Monday, January 21, 2008

Planes, Trains and Reservations

We arrived at Orly Airport in Paris about 11:30 or so in the morning and needed to get to Amsterdam due to a slight change in plans. I need to get a work visa arranged before I can go back and the paperwork is a bit delayed. So instead of getting the visas in Spain, we decide to get them here in Holland. We didn't get Manuel's done either as mine will take four days and we may as well minimize the time we spend at the embassy and enjoy ourselves as much as possible. It was all perfectly planned. well as perfectly planned as the best laid plans of mice and men can be. And how astray those plans have gone...

To get from Paris to Amsterdam, all trains go via Brussels. To get from Orly to Brussels, one has a couple of choices. Either taking a bus from Orly to a metro station in Paris, grabbing the metro to Gare du Nord and then the train toward Brussels or perhaps even one train that continues onto Amsterdam. The other option is to take the Air France bus to Charles de Gaulle Airport and then the train to Brussels and change for Amsterdam. Given the amount of luggage we had, we decided that the CDG option was best. The Paris metro can be quite awkward to navigate with luggage. So we get to CDG and go to the ticket counter where we are told that the best way to go was to take the RER (Metro that goes out of the city center and often with fewer stops than the metro itself) to Gare du Nord and then 2 hours later take the train direct to Amsterdam. So having gone the long way around, we still ended up at Gare du Nord waiting for a train. we arrived in a cold and raining Amsterdam at 19:30 and made our way to a friend's house where we would stay for a few days.

It was the next day that I discovered that not only had my papers not been sent, they weren't even ready yet and would be sent early this week, arriving probably a few days later, meaning they will be here this coming Friday. After that I need 4 days to get my visa and then time to get to Paris for my flight. The original flight was booked for 20 January. Yesterday. Why did we book everything via Paris? The reason for that was that we had planned on leaving Spain and spending a few days in Paris before heading to Delhi. Paris was going to be a bit of a break after all that time around Manuel's family and we both have friends there. Amsterdam was not part of the original plan and yet here we are.

Having done a bit of good planning ahead of time, I made sure we could change our Air France flights back, just in case. I do the calculations and discover that Feb 2 is the earliest possible day I can leave Amsterdam. Manuel and I go to the airport to change our flights on Saturday, as that has to be done before the original flight leaves or we are considered as "no show" and the return leg would be cancelled. For some reason we could not find Manuel's ticket printout, but being an e-ticket, that didn't matter. They never ask for them, just show the passport and its all cool. We arrived at the KLM/Air France desk at Schiphol Airport at approximately 9:30am with the plan to change the flights, head into the center and have a late breakfast. Everything was going very well. We were informed that the first possible flight was Feb 5 and the change would cost 50 Euro each. Perfect.

She looked up Manuel's reservation to make sure there was space for both of us on the same flight and after a long silence told us that she could find no reservation for Manuel on that flight. Or any flight from Paris to Delhi for that matter. Suddenly we needed the e-ticket and didn't have it. No problem, we went to the hotel Sheraton and bought 30 minutes internet time to dig it out of my email.

Surprise, there was no email with our e-tickets. They had been printed out and handed to us, but never emailed. Panic was starting to set in. I had a reservation and Manuel did not. I wanted to call the agency in Delhi but there was only about 2 Euro of credits on the phone. Airtel, as they usually do, seem to disconnect my phone whenever I leave the country for longer than 3 days. That is another story, but because of that, we were on a prepaid option only and not enough money to even get the phone on the other end to ring.

For some reason for which I am extremely grateful, whenever Manuel and I seem to be in a situation where we really don't know what to do or it seems almost impossible at best, Ankit appears out of the blue. Suddenly a message pops up on the screen. It is Ankit. He is in Delhi. He speaks Hindi. In a matter of a couple of minutes, he gets us Manuel's e-ticket number from the agency and we were off to the KLM/Air France desk to get it sorted. It was now about noon. We arrive at the desk and take our number. Thanks to being a Flying Blue member, we get bumped to the front-ish part of the line. With looks of relief on our faces we present the agent with the e-ticket number. She looks at it and tells us it is not a KLM or Air France number, and was it possibly a co-share?

A what? Then I remembered that when getting Manuel's ticket the travel agent explained that he would have an Air India ticket but would fly on and Air France machine. Other than that, he had the same ticket and same allowances and restrictions as I did. Perfect.

Perfect that is until last Saturday morning when standing at the ticketing desk with them telling us there was nothing they could do and we could have to change it at the airport in Paris. We quickly realized that we were most likely going to have to take the next train to Paris and sort all of this out before we lost the reservation. I asked, just to satisfy my own curiosity how much it would be to get a new ticket from Paris or Amsterdam to Delhi and was quited a pre-tax price of just 2000 Euro. Panic set in just a bit more and then finally we managed to get a number for Air France in Paris from the agent. Of course, working for the company, she could not possibly call, we had to do that on our own. We did what anyone in our situation would do, we went to the newly opened Starbucks, ordered some Vanilla flavored drinks, charged up the phone and started dialling. First up as Manuel. We were calling France and he speaks the language. Turns out, the number they had given us was not to the airline, but to a travel agent who then gave us a local number in Amsterdam. My turn. I called the number and got the very friendly recording telling me they were closed. Camera back on Manuel. He called the travel agency and got another number in London. Pass the phone back to me. I called and was put on perma-hold until some guy named Phil told me there was nothing he could do and I needed to phone Air India and gave me a number in India. I asked for something a bit more local and finally got a number in the UK. I then phoned Air India. Yes, of course we could change. No problem what-so-ever. Except...

With a co-share agreement, one airline agrees to give another airline a certain number of seats on each flight. So, technically, Manuel fly on an Air France machine, sitting in a seat owned or shared with Air India. There are a finite number of those available on each flight and the next possible option was sometime towards the end of February and even then it was not guaranteed. She offered to place me (I was pretending to be Manuel) on a waiting list but I would have to call back the next day to see if it was confirmed and in the meantime the original reservation would stand. That meant the plane would leave Paris and Manuel would be a no show, with no option to make any further changes for a late date. Also, Manuel and I are ready to be home. we want to sleep in our own bed, wear different underwear and just be at home. As much as I love to travel, I love arriving at my own front door.

We realised that we had to just toss Manuel's return flight and come up with another option. Being an airport, there are tons of travel agencies represented. But not one of them could sell us a ticket or give us any information. They are their for their customers that have booked via the agency and are either picking up their tickets or visa-ready passports or possible have issues with the arrangements from the agency. We were poor schmucks without a reservation. The lowest of the low in their books. The only thing to do was to head into Amsterdam and start knocking on the doors of travel agents. By now it was about 14:00 and Manuel and I were not in a good mood. The only thing that kept up going was the date with Saskia at Bubbles and Wines for some early evening bubbles and wines.

We got into Amsterdam and laid out the whole sad story for the owner of an agency who then gave us the option of Manuel flying on the same day on a different airline arriving 90 minutes after my flight. It seemed perfect, but the price was quite steep. Then he pulled the rabbit out of his hat and managed to get Manuel a ticket for January 30 on Swiss Air for a very good price. Now that his ticket was sorted, it was time to sort mine. Back to the airport we went to sort out my situation. I am on the Feb 5 flight from Paris. If I don't have my papers by the end of this week, then next week I am getting myself a tourist visa. I don't know what else to do, but I just want to be home and I will be arriving 3 weeks later than originally planned. But the good news is that we are both heading back soon albeit on different planes and dates.

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