How a Canceled Flight Left Me Stranded in an Airport
I decided to study abroad in 2010 in Spain on a whim. I couldn’t speak Spanish, and I honestly didn’t know what I was getting myself into.
Fast forward four months and I had fallen in love with Spain, the culture, and my host family, especially my host brother. Our host mother was a saint–cooking, cleaning and doing laundry for 16, which included two other apartments of students. The night before I returned home, she hosted a party for us, complete with 30 liters of sangria, champagne and wine. While the memories are slightly blured from the amount of sangria that my host mom “forced” us to drink, they are memories I still cherish. It was our last night as a family of 19 and the last time I would see some of the people there.
I woke up at 8 AM the following morning with a banging headache and rushed to school to take my final. Partying until 4 AM with your host mom isn’t the best prep for a final. Afterwards, I headed home to pack. I was exhausted, and physically and emotionally fragile from saying goodbye to friends, fellow host siblings and my host family.
I’m not one to cry, but on that day, I couldn’t help it. Saying goodbye to my host brother was the hardest. He rushed home from school to say goodbye, and I stood in the plaza in front of our apartment with my bags around me, clinging to him and sobbing, “Te quiero, Migue y hasta leugo.”
But it was time to go. I boarded a bus on December 16th to the Granada bus station, and from there, I met up with other four other girls to catch a bus to the Madrid bus station, and then a metro to the Madrid airport where we spent the night outside check-in waiting for our 6 AM flight to Amsterdam the next day. We had no idea what was about to happen.
I tried to stay positive. “Girls, we will get out of here. It will all be fine,” I told them.
As we landed in Amsterdam, we saw snow falling and accumulating quickly. Monitors in the airport flashed the word, “cancelled” for nearly every flight except ours! We patiently waited at our gate and as our departure time came and went, the feeling of despair started to creep in. The monitor then flashed “delayed, 4 hours.”
Our bank accounts were basically empty, but we managed to pull together enough cash for five McDonalds happy meals, comfort food. Our four-hour delay turned into eight, but there was a still hope. Snow was still falling, but there wasn’t a plough or shovel in site. We tried to stay in good spirits, chatting and even singing carols with others who were in the same situation. As the next delay was coming to an end, we were alerted of a gate change. Excitement surged through us. It had been over a day since I boarded my first bus in Granada. I was tired, hung over, and in desperate need of a shower. We arrived at our new gate and the inevitable happened. Our flight was cancelled.
I tried to stay positive. “Girls, we will get out of here. It will all be fine,” I told them. But in my heart, I was sobbing. I wanted out and I wanted out now. The city itself was grounded and nothing was going on inside or outside of the Amsterdam airport for the rest of the day. We were stuck. The hotels were at capacity. We were handed food vouchers and a voucher to use the phone to call home from the international payphones.
We were stuck. The hotels were at capacity. We were handed food vouchers and a voucher to use the phone to call home from the international payphones.
2010 was still before the smartphone boom. There was WiFi, but the connection was spotty. We all took turns attempting to contact our families. We managed to get a hold of one of the girl’s dads who was a travel agent, and he immediately went to work trying to find us flights back. We joined the queue to speak to the KLM agents, but it was filled with thousands of people, wound throughout two hallways.
Around midnight, we got a call from home with the news that we were all on a flight home. The only problem was that it wasn’t for five days. This is when I finally broke down.
I called my mom and only managed to get out, “Mom…” before I started hysterically crying. I’d spent two nights on an airport floor. I was stinky, tired, my hangover was still lingering, and I hadn’t eaten since my happy meal 12+ hours before. She reassured me we would get home and that it would all be fine. More hours ticked by. I emailed my brother a single line, “f— the Dutch.” (Ironically, I had attended the Central College Dutch). It was now the morning of the 19th. I’d left Granada three days before and had spent three nights on an airport floor.
I sat down, excited to experience the joy of business class, but the reality was that because our chairs almost fully reclined, the only thing I remember from the experience is waking up mid-flight to chocolate ice cream dripping down my arm.
I was half asleep and in a state of delirium when one of the girls I was with told us to get out of the queue. “Come with me. I’ve found a shorter queue.” Little did we know her dad had called to let her know that he’d gotten us on a flight that day. She didn’t want to hand us our boarding passes in front of the massive queue of people. We found a quiet spot and she handed us those glorious boarding passes. We were going home! I was euphoric.
When we finally boarded the plane, we learned that we had business class seats on a double decker plane. I sat down, excited to experience the joy of business class, but the reality was that because our chairs almost fully reclined, the only thing I remember from the experience is waking up mid-flight to chocolate ice cream dripping down my arm. I’m not sure where it came from or why I even said yes to the flight attendant who had handed it to me.
We practically ran through customs once we landed. I’d never been so excited to be on American soil. Our bags didn’t make it, but we were home. Our parents were standing as close to the door as they could, waving, madly at us and engulfing us in bear hugs. After a three-hour car journey home, I finally walked into my house early in the morning on December 20. I took a shower and went to bed.
It felt so good to be home.