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Ambrose Chu

The following is a guest post by twice monsooner Ambrose Chu, who graciously asked if he could contribute to the Monsoon Diaries adventures.

Ambrose first discovered us when googling how to obtain a tourist visa for Iran. He reached out and met me in NYC to see if we were the real deal. Two trips later, Ambrose has proven himself a dedicated monsooner and is now one of our guest contributors. Here is his story.

PARIS 9:30 AM – I arrived in Paris – CDG after a 7 hour flight from Boston. After clearing immigration, and as I was switching terminals, I felt pretty excited. I was looking forward to my 11:00 AM connecting flight to Copenhagen, and meeting up with the rest of the group. It was my first trip with The Monsoon Diaries and Map & Move. By the time I arrived at the terminal for my connecting flight, I checked the departures screen to check on my flight status. I saw my flight number, Scandinavian Airlines Flight 566, and next to my flight number were the dreaded words in red that I did not want to see for any flight that I have been on.

“CANCELLED”

My heart started to sink a little bit once I saw the status.

This was the second time in my life I experienced a cancelled flight. The first experience I had with a flight cancellation was when I was in university on Spring break in New Orleans. Our US Airways flight to Boston with a group of eight got cancelled due to a snowstorm. Since there were no flights to Boston for the next few days, and some of the people in my group wanted to get back to Boston in time for classes, we took a Greyhound bus, switching and making stops in Jackson, Birmingham, Atlanta, DC, and New York over a gritty period of two days. It was the worst ending to one of the best Spring breaks I ever had. I was hoping that I would not relive a similar experience in Europe.

I rushed over to the Scandinavian Airlines check-in desk, asking for an explanation on why my flight was cancelled, and they said,

“Technical problem, you have to go to the Alyzia desk to rebook your flight,”

Alyzia is a French airport ground services company that helps passengers rebook flights and provides assistance in other airport-related matters. When I got to the desk, I saw a crowd of 50+ people who were supposed to be on my flight standing in line, overwhelming only 2-3 Alyzia desk agents. What made the situation even worse was that my phone ran out of battery life, severely limiting my communication options. During my wait in line, I spoke with various passengers that included a Russian girl on her way home to Moscow via Copenhagen, a Danish couple returning home from Sri Lanka and the Maldives, and an elderly Australian lady who was going on a cruise tour with her husband. I tried to stay positive, hoping for an answer. One of the desk agents began to collect boarding passes from all the passengers on that scheduled flight.

1:00 PM – Had everything gone right, I would have made a rendezvous with the others in Copenhagen. Instead, I was still stranded in Paris, waiting in line and my phone was dead. Talking with the elderly Australian lady from Brisbane about amazing memories of my November 2014 trip to Australia was the only bright moment. I was hearing arguing between the passengers and the desk agents in English and French. Then, it was finally my turn. I asked if there was any way for me to get to Copenhagen no later than tonight. The desk agents said that they could book me to a connecting flight but I would have to wait around for an update. I couldn’t use my messaging apps to contact my friends and family. Fortunately, I had a small tablet, and had to use email and Facebook to communicate until I charged my phone.

2:30 PM – My phone was still dead and there were no electrical outlets available. Then, I re-checked my email and I received a message from the airline that I was rebooked for a 3:35 PM Air France/Scandinavian Airlines flight, with a 2-hour layover in Venice, meaning that I would arrive in Copenhagen after 10:00 PM. I double checked with the Alyzia desk agents to confirm if I was rebooked, and they said yes. Had I not checked my email, I could have missed that flight and been stranded even longer. I decided to take this flight because I could not risk waiting and losing more time in Paris. Since my flight to Venice was in a different terminal, I only had a 30-minute window to get to the other terminal and go through security again. I ran as fast as I could to the airport transfer shuttle. In 10 minutes, I arrived at the Air France terminal.

The Flight to Venice – A Chinese lady sat next to me. She asked if I could speak Mandarin Chinese, I said I could speak a little, and I asked where in China she was from. She lives in Shenzhen, a city in the Guangdong province bordering Hong Kong. I asked if she can speak Cantonese, the language that is predominantly spoken in the Guangdong province, Hong Kong and Macau. She said she can speak very fluently but is originally from Sichuan. We talked in Cantonese, Mandarin, and English about traveling, Europe, and spicy food. It was a pretty good exercise for my brain to be speaking several languages within the past several hours. We said our goodbyes once we landed. If I had to describe her, the best words are probably 風韻猶存 (feng yun you cun in Mandarin Chinese), which loosely means that her beautiful charm is still there despite the years passed.

VENICE 5:45 PM – It was 34 degrees Celsius in Venice when I landed. I thought about maybe taking a quick trip to visit Venice for an hour, but it was too hot outside, and I could have missed my flight. I had to wait in a long line to pick up another boarding pass for my flight to Copenhagen because the Air France counter back in Paris could not print it and it was not a codeshare flight. During my wait, I continued to charge my phone, and after several minutes, I was able to bring it back to life again. I caught up with my messages. I had a conversation with a Danish family who were traveling back from a holiday in Italy and the father and the grandfather both told me about a dish called “smørrebrød”. By that time, my morale and hopes have faltered, knowing that I might have missed out a lot of the fun stuff in Copenhagen, but I just waited and began to meditate.

