This trip was going well. Wonderfully well