Leaving wth Terrorist Threats

All seemed well as we traveled through our last view of Edinburgh as we rode the Airlink bus to the airport. We were leaving our hearts here, in this city that combines history and with magical festivity. It was not until we approached the final road leading to the airport check in area that the driver announced “Due to high security alerts, passengers are not allowed any carry on baggage. Please proceed to check-in immediately.” Panic spread through us immediately; we had a $2,000 laptop computer, two cameras worth over $1,500 and a new china teapot, we had purchased. Surely, these would be allowed as hand luggage.

As soon as we entered the terminal, we were handed a paper. The only things allowed as ‘carry-on’ were glasses without the case, contact lenses, but no solution, a wallet, but not a purse, and travel documents: ticket, boarding pass, and passport. There were no exceptions. All of the allowable had to be put in a clear plastic bag that was provided. We could not understand what was happening, but soon found that the London police had arrested part of a terrorist cell that had plans to blow up airplanes within the UK, but going to the US. Due to this all UK airports were under high security alert.

In the airport, we had to transfer the computer from the backpack to the carry-on suitcase, wrap the cameras in clothes and place them in the padded backpack and secure the teapot within clothing in the other carry-on suitcase. All of the worries for their not finding our names in the computer as we had been warned coming to Edinburgh via Prague were now superseded with new frets to occupy our minds. Worried about the heath of our equipment, I asked who would be responsible if something happened to our electronics and was informed we could make a claim at the end. We were offered to have our luggage checked through to Budapest, but due to the fragile nature, we were advised to pick it up in Prague where we could yet again have it all as carry-on. There were no alerts in Prague. We were giving “Fragile” stickers and sent to a special desk to load our goods.

With our coats and little baggies of carry-on fare, we headed to security for surveillance. If a person had a bottle of water or a child with a bag of candy was in line, they were warned to finish it or turn it in for destruction by security. The limitations were severe. I took all of my cigarettes out of the box and placed them in my coat pocket or I would have risked losing them too. After going through the scrutiny of the first security check, we then went through the metal detectors, shoeless and in some cases sockless too. After this, each person was personally frisked as an added measure.

Proceeding to our gate, we sat next to a Lufthansa flight boarding gate that was due to leave at 1:15 for Frankfurt, but they were still trying to locate all of their travelers at 3:00 pm. The delays spread throughout Europe. We boarded a half hour late on our Czech Airlines flight to Prague, where we had 1 ½ hours to make our connections.

Arriving in Prague, we had to go to the Czech Airlines re-ticketing counter to have boarding passes issued for the rest of our journey: Prague to Budapest, just as on the way here. I explained to the woman at the desk that our luggage was going to be here in Prague. She offered to reroute them to Budapest, but we declined after asking who would be responsible if our computer and cameras were to get damaged or never showed up. She shrugged her shoulders and could not give me a definitive answer. She snappishly stated we could go get our baggage to have as a carry-on, but there were no guarantees we would make the flight. I asked if they would rebook us for the next flight if we did miss it without a fee. She agreed that would be possible, but there were no more flights on any airline to Budapest until tomorrow morning. I said we would have to take the risk since the equipment was worth over $3,000. She was unimpressed.

To get out, we had to go through Passport Control and have our passports stamped. The line was long and our nerves were getting frayed. When we found the luggage carousel for our flight, the light went on and the warning buzzer sounded. The conveyor started into action. Nothing appeared. After two minutes, everything came to a halt and we had to wait. A few minutes later, the whole scenario started once more. The only item to pop through the rubber gates from the chute was a small clear plastic bag with a luggage sticker around it almost as large as the bag itself. Another conveyor belt work stoppage did not produce anything else. However, three times a charm and after the warning lights, beeps, and purring of the conveyor, luggage started to magically appear. Ours was close to the end of the line.

Grabbing out things, we ran through Customs, asking the guard how to get the Terminal B-2. He looked at us quizzically and said that it was back beyond security and Passport Control. We hurriedly explained we needed to pick up our luggage and continue on. He told us to leave the area and turn left. We were half way there when Ron thought we were going to the wrong terminal, so we turned and went back. After five minutes of running with the luggage, we stopped to ask, but we were correct the first time.

Turning around turning up our speed, we went through Passport Control once again, and then ran past all of the A gates to finally arrive at the gate B-2. It had closed. We missed it by 3 minutes. We banged on the clear glass door, but no responded. Leaving Ron there, I ran back to the re-ticketing desk, fifty feet away and asked if there were a chance to get on. The same woman, who gave me ultimatums before, smugly stated the airline has left and through it “I told you this would happen.” Not being in the mood to be treated like a five year old, I snapped back that I had explained the value of our equipment and since the airline was not taking responsibility, I had to take matters in my own hand. I asked her to now re-ticket us. She again had the satisfaction of saying that now that we missed the flight, we would have to leave the secure area, go to the main lobby to the Malev counter and have them re-ticket us. She added that they could not be responsible for a hotel since it was our decision not to continue on with the connecting flight.

With tickets and luggage, we traipsed back through Passport Control, through Customs, and went looking for the Malev Counter. It was hidden in the far back corner and as I approached my heart sank as the lights were off. It seemed reasonable to see if there were a sign directing passengers, but as I reached the window, I noticed a woman sitting there in the near darkness.

After going through the whole story once again, she agreed we would be reissued tickets for the first flight in the morning at 8:50 am. She had to call a supervisor for some reason and when this other woman appeared, she said they would make out vouchers to put us up in a hotel. Then she made a call. With the phone in her hand, she glared at me and said “My colleague said you could have made the flight, but you refused. She gave you your options.” I growled back that her colleague also told me if we chose to get our luggage, we could still be re-ticketed without penalty for the next flight. I was not asking for a hotel voucher, since I assumed that would be our expense, but less expensive than replacing our equipment.

Minutes went by while the supervisor conferred with the woman on the phone. They gave us new tickets, told us what time we needed to be at the airport and then another lecture. This set me off to say that I know the EU Passenger Rights. I have a copy of them with me. By law, the re-ticketing desk, this desk, and all gates are supposed to have copies on display for consumers. At this, she held up her hand as if to shield herself from me and gruffly uttered, “Okay, okay!” Then said if we waited a minute more, she would give us a hotel voucher and transport to the hotel. I guess knowing your rights has advantages.

She walked us out to the shuttle area for the hotel and told us the shuttle would be there at 8:00 pm. As we waited, we started talking to a guy from Philadelphia who was also being accommodated due to a missed flight to London. He had a paper voucher for the hotel and paper tickets for the shuttle. We had nothing.

Ron went back to the Malev desk to see why we had nothing documenting their promises, but when he arrived the lights were out for good and no one was at home. He had to go to the Czech Airlines desk where he was told it was Malev’s problem, not theirs. When he insisted, they made a call, only to turn to him and give him the same lecture about how it was our fault for missing the connection. He returned empty handed.

We missed the 8:00 shuttle while he was gone, but the next one was due at 9:00. The same driver returned to gather the growing crowd of disgruntled passengers. They all had paper; we had nothing. The driver did not speak a word of English, so I pantomimed that the airline made a call and said it was okay. He bought it and gave us the ride. I was waiting for the hotel to give us the run-around too.

We let everyone with paper vouchers ahead of us. Then I said to the desk clerk that Malev sent us and said they arranged it. He looked at me and said are you Mr. James and Mr. Schmitz? Bingo!! We were given our room. They also had dinner waiting for us in the dining room. Either anxiety or the lumpy beds kept me awake most of the night, but it was sure better than the airport seats.