspicious unattended luggage somewhere. No matter; my flight to Warsaw, it turns out, is massively late, meaning I’ll miss the connection to Toronto. I throw in the towel and make my way towards the sweet civility of the nearby Deutsche Bahn terminal.
19:00 (Dec. 24): I roll into Keleti station, resolving that when I do finally leave this ‘burg for good, I’m gonna do it at an altitude of 0 feet.