An adventure from Lisbon to Lulea

Francisco Mesquita

The FiBreMoD researchers have been to Lulea last week for the CompTest conference. The conference was very interesting, FiBreMoD won the best oral presentation award through the work of Lorenzo and new contacts were made but that’s not what brings us here today. Today I would like to tell you the story of my travel adventure to Lulea. Join in for the ride!

The whole story took place in Sunday, the day before the conference would start. You see, I was coming from Portugal where I am natural from and was spending some days. The plan was to take a flight from Lisbon to Brussels on my own account and then take the flights from Brussels to Lulea that the university had bought for me. I would leave from Lisbon at 11h05, spend some hours in Brussels (maybe even go home) and then get on the plane to Lulea, where I would arrive at 0h10 from the next day. The whole trip was already going to be challenging, but the worst was yet to come…

I was accompanied with my flat mate during this whole adventure and we got to the Lisbon airport well in advance, about 2 hours before the flight. With so much time in advance, we took things slow. Went through the security, got to the duty-free shop where we got some Portuguese products and then we were getting hungry so we went to look for the restauration area. I had not been in Lisbon airport’s terminal 1 for some years and therefore I didn’t remember exactly where it was. We spent some 10 minutes looking for it (it was not that obvious) and finally got to the place we wanted. Still with time, we got our breakfast and sat down to eat. After a while, it was time to go! We got up, and headed towards the gate, which was actually quite close. It is here that things start going south. Upon arrival at the gate, no one was queuing… Strange, I though, but maybe we were a bit late and they had boarded most people already. It was 20 min until the departure of the flight. To our surprise and horror, the ground operator tells us that we were late and could not board the flight anymore! How is that possible, the flight leaves in 20 min? From my experience, the boarding for any flight happens until 5-10 min before the departure time, but how was this different? It happens that this plane was not at the gate sleeve, but they had to take us on a bus to the plane, which was located somewhere on the airport… For that reason, we had lost the flight and they could do nothing anymore.

Oh, the stupidity! How could I have lost the flight? What was I thinking, taking all that time? Normally it’s ok, but this time our experience had failed us and there was nothing we could do. The only hope was to get another flight to Brussels that would still be on time to get on the flight to Lulea. We went to the counter of the company from the first flight to figure out a solution and after some help from the person at the counter, I found a flight from another airline that would depart 1h later and arrive in time to Brussels. This was the only option! My flat mate stayed working out the situation, as my situation was more urgent. I run towards the check-in area where the airline had a counter and try to get a ticket for this flight as soon as possible. I am informed there that I had to call the call center and book the flight via the phone.

Ok, booking a flight via phone call. Not the best solution ever, but it works. I called the number indicated and explained that I wanted the flight for the day at 12h30, from Lisbon to Brussels. The person on the other side gave the details of the flight and the price. Everything was going to work out. In the meantime, my flat mate caught up to me and explained that there was no other option than the flight I was booking, so I changed the order to get two tickets. For some reason, this change took an incredible amount of time. When any of us books a flight online, the whole procedure takes 5-10 min. With the airline call center, it took considerably more. Moreover, I had to spell our names with examples (for example, M for Manchester, E for Easter, etc.) which takes a very long time. By the time we finally got our tickets, we were in front of the check-in desk. We had 10 min to do the check-in.

The person at the counter could see our reservation there but could not access the tickets though. The payment was still going through and we could do nothing but to wait. While waiting, I was getting extremely nervous. After all, if I could not get this flight, I would miss the one in Brussels. The time passed while the check-in employee tried to figure out our situation. In the end, we could not check-in anymore and were sent to the counter from the airline where I had been before. The most shocking revelation came when we found out that our flight had been booked for the following day! The idiot from the call center had booked the flight from the wrong day, even though I had specifically said TODAY. With 20 min for departure, I called again the airline call center and explained the situation. At this point, I was pretty sure we were missing the flight but at this point I just wanted to get A flight and get out of that situation.

What proceeded was an epic battle between my flat mate and the airline. I could not deal with this anymore and my flat mate was very helpful. It was a battle that lasted more than 1h! At first, the airline didn’t even want to reimburse us for the flight we didn’t want to book. After 1h (One goddamn hour!) of phone call, the call operator gave way and agreed to give our money back. We were also offered an option to buy a new flight at 16h on that day but still they refused to compensate us for the flight I was going to miss from Brussels to Lulea because of their error! We finally agreed to do that part later and put a hold on the new tickets (extremely expensive) while we had some time to figure out the situation.

At this point, I thought of calling the airline from the flight from Brussels to Lulea. I knew I was going to miss this flight but didn’t want them to cancel the way back. This was the easiest part of the whole adventure. It took me 5 minutes to change the flight to the next morning, where I would arrive in Lulea at 15h on Monday. I would miss part of the conference, but still arrive on time for my presentation and the welcome reception.

The focus was now on finding a flight that would get to Brussels still on Sunday. While my flat mate was again talking with the faulty airline to try and get us compensation for the losses, I was checking new flights. The options were clear: the flight at 16h or at 20h. For the first option, we could no longer do it online, so we either had to call the airline or to go to the counter. The first option was to call and see if it was possible to buy the tickets. There was a lot of people trying to get tickets at the counter, so this would save time. The nice operator advised us to go to the counter though, as it would be easier for everyone. Given the previous experience with buying tickets via phone call, I agreed.

We went to counter now with the sole purpose of buying a ticket as fast as possible! We had now 2h until the 16h flight, so we wanted to get over with it fast. We first tried to go straight to the counter, avoiding the queue, but the person at the counter sent us to the back of the line, although we explained our situation and it was relatively urgent! No problem, we go to the back of the line and ask people kindly if we can go ahead because or situation is urgent. To our amazement, the first person we asked refused to do it. Apparently, they had also lost a flight and were trying to get to Madeira that day for a congress and I could not give a damn to their problem! Why on earth would they think I’m interested in their problem while I’m already stressed out with mine? Not to seem selfish, but a simple no would’ve sufficed.

With all of this, we got to a counter where we were offered an unreasonable price for the 16h flight. We were then advised to try and book the other option online, as the price was cheaper. Ten minutes later, we had our tickets through the online system! Finally, our situation was solved! By the time this finished, it was already 15h in the afternoon. A 10 minutes delay from the first flight (which was not even a delay, just selfish thinking of the airline) that cost us some hairs and a whole day of our lives. The rest of the day we stayed in the restauration area (the original scene of the crime) and boarded the flight at 20h. For this one, we could’ve actually made the same delay as earlier that day and still get there on time… We finally got home in Leuven at 1h.

The next day I had to get up at 6h30 to go again to the airport and catch the flight to Lulea. This time everything went fine and I got to the conference venue at 16h30, still in time to see 3 presentations that day. A funny remark: when I got to the conference venue, I had the luggage and coat that I could drop off at the cloak hangers. The person there was confused as I was trying to leave my belongings there. Are you sure? We are closing in 2 hours. (they asked) Little did they know what torments I had to go through to get there at that time.