Thursday, December 27, 2007

A logistical nightmare

Friday, December 21st. Another logistical nightmare for Oslo Airport Gardermoen. Days like these, and believe you me, there have been a few, shows that the largest Norwegian hub lack the most basic skills needed to manage large numbers of travelers. For those of you visiting Norway, you are well advised to come to the Oslo airport well ahead of time, as so much can go wrong here.

Logistics 1 - queuing up, for what?

For a experienced traveler, it is ironic, that Oslo airport has not learned how to deal with the consequences of peak travel days, as how to deal with a large crowd of people arriving at the same time, for instance.

I have experienced these days before and arrived, three hours ahead of time believing that I would be in some kind of control. No such luck! As I left the half empty train, and took the escalator up two floors to departure I was left speechless. In front of me was an enormous crowd of people.

Whereas other airports would have tried to organize this crowd into long lines waiting to get some kind of service, here we were faced with pure anarchy. As we were clearly heading for the Scandinavian airline counter, I guessed, quite correctly that this airline was the root of the problem. But what were we waiting for. Check-in, I presumed. In that case it would be Christmas Eve when I would get to the counter and I had no time for that.

Logistics 2 - self service check-in, the worst choice

I used what I had of logic thinking and assumed that self-service check-in would be the most rational way to handle the chaos. If you have the same logic under similar conditions and you happen to be at Oslo Airport, leave the logic!! I managed to get into some kind of line to the self-service check in, punch in my reference number, get the only seat left on my flight, and to stick the proper tags on to my suitcase.

And then I expected everything to go smoothly. How foolish of me! As I tried to find the line to the baggage drop, I found that it started far behind me, 200 yards further towards the entrance. As I joined the end of the line, I met fellow travelers with far less time than I, that had been standing in different lines for hours, and a few of them experienced that their airplanes left as they were standing in line.

The line we were standing in was progressing painfully slow, and there were two reasons for that. 1 - there were no staff to organize the line, so there were several lines merging into one at the point of the baggage drop. 2 - the luggage handling system was out of order. This vital piece of information came via a text message to one of the passengers that were late to her plan, to Las Palmas.

Logistics 3 - Information! Information! Information!

As we were standing in line we merged into a community of people sharing a common destiny. We were all in a hurry - desperate to get away for Christmas. The lack of information spun into rumors hearsay. One of my fellow travelers "heard" from one of the ground staff that there were no refund for those that would miss their plane, whatever circumstances. I would never settle for such nonsense, but I know that Scandinavian would clearly run away from their obligations, blaming AVINOR - the Norwegian Airport Authority for the trouble. There were no information on whether flights would leave or were cancelled, as air traffic had been severely disrupted by freezing fog that same morning. The vital information was never given, and I think many people missed their plane that day, due to the lack of communication.

Logistics 4 - reaching baggage drop, coincidentally

Suddenly out of our blue came our rescuing angel, a man dressed in blue with Scandinavian on, informing us that a new baggage drop had been opened - 100 yards towards the entrance. Those of us in a hurry ran down and managed to drop our luggage, slip smoothly through the security into the departure hall - and hey. My plane was on time. Santa Clause - here I come.

Logistics 5 - delayed, due to the lack of ground staff!!!!

Hooray!! At 9.40 AM, the monitor showed BOARDING, and I took my boarding card and we were all waiting in line. There were no one there, and this apparent lack of staff soon got peculiar. A handsome flight officer came up with a "what the hell is going on" look on his face.

After another 20 minutes the airline crew came up to announce that they were ready, but there were no one to get us on board. That was a completely new twist. As Jo Kobro, the Director of Communications proudly announced that the fog was vanishing and that planes once more were allowed to leave, we waited for the ground staff to come. As the monitor changed from BOARDING to GO TO GATE, we knew we were in for the long haul, and eventually 40 minutes after the scheduled departure ONE man came and got us on board.

I count my blessings, I arrived in time for Christmas.

Blessing number 1: I arrived at Evenes Airport an hour delayed and the bus that would take us to Sortland in Vesterålen waited. Many passengers were severely delayed or lost their plane that day. Many had to take bus as an alternative transport for distances up to 750 kilometers, as long distance flights to the North of Norway were given priority.

Blessing number 2: I got my luggage, many did not. The mess at Oslo Airport meant that some travellers arrived without clothing or Christmas presents. I got my Carlton suitcase with the purple ribbon just after arrival, and the Santa Clause from Oslo had something to leave under the Christmas tree.

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