My husband thinks Finns are really unfriendly. When I first met him, he would never hold doors open for me (even when I was following right behind him) and would tell me stories about how people in Finland would lie dying on the streets from stabbings and people would just walk right on by without helping them. Everytime I’ve been in Finland people seem to confirm this. When we took a bus from the airport to the train station when Alpha was 3 months old, the driver didn’t bother getting out to help with the luggage or anything. We had no seats on the train and had to stand the whole way without anyone offering a seat.
But this last time I flew through Helsinki to Germany, I ended up stuck at the airport for 7 hours with both kids due to a snowstorm in Sweden. Ironically, when we first landed, I was worried because I only had a one hour layover, during which I had to pick up my luggage, recheck it, go through security, get the kids to the bathroom and, hopefully, get them something to eat as well. So I rushed through everything and barely noticed a line at the SAS service windows. I heard a group of American and Australian business man mentioning how those people were still trying to figure out what to do about their flights to Stockholm. But I figured it didn’t involve me. When I checked in the tickets I printed informed me that we were on standby and our seats would be assigned to us at the gate. “Standby? I can’t miss this flight!” We ran through5security quickly and were at our gate with 20 minutes to go. I pat myself on the back and we sat there, waiting for boarding. And we waited. I noticed a crowd gathering around the departures screen and headed over to glance at it, but I didn’t see anything different other than the fact that the flight was on time. Then the gate changSled from 13 to 13A. So all the waiting passengers went from the left side of the tv screen to the right side and kept waiting.
After it was finally clear to everyone our flight would NOT be leaving at 14:15, the screen finally updated and announced it would be leaving at 15:00. It was 14:45. We waited. Then the gate number disappeared and the departure time changed to 15:30 and the crowd scattered to find food. We went with them. After we ate, I let the kids play for a while at the playplaces they have scattered throughout the airport and we headed back around 15:20. No new announcements. Our gate number was gone, as well. I was beginning to regret taking a big blue duffel to hold spare clothes and our winter coats because it was becoming increasingly difficult to manage a restless Beta, her backpack, my backpack, the big blue bag and keep Alpha with us. We had left the baggage cart at the security check and since we were constantly told we would be going on board shortly I found no reason to get another one.
Needless to say, we didn’t board. Alpha said he needed to use the bathroom so we headed over there where a nice English woman offered to watch our baggage while I took the kids to the bathroom and then watch them while I went. She was also on our flight to Stockholm on her way back to England, where she had two kids the same age as mine waiting. She told me she was really hoping she managed to make it to Stockholm that way she’d be a bit closer to home, but she knew that she wouldn’t make it to England since her flight to Heathrow from Stockholm had already been cancelled. This alarmed me. Was the storm that bad? I texted my husband. Snow and 33 mile per hour wind. I sighed and we settled in to wait a bit longer. I got out the stuffed animals I bought for the kids that they could color on and for a while they did. Then Malla started coloring on herself and the floor and the walls and Haakon started immitating her. I packed them back up and we headed back to the play area. After a while I heard an announcement regarding our flight and we headed back to the gate. It 16:30 at this point and apparently we were going to get to board! I got in line and the English lady, Julie she told me her name was, told me that if I needed any help to just call for her and she’d help me out. We would be riding a bus to the plane (boooooo) so I unpacked our winter stuff and got everyone dressed. Then I heard an announcement only in Finnish calling us to the counter at gate 13a. The funny thing about having a Finnish name is that all the Finns first address me in Finnish and only translate when they see my confused looks. Thanks to living with my husband, I’ve absorbed quite a bit, but I’m not fluent and my speaking is limited to “excuse me,” “thank you,” and “I don’t speak Finnish.” I can say a few other words too, but my grammar is lacking. I don’t think I should make the Finns suffer my bad Finnish.
The woman at the counter assigned our seats, right in the front row (yay!) and was apparently also in the process of informing other passengers in Swedish and Finnish that they weren’t going to have seats on this flight. “Not everyone’s going to make it on board,” the second woman explained to some other people who were waiting at the counter. The first woman advised us to wait and get on the bus last so we wouldn’t be stuck waiting on a cold bus for a long time and told me to go sit down. I glanced over at the few seats, all of which were occupied and said I would just stand. She laughed and said, “I’m sure there are a few gentlemen over there!” Hearing this, a man travelling with his wife stood up and offered me his seat, so I gladly sat down. And we waited until the line was mostly gone before we joined it and got on the bus. Where we waited. A few more stragglers got on after us. And then we waited some more. And some more. Alpha started to complain. “Die Tuer ist auf! Ich mache die Tuer zu.” (The door is open. I’m shutting the door.) I told him no and we kept waiting. Then finally we drove off and far away to where our lonely little plane was waiting. We got on board as quickly as we could, hoping to hurry our take off. But once on board and in our seats–next to a business man or bureaucrat heading to Brussels–nothing happened. We waited a while, buckled everyone in and then unbuckled them. Beta wanted to nurse and kicked the business man next to us a few times. This flight was not going to be fun.
