Friday, August 19, 2011

Attempting to Leave Christchurch

On the morning of our flight, there was a slight dusting of snow.  Nothing serious enough to stay on the ground.  I made a comment to Andrew that I hoped this wouldn’t affect our flight.  He told me not to worry as our flight wasn’t for another 14 hours.  We dropped off the car as scheduled and settled in for our long wait.  The airport isn’t very big and you only get 30 minutes of free wi-fi so we had to entertain ourselves with our books and the 3 or 4 restaurants we could eat at, and the 1 newsstand.   Late in the afternoon we noticed it had started snowing but we weren’t really concerned as all the flights were taking off as per schedule so there was no reason for ours to be delayed.  By 11pm the snow coming down looked serious but we had already checked in at that point and were already waiting to board the plane.  We boarded the plane as per schedule and waited to take off.  And waited.  And waited some more.  Out the window the snow was a full snow storm and I was anxious to see the de-icing machines as the wings were completely covered in snow.  Again Andrew told me not to worry.  Around 30 minutes after we were supposed to have taken off the captain announced they were waiting for a decision on whether or not our plane needed to be de-iced.  We could see people walking around and inspecting the wings.  We saw 2 other planes leave so we didn’t have any cause for concern.  An hour later, the captain came on again and announced we would be getting de-iced but the airport had to remove the snow from the runways and they were waiting for the snow removal machines to arrive in approx 30 minutes and then it would take another hour to clear off the snow.  That meant we would be taking off at 3am.  3 hours later than planned.  Everyone groaned but there was nothing we could do but sit and wait.  I felt bad for a mother who was sitting 2 rows up with a 1 year old boy.  He was not happy just sitting there and was fussy as any 1 year old would be at 1:30 in the morning.  She was obviously trying to get him to fall asleep but with the captain coming on the speaker every so often her efforts were in vain.    Finally around 2:30am she got him to fall asleep.  I had fallen asleep myself on Andrew’s lap as we had an empty seat beside us and one of us could recline.  At 3am the captain came on to tell us the flight has been cancelled due to bad weather (no kidding…the snow was piling up outside) and we had to de-board the aircraft.  They would provide us with more info shortly.  That’s when I felt really bad for the mom with the kid.  She had just gotten him to fall asleep and now she had to wake him up again.  She just looked deflated.

After we de-boarded Andrew and I went to lie down on a couple of sofas we found but half an hour later an announcement came on that our plane was delayed until 12pm the following day and we had to go through immigration again.  Those who lived in Christchurch were urged to go back home and come back again.  Those of us who didn’t, we would be spending a night at the airport.  Unfortunately they didn’t have any blankets to provide to us.  By the time we went through immigration, picked up our luggage and found a place to sit, it was 4:30am.  We got around an hour of sleep as it was freezing (the temperature was turned down at the airport overnight) and it wasn’t very comfortable sleeping in a sitting position.  We figured we would get sleep on the plane.  But we started getting worried in the morning when the snow was still falling and flights all around us were getting cancelled.  At noon we were told our flight was delayed to 5pm.  At 5pm we were told our flight was delayed until the following day.  During this whole time, we weren’t offered any food vouchers or any kind of good will gesture.  We were told we could not be given any accommodation as due to the earthquake and all the flight cancellations they had over the past couple of days, there was a shortage of hotel rooms in Christchurch.

Needless to say people were frustrated.  I found out from someone they were giving our blankets in another part of the airport and I ran to get them as I knew they would be gone quickly.  I grabbed 4 just in case and they came in very handy during the night.  A lady who was on our flight and was sitting beside us had gotten the blankets earlier and some extra pillows so she shared with us.  We found a shower in the handicapped bathroom so in the evening, when the airport was shut down to everyone but us, we made use of it.  That night I had gathered up some stools to make a bed for myself while Andrew slept on the seat of one of the booth chairs.  We were woken up, quite rudely, by airport staff at 4am and told we had to get up as the airport was now open and operating.  The cleaning lady was furious as everyone had made up some kind of makeshift bed during the night from chairs, stools and anything else they could find, and she walked around telling anyone who would listen it would take her all day to get it back to the way it was.  At this point I had no sympathy to share as Andrew and I would be spending a total of 50 hours in the airport and I didn’t know what she thought the options were for the people who were stuck there.

In the morning the sun was shining and we were all excited as it would melt the snow.  But we were worried again as all the morning flights were cancelled again.  The sun just wasn’t working fast enough to melt the ice.  Overall the amount of snow that fell wasn’t more than 2-3cm, and we knew in Toronto the airport wouldn’t even consider cancelling any flights for this small amount of snow, but apparently Christchurch is not ready for any kind of snow.   Andrew talked to a couple of police officers and they told him they never get snow so I guess it’s understandable they don’t have the proper equipment to clear it.  It was still frustrating for us though.  Luckily, our flight was at 12pm so the sun did its job and melted the snow on the runways and we were finally able to take off.  Everyone clapped and cheered as soon as the tires left the ground.

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