Travelling in Turmoil

This should be coming to you from Venice, where the cybercafes have started offering wireless connections and you can even log on while sitting at the Palenca vaparetto stop.
Instead I’m sitting on my living room floor trying to decide whether the seven pm Ryanair flight to Forli I booked myself on last night will actually take off, and looking at the Trenitalia website trying to decide whether I’ll be in Italy in time to catch the last train to Venice’s Santa Lucia station.
Yesterday wasn’t a good day to try to get off this island of ours.
I woke to the news of the new security procedures and growing chaos, but since my Easyjet flight from Gatwick wasn’t until that evening I decided to go to the airport anyway, hoping that the system would have settled down a little.
Unfortunately Easyjet cancelled all their flights from Gatwick, Luton and Stansted and I was left stranded.
After queuing at the British Airways ticket desk I learned that they weren’t selling any tickets at all for flights within the next two days, so it seemed was no chance of getting on a plane that day.
The information screens were little help, showing flight times that had long passed, so I headed to a café downstairs and paid for a day’s wifi.
From my laptop I was able to check out the various airline websites and get a sense of what was going on.  Showing remarkable efficiency, Easyjet were already offering any passengers on cancelled flights free rebooking, so I moved my flight to  Sunday, the earliest available slot and one that seemed to stand a chance of flying.
Then I surfed around, looking at news services and airline sites, and found that Ryanair was running a limited service from Stansted.
Desperate to get away, and confident that if I could get anywhere in continental Europe I could get a train or even another flight, I went there to see what was available.
When I finally made my way to the Ryanair ticket desk at Stansted at around 4pm on Thursday afternoon I was told that they were full and there was no chance of getting out that evening.  I couldn’t even buy a ticket for tomorrow, as they weren’t selling any tickets at all from the desk.
When I pressed her the woman at the counter did check and tell me that there was one flight to Italy on Friday morning with spaces, but she couldn’t sell me a ticket. So I sloped off to the corner of the terminal,  got out my laptop and managed to make a booking, a lot happier than the man at the desk next to me who was getting increasingly frustrated.
I may have used the web to get a flight, but it hadn’t been my first choice for finding out what was going on earlier in the day.

While everything was developing during the morning I had the TV and radio on, and let my attention drift between them while I checked my email, packed and got things together for the day.
I didn’t use the web because things were happening so fast that the ability of speech-based media to break news immediately and the way I could split my attention between what I was doing and what was being said was invaluable.
But once I got to the airports and into the maelstrom the net was vital. Even if I’d had a portable radio with me, the information I needed was too detailed to be provided by the mass media.
With my laptop I could check detailed lists of cancellations and try to find another flight. The few attempts I made to call reservation centres at BA and Ryanair were as futile as I knew they would be, but I managed to get myself booked on the morning flight to Milan – since cancelled, as you might expect, but rebooked for the evening – within five minutes of being told there were spaces on it.
Of course it was far from perfect. There’s no way to book a flight for the same day, and Ryanair didn’t bother to send me an email overnight to tell me that my early morning flight had been cancelled, even though they insisted I provided an address.  And none of the airlines has anything as useful as an RSS feed for flight updated that I could subscribe to.
But without the web it would simply have been impossible.
I now face another problem, of course. The new rules mean that I will have to check in all of my luggage, including my phone and, crucially, my laptop. Do I trust the baggage system, with the danger of damage or pilfering, with my PowerBook? I don’t think I can take the risk, so it’s going to have to stay home and I’ll cope by using cybercafes or whatever other access I can find.
And that means if anything goes wrong I’ll be completely stuck.  I won’t even have my phone, once I’ve checked in my bag.  In the old days any working journalist would head off on a story with a pocket full of loose change so that they could phone the office – I wonder if I’m allowed a few euro coins in my clear plastic bag?
Bill’s Links
Ryanair:
Easyjet cancellation:

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4 Responses to Travelling in Turmoil

  1. Dominic Self says:

    Eek 😐 Sounds nightmarish, but then, I guess there’s no alternative really. Short term disruption is undeniably worth it. Hope you get back OK though! 😀

  2. Alex Wegman says:

    Among many other things to be affected, not being allowed electronic devices in aircraft cabins puts paid to plans of `nano-cell’ in-flight wi-fi networks, as discussed on Digital Planet several episodes back. I think not having laptops and phones in the departure lounge or arrivals hall (i.e. post check-in) would be more of a pain for those with a long wait ahead, than not having them on the plane. Perhaps we can expect new markets to open up in departure-lounge internet cafes?
    Having heard reports today of people who’ve just returned to Australia from the UK under these new restrictions, it sounds like they made the best of the situation, which is good to hear.

  3. Bill, don’t you think all this sh*t is a little bit too much. I mean, they pushed it one step further of what they were supposed to do.

    I don’t get it. All this to me seems no more than a show to hide other things, but, despite this, I don’t know why can’t I travel with my portable PC or with my MP3 Player or…

    It’s all nonsense. For sure I’m not travelling to UK or the USA. Let’s hope more people do that so authorities would realize when to stop. Enough is enough.

  4. Mark says:

    Hi Bill,

    You could always download this piece of software for free (http://www.shopqwik.com) which allows you to book every RyanAir and Easyjet flight in Europe using your mobile phone.

    It does 25 other budget airlines and you cna book hotels and car hire all over the world too.

    Some phones require you to purchase the adobe flash lite player for around £7 but most don’t need it.

    Regards

    Mark

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