Then they announced that while we were cleared for take off, Stockholm had only cleared one runway so there was quite a long wait before we would be able to fly there. We’d have to get in line and our turn was in 90 minutes. “90 minutes? I’m not waiting here 90 minutes with my kids!” I checked the time. Our 3 hour layover in Stockholm had shrunk to about an hour before the 90 minute delay. With it, there was no chance we were going to make our flight. I began to feel desperate. A female colleague of the businessman next to me came up to complain about the delay and just as she was mentioning “lasten” (children) I chimed in that there was no way I was going to be able to sit here for 90 minutes in a plane with the kids. She agreed. A young man went up the aisle and handed the flight attended his boarding pass. “I’m getting off,” he announced. “My flight to London is already cancelled. I’m not waiting in the plane that long. Here, have my ticket, I’m getting off.” They discussed matters for a while and then she radioed some people. Finally, she announced to the entire plane that due to the long wait, if anyone wanted to get off they were going to send the bus around and it would take us back to the airport where we can take our chances. I asked a flight attendant if she thought the plane would make it to Stockholm and if connecting flights were also delayed? “Stockholm airport is shut down,” she responded shortly. “They only have one runway open and no planes are leaving.” “Where are you going? Berlin?” My neighbor asked me. “Yes.” He started looking up flights to Berlin on his phone.” “Which airport Berlin?” “Any airport, as long as it’s Berlin.” He found a few possibilities the next day, he told me and I made my decision. I signed up to get off the plane. I’d rather stay in Finland, I figured, where I have relatives to help me out even if they are on the West Coast.
So we got off and headed back into the terminal to get our luggage. Just as I walked into the baggage claim, a man began announcing where we should go to rebook our tickets and I got some of it and, after our luggage finally arrived, we left the baggage claim area and headed back to the same place where I had checked in earlier to join the same line I had seen earlier but ignored. Except this time it had become a long snake:
I started walking past the line before I realized it was the line. I felt like Ralphie in a Christmas Story. This line stretched all the way out to Turku and back and I? Was at the end of it.
There was nothing for it, we needed to rebook our flight and get a hotel room. This was the only place to do that. Another announcement told us that most of the flights out were full through Friday but they would do our best to help us, but to make things go quicker we should really try to rebook via phone. That option wasn’t open to me and my desperation turned to fullblown panic. I started texting everyone I could. My husband came first but he didn’t respond. In desperation, I texted my sister and told her what was up and that she should call my husband and make sure he had seen my texts. I tried contacting my sister-in-law on facebook where she had messaged me earlier. All angles needed to be worked. If one of my in-laws could call and rebook my flight for me, I thought, it would at least save me from having to wait in this long ass line. DH finally got back to me, but informed me he was getting the tires changed so his ability to help at the moment was limited. He got on his phone anyway and started poking around, including calling the company we insured our trip with. They said I had to call them. DH informed them I couldn’t. He called his mom when he got home and they figured my sister-in-law’s-boyfriend-who-lives-in-Helsinki might be able to come and get us and put us up for the night.
Then Alpha needed to use the bathroom. I asked the lady standing behind me if she would watch our luggage and off we went. Afterwards, I saw a SAS employee standing behind one of the check-in counters and decided to ask her if I was standing in the right line since I didn’t even know if my flight had been cancelled or if it was still waiting on the tarmac. She informed that all flights to Stockholm were effectively cancelled and I was definitely in the right line. I sighed and went right back to standing.
A little while lady, another employee approached me and informed me I could move to the side and she would try to get me rebooked on a different flight. Was I flying to Stockholm or somewhere else? Berlin, I told her. She started talking into her walkie-talkie. A little while later she came back and told me we had the last two seats on a I direct flight to Berlin. Inwardly I cheered and she steered us toward the line for hotel bookings. I stood there a while with the kids, who were becoming increasingly unyielding. First Beta spilled the soda I had bought to keep them occupied down her front, which meant I had to change her then and there. I quietly repeated “serenity now and convinced him kleenex would clean things up nicely. Then a lady came out from the rebooking office and offered to hook us up with a hotel. She spoke to us in Finnish first, asking if I needed a hotel and I responded in English yes, we did. She got the kids’ ages and disappeared into the office again. About 10 minutes later she returned with a hotel voucher, flight itinerary and hotel shuttle schedule. It was 7:45 then and the next bus was due at 7:50, so we headed for the bus stop, where two more men helped me load our suitcases into the bus and then unload them. If I listed all the people that helped me deal with my luggage on this trip, it would be a long list, which is something that rather surprised me since no one helped us when my husband was there with us. I think it’s got to be a vulnerable woman thing. Even if, say we had 5 pieces of luggage and were struggling to manage them, if my husband is there people assume everything’s under control and we don’t need help. But if I’m there by myself with 3 pieces of luggage, struggling woman! Help her! In both situations we would need help, but people’s expectations would be different.
At any rate, when we collapsed in our hotel bed after eating a comped meal in the hotel restaurant, I was extremely grateful. I was grateful for all the people who helped me manage the baggage in the airport, all the people who helped get me out of that hellish line–in which I probably would have stood until 10pm at the earliest–and the people who made sure I got on a flight to Berlin before Friday. It seems the more I travel the more I become convinced that 95% of humanity is good and it’s only the 5% you have to watch out for. Most people are going to help you when you need it, even if it means going a bit out of their way. People want to help and, as long as they know how, will.