We travelers do have rights! (Sort of...)

I’ve noticed that lately, a number of Go Girl’s fabulous, fearless females have been writing about their recent airport experiences/traumas/catastrophes, a theme that seems to unite all world travelers as we embark upon our entirely unique journeys.  It’s hard to find a decently priced flight these days without consenting to an obscenely long layover in a city far from your final destination, and with the world’s wacky weather patterns, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to travel at least once a year, and not encounter a delay of some sort.  It is therefore likely (though regrettable) that this story might ring true with you.

Last March I was lucky enough to swing a mini-trip to Europe, where my boyfriend and I could dart through London, Amsterdam and Paris in a week and a half before retiring back to the library and cracking down on our neglected term papers.  We spent an embarrassingly long amount of time scouring discount travel websites before finally booking our multi-city flights with Iceland Air, who neither of us had traveled with before.  Our Boston-Reykjavik-London flights passed without incident, unless you count the devastating realization that Iceland Air does not offer free meals to its passengers, meaning that I could not get my highly anticipated fix of soggy green beans and dry chicken that I have come to know and love. I cannot help my addiction to crappy airplane food, but unfortunately, it’s a fix that I can’t get without a trans-something flight, so I require the help of airline companies to cater to my needs as a passenger/addict.  But I digress.

Oliver and I arrived in Heathrow without incident and continued on our merry journey around the western tip of Europe, visiting a friend and getting lost in Amsterdam’s countless spiraling side streets.  A week and a half later, we found ourselves reclining in our Parisian hostel, watching a news report on Eyjafjallajökull, the Icelandic volcano which would not stop erupting no matter how many people needed to cross the Atlantic.  It was our last night in Europe, and we were already missing a day’s worth of classes by returning on a Monday night instead of Sunday, meaning that we really couldn’t afford a delay in our flights, not to mention that the Pound and Euro had united for ten days to collectively kick our butts and ensure that we would return to the States as penniless as the day we were born.  No, a delay was quite out of the question.

Fortunately for us, the Icelandic fire gods must have heard our pleas for decent viability as the spewing ash eased to a halt on the day of our epic voyage.  Unfortunately for us, the Icelandic mechanics didn’t give a crap about our pleas, and went on strike just hours before our arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport.  Lovely.

Now, let me back up a bit to clarify my views on workers’ rights, strikes, etc.  For one, I think it’s incredibly unrealistic to travel to Paris at any point in time and not expect a strike to unravel all your dreamed-up travel plans.  France is an absolutely lovely country, but I don’t think they’ve stopped striking since Marie Antionette began her reign in 1774, which tends to put travelers in a bit of a pickle.  Secondly, I’m sure that all airline workers are grossly underpaid considering they have to put up with exhausted, anxious, and jet-lagged customers, all while overcoming massive language barriers and keeping a smile on their face.  Thirdly, I recognize that mechanics are quite important, especially when I’m defying gravity in a 435-ton hunk of steel.  I want to keep those people happy.

That said, being told that no, you may not attend any of your classes on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday’s not looking so good because your airline is not operating any flights, is hardly music to my ears.  Iceland Air had completely shut down operations until the strike was resolved, keeping all of their passengers on standby for over 26 hours without food vouchers, hotels, or any compensation for the tickets.  Those who wished to book flights with other airlines were told they would have to pay out of pocket, as Iceland Air had not technically canceled any of their flights- they were just indefinitely delayed.  A single mother and her three young children slept beside me in the airport that night, huddled around their luggage trolley and snuggling for warmth.

Over a full day after arriving for check-in at CDG, Oliver and I were able to snag two seats on an American Airlines flight to Philadelphia, leaving the twisted world of Iceland Air behind us.  The day of confusion and stress had left its toll on our spirits, and ended our much-awaited vacation on a really sour note, so much so that I didn’t mind being barked at by U.S. Immigration officers as I crawled back into the country.  I was just happy to be home.

We’ve all had awful flight experiences, with some people having more than their fair share after Western Europe’s snowstorm came just in time for the holiday season, but it’s important to look past these things and still be able to appreciate the joys of traveling instead of lingering on the bad.  I had my first run-in with experiential art in the Tate Modern, was able to see the Louvre for free (as can all people under 26 on a Friday night), and explored three of the most well-known cities in the world with someone special to me.  It would be easy to write off my traveling experience as a nightmare after being stranded by my airline overseas, but there’s still much to appreciate, for those willing to look.

Oh, and I got my free airplane food on the way home.  And it was delicious.