“Mr. Long? So sorry to trouble you at this hour, but your partner’s just called and he says he’s stuck inside an elevator at the airport.” That was my extremely unlikely wake up call just a few days ago, a conversation that still feels as if it was plucked from a dream or, better said, a nightmare. But that simple introduction was just the start to what would be a very complicated and difficult travel day.
I was in Helsinki to attend a conference and since my 40th birthday abutted the dates, I thought it’d be a great idea to celebrate by visiting a couple of new cities alongside my partner. He loved the idea, so I cashed out some air miles and booked his flights. On the agenda were a couple of days in Helsinki and then a couple of days in Sweden. It’d be a quick trip for him, but we both knew that it’d be an enjoyable one and turns out we were right. It was a fun and different way to usher in a new decade of life and speaks to one of our favorite travel experiences – visiting new cities in Europe. Because the conference hosts covered my airfare, we were on separate flights and on the day of departure his flight left a few hours before mine. Although I felt guilty, I decided not to ride into the airport with him so I could get a few more hours of sleep. This may have been a very fateful decision.
It was 4:30am when he arrived to the Stockholm Arlanda Airport, barely half awake he told the cab driver his airline and got out when they arrived to the terminal. Unfortunately, the cabbie was wrong and instead of the terminal where KLM was located, he was in an entirely wrong part of the airport. Luckily Arlanda is somewhat easy to get around, so he hopped into the elevator that promised to be the easiest way to Terminal 2 and didn’t think any more about it as the doors closed. The problem is that they didn’t reopen for nearly an hour and a half.
Most frequent travelers would agree that arriving at 4:30am for a 6:30am flight is more than enough time to check in and get through security, unless of course you get stuck in an elevator. With the sides shaking and the elevator itself dropping a few inches every now and then, my partner frantically pressed the Help button and waited for help. The voice on the other end said they’d look into it and all my partner could do was to wait. And wait and wait some more. Many phone calls later, including frantic ones made to me and everyone else he could think of, still nothing was being done. Getting stuck in an elevator is bad enough, but the added stress of missing a flight is enough to drive anyone bonkers. Not only that, but many people are claustrophobic and the overall lack of concern for my partner’s well being by the airport authorities during this crisis is shocking to me. This could have been a medical emergency for many people; we’re just fortunate that wasn’t the case for us.
Eventually my partner was rescued after a terrifying 75-minute ordeal, but he had missed his flight and in the process he also missed his connecting flight back home. It’s a terrible feeling to know immediately that your well-planned travel itinerary was destroyed in one fell swoop. And it’s even more bitter to understand that it’s no fault of your own. His airline, KLM, though did everything they could to help him out. They did find an alternate way home, but it added 9 hours to his travel day. Instead of arriving back home at 3pm, it was midnight before he finally touched down in Washington, DC. He had also paid for premium seats on his original flights and he lost those, and the money paid for them, on the new flights. Add in the stress and extra money spent throughout the course of the day, and stepping into that elevator had become a very costly affair. It was also intensely stressful and gut wrenching in every way imaginable.
Since he had some unexpected free time in the Stockholm Arlanda Airport, he decided to pursue the matter with airport authorities. Immediately they were defensive, a little too defensive, and right away washed their hands of the whole ordeal by saying they didn’t actually own the elevator. It sounds strange, but the elevator my partner had used was actually owned by Arlanda Express, the company that handles transfers from the airport. Even though the elevator is located in the airport and clearly had a sign saying it was how to reach the other terminal, they maintain it’s not their elevator. The airport official went on to say that they didn’t have any record of an elevator problem because no one had called their office. Implying to a stressed out and angry traveler that they’re lying probably wasn’t the best move, but my partner to his great credit kept his cool and said he had used the Help button but that the airport office wasn’t open at the time. It was a standoff, and my partner walked away with nothing except for a meal voucher.
Who helped and who didn’t
My partner was booked with KLM and they mostly were great during this ordeal. They booked him onto another flight with no issues or extra fees. However, they also said that the upgrades he had purchased would be honored and that they had booked him in the comparable seats on his new flights with Delta. Turns out this never happened and he was stuck in horrible seats on all his flights. But the real villain here is Arlanda Airport. Even if what they say is true and they don’t own the elevator, they are ultimately responsible for everything that happens in their facility. They lacked the necessary means to alert emergency services from the elevator and they lacked the staff to assist in the emergency. What was worse though in my opinion was how they handled it. Recognizing a bad situation, they should have gone above and beyond to help out my partner, whether or not they felt culpable. Instead, they implied he was a liar. Not great customer service in my honest opinion.
My partner ultimately blames himself. He got off at the wrong terminal and he chose to use the elevator. We both learned a lot from this experience, including being as aware as possible during all stages of the travel experience and to always expect the unexpected. His trip to Scandinavia was very short and I didn’t think he’d need travel insurance, so I didn’t take out a policy. I should’ve obviously as that’s the entire point of travel insurance, to protect us when we least expect it. The experience was not a positive one and we’re still both angry about it, but we’ll live. But it goes on to show just how unpredictable travel can be. Was this the worst thing in the world to have happen? No, but it WAS his single worst travel day ever, and he’s traveled extensively around the world. It was a hard and miserable experience to live through and he’s still exhausted by the more than 24 hours he spent traveling. It was also unnecessary. Had the airport been more attentive to the emergency, which could easily have become a major medical emergency, I wouldn’t be writing this post at all. But it’s all just a part of the travel experience. Most of it is great, but when things go bad, they go very bad.