The flight to Copenhagen – A Swedish lady and her daughter sat next to me. They told me that they were returning from Croatia because they were visiting the daughter’s father. She also told me that she used to work for Scandinavian Airlines, and had said to me that recently the airline had some “non-regular ad hoc maintenance” for their planes, and said it could have been the reason why my initial flight was cancelled. I also learned some Swedish. If there was a vivid memory of her, it’s her kindness and she looked lovely.

COPENHAGEN 10:00 PM – I messaged Calvin once I got a wifi connection on my phone. I then tried to get to the hostel as soon as possible. By that time, it was already past 10:00 PM, and it was dark. The trains were not available, so I ended up getting a bus ticket. By that time, I was really disappointed that I lost a whole afternoon and evening in Copenhagen. After getting off at a bus stop, and walking through 50 meters of some dark side streets, I finally arrived at the hostel.

What was the first thing I did after I arrived at the hostel in Copenhagen? After a somewhat awkward meeting of my roommates for the next couple nights, I went out to a dive bar and partied with the few people that would eventually become my newest friends.

The Aftermath – Here’s what happened in numbers:

  • I lost 9 hours during my ordeal.
  • The people I spoke with during my journey represented 6 countries: Australia, China, Denmark, Sweden, France and Russia.
  • I spoke 5 languages in various degrees: English, French, Mandarin, Cantonese and a little Italian.
  • I passed through 4 airports: BOS, CDG, VCE, and CPH
  • I flew on 3 airlines on 3 major airline alliances: American (OneWorld), Air France (SkyTeam), Scandinavian Airlines (Star Alliance)

A day later, after telling everyone on the trip what happened, one of my roommates at the hostel, who happened to be quite knowledgeable about airlines, (and an even stranger coincidence: he happened to be a fellow alumnus of my university, Boston University) told me that I would have been entitled to compensation, based on European Union regulations. He showed me this link.

Basically, if your flight gets cancelled and/or delayed, you can use this complaint form from this website, and depending on the distance flown from an EU country, you can get some sort of compensation. In my case, I could get as much as €400 EUR.

August 21, 2015 – It’s been two days since I returned from my trip. I filed my complaint to Scandinavian Airlines on their customer complaints section of their website using the following:

  • The receipt for my original flight from Paris to Copenhagen.
  • The boarding passes for my flights from Paris to Venice, and Venice to Copenhagen.
  • The EU passenger rights complaint form.

I also wrote to them a paragraph what happened, and to summarize what I said:

“Was supposed to arrive in Copenhagen… at 12:55 PM, August 8, 2015, instead arrived in Copenhagen after 22:00. Lost more than nine hours trying to get from Paris to Copenhagen due to cancelled flight by connecting through Venice… No one told me about my rebooked flight, I had to check my email. SAS staff was very unclear on why the flight was cancelled and had no clear plan for the passengers on that flight, leading to complaints and a frenetic atmosphere… I was supposed to be at an engagement in Copenhagen, and I missed a significant portion of my engagement due to the cancellation… What the airline had done for me on that day is considered very unacceptable, and have made me lost a lot of confidence in SAS as an airline. Please address this complaint in a timely manner. Thank you.”

November 12, 2015 – More than two months after I filed my complaint, Scandinavian Airlines responded. It definitely was not a timely manner, but they said the following:

“We are also very sorry to hear about the trouble with your journey. We extend our apologies to you for this unfortunate experience…You also have the right to… compensation. In this case that is EUR400.”

They also asked for my bank account information, since they were going to wire the money to me. I consented, and asked if they would also reimburse me for the wire transfer fees.

November 24, 2015 – No response from Scandinavian Airlines. I emailed them if there were any updates.

November 25, 2015 – Scandinavian Airlines responded by saying:

“We have today made an SAS-transaction to you with the amount of 453USD. It will take max 14 days until the money is available on your account.”

I was pretty happy to see this, because $453 minus the $16 wire fee would be $437, and the price I paid for my flight from Paris to Copenhagen and the return flight from Helsinki to Paris was $408. So it was more than a full refund for my entire flight.

December 1, 2015 – I finally saw the compensation on my bank account. I was pleased that it was there, but still disappointed in Scandinavian Airlines in terms of cancellations and compensation. I don’t think I will ever fly with this airline again, and if so, most likely not from Paris.

Conclusion – If I had to compare my two experiences with cancelled flights, I would say this: My journey from New Orleans to Boston was the worst ending to the best Spring break that I had in my life. My journey from Paris to Copenhagen was the worst beginning to one of the best European trips in my life. The trip got better and better as I began to get know everyone I was traveling with in addition to the amazing sightseeing. My initial first impressions of everyone I met also changed within a few days, some of the changes were extremely dramatic and more positive as the days went on. It also marked the beginning of some of my best travel memories of 2015. It also felt really good that I actually got repaid for the flight from Paris to Copenhagen and the return flight from Helsinki.