I have had reservations about posting this post, because it goes against the grain to advertise things I do for others in a public manner. I prefer to do it quietly and without fuss. On the other hand, I am also very upset about what I saw and want to let people know that the News Bulletins are not telling us… and I want my kids to read this one day when they are older so that they will know why we do the things we do as they grow up and why people filter in and out of our home, sometimes under very strange circumstances.
I hope that our example will mean that it will be completely normal for them to carry on this “tradition”.
I was getting rather annoyed that airports are not doing enough to help stranded travellers.
see my posthttp://kiwidutch.wordpress.com/2010/04/16/new-post-65/
Schipol is a massive European hub, there are 90 thousand stranded people in the Netherlands due to volcanic ash clogging up our skies and photo’s on the 6.00 p.m. News of stranded passengers (especially those with young children) sleeping on lino floors and on the baggage belts made my heart break and my blood pressure rise as it was clear that little was being offered to stranded travellers.
I started to dream at night that I was feeding all the poor people on the airport floor … soups, salads and tons of pasta !
Friday night after work, I decided to do something about it and so “Sackville” and I drove the 45 minutes to Schipol Airport ( near Amsterdam) and to ask if anyone wanted a bed here, back home with us.
Sadly many many people were tired and desperate for a bed after a night on the airport floors already BUT too scared to “loose their place” by the check-in desks because when it all opens again it’s a free for all first-come-first-served scramble to rebook tickets.
I had my camera in my pocket as usual, but as we wandered around a fairly deserted airport, people slumped dejectedly in seats looked uncomfortable, others huddled on the lino floor with a jacket maybe their only blanket it was crystal clear that I wouldn’t be taking photos of people’s misery.
Speaking in French and English , (and Dutch with Airport staff) we spoke to quite a few people in the two or more hours we were there. Here is what we heard…
Hotels that would usually charge Euro 80-100 a night have bumped up their prices to Euro 170 a night ( and beyond!) “Supply and demand” being the catchphrase here, Me: I call it the underbelly of Capitalism, that “Capitalizes” on the misfortune and misery of people stuck in a situation beyond their control.
Airlines appear by all accounts to have given many/some passengers one paid night in a hotel ( only if they are travelling on a European Airline, nothing at all, if they are not)) and then left people to their own devices, and a Euro 10 food voucher per person to use within the airport per day for me is a joke. ( Come On!!! Do you know the cost of airport food?!!!) … and in cities such as Amsterdam the hotels have simply booked full, so people can’t get a room even if they would like, so some spent Thursday night in a Hotel, to find that (a) they had no money to extend their stay and mostly (b) that many of the hotels already had other reservations previously booked for subsequent nights anyway so it was a case of ” Sorry no room at the Inn”, Time to go folks…
All of these have returned to the airport simply because they have nowhere else to go.
Back on websites and in the airports themselves, airlines are drip-feeding stranded passengers hourly updates… or limited information (at 8.00 pm in the evening) such as “airport traffic definitely closed until 7.00 a.m. tomorrow morning” … then another few hours later, that rolls over to “ traffic closed until 11.00 a.m. tomorrow morning“ and so forth, so everyone is limbo, getting their hopes up each time, every time…
They are finding this lack of information to be very unsettling, after all, who wants to pay money that they can’t afford to find an alternative route, maybe days out of their way, in countries where they don’t speak the language, when suddenly a few hours it may “appear” that the check- in desks might be opened again?
That’s IF you have the money to plan an alternative route anyway… and IF an overland/ferry possibility exists for the destination you are trying to get to.
That’s forcing people , some with very small children to camp on the floors of the airports, they had no access to TV (at least that we could see when we walked around) and ONLY Friday night when we were there was there an announcement that internet would now be free of charge…(duh! they could have done that far earlier!)
We wanted to bring a family home, but apparently up to 1500 people (many families) are camping in the Transit Area on the other side of Customs Control, and visa problems (or some such.. this bit of info was fuzzy) means that if they leave that area they might not be allowed back though… so naturally we couldn’t go and speak with them, or bring any of them home.
One Frenchman we spoke to had seen TV news somewhere, somehow, but it was in Dutch only and so I went to Dutch airport staff and asked if someone could Pleeeease get hold of a TV set, park it on an English speaking channel ( CNN and BBC 1,2, and BBC world are all standard channels over here) and let stranded people see the News updates.
It was really clear that because of this insulation and isolation, most people we talked to were sure that things might be back normal in a few hours and all were shocked when they found out that the volcano was MORE active and not less in the last 24 hours and expected to be the same or more in the next 24…. and subsequently, 36 etc…
They had no news and No clue!!!
Airport authorities are set up to transfer people from A to B… not to keep them for any length of time, they are giving Burger vouchers and a few sandwiches… ugh. it’s been 4 days now and will probably continue… You think stranded passengers might be looking forward to their next “meal” with joy by now ? methinks not…
Other groups had zero money left, that’s no problem we are not charging for accommodation or food etc, but they had a group too big for us to handle, sorry I can’t deal with 22 people, or in one case approximately 50 people… or others who just had far too much baggage for our small car… so we kept walking and talking to people.
Some spoke no English, German, French or Dutch, so our endeavors with them were truly limited, and we quickly realised that the communication barriers were beyond us in these cases…
A couple with their son, were delighted at the idea, consulted together, Thanked us and then declined, They too were desperate to stay as close to the check-in counter as they could, scared that if a tiny window of opportunity opened and only a few could take it, that they would miss out if they were not on the spot.
We explained how the evening News makes it clear that the chances of any change in the current situation is highly unlikely for a few days at least… No, they think that because airport staff are posting “ 11.00 a.m. tomorrow” that they might be better here close to the check-in desk.
We even offered to being them back to the airport before 11.00 tomorrow, they decline thinking that the queue by the check-in desks will grow too big whilst they are away…
I speak to Airport staff in Dutch… apparently the airline staff are not allowed to say ” we think the airport will still be in all likelihood closed for the next 2-3 days or more…” hence the drip-feeding of information and the false hope of many of the passengers.
Eventually after two hours we found someone to take home…
Sooo, we have had an “Airport Refugee” staying with us this weekend… a British girl, and parents managed to get a channel ferry ticket in Calais, they stay here Friday and Saturday … so I’ve been prepping for a meal for eight and the Sackville Two have been showing her the sights of The Hague (or a little bit of it at least)!
You know, we have been having the best time !
We have made three new friends, learned something new about where they live, exchanged email and snail mail addresses, helped them get on-line to sort out onward travel plans that circumvent the airports, and hopefully shown them that Dutch hospitality is not limited to the dire experience that they have had at the airport.
I know that their lives are not in danger and that there are so many who suffer SO much worse around the world, but these are close to home, almost literally on my doorstep and I felt that I should at least try and do something to help…
I can only stress that IF you have an air-bed, a mattress or a spare couch, can provide an extra meal, and you live anywhere in the world where there may be stranded travellers at this moment, then please consider if it might be possible to take someone in for a night.. even just a bed and then back to the airport, anything is more comfortable than a cold hard airport floor.
Who knows? you might make a new Friend and certainly you will give your guest a more positive perspective of your countries idea of hospitality.
You will truly be a “Local Heart, Global Soul”.
Please at least know that some of them can’t find alternative accommodation, or an alternative route home… they may have run out of money and they will definitely be tired, dirty, lonely and worried, disorientated by the lack of information and if they don’t speak the local language: confused. Most certainly at the very least a warm shower would be greatly appreciated.
People are what this world is about, not stuff, not profit, not commodities. Flesh and blood human beings, that the media show as camping on floors, but not the real information of how uncomfortable it is, how little and how piecemeal their information they are getting, how they had to beg for bottles of water after 12 hours… how little they are being given as how all the commercial companies in this appear (to this outsider at least) to be trying as hard as possible to pass the Buck and not take responsibility for these stranded people.
The group of 50 we spoke to had a British guy who was looking after a group of migrant workers, they spoke next to no English, had no money, had landed in Düsseldorf, where they were told to leave the airport, they had no visa’s or paperwork for Germany, they were bussed to Schipol and after a long bus trip were sleeping on the floors here when we pased by and spoke to a few of them… lots of families with young children in this group. I hear that in Bangkok and Tokyo , and other airports there are similar problems if not worse… Shame on them!
I know that airlines have financial problems, but if you added Euro 1,- to every ticket on every flight around the world and it went by Law into a special fund to provide instant passenger assistance in this sort of situation then surely that would be an option?
Common Sense and Forward Planning… is it so hard?
Certainly no-one in the airline industry wants to to cough up financially.
I’m angry that airports around the world don’t have a “disaster plan” where more is organised, quickly, efficiently and that no one with authority seems to be taking charge and putting words into action to relieve some of the stress of these poor people.
Let’s see how the next days unfold and see what might happens in the next days, …who knows? maybe we will see more guests in the Kiwidutch “hotel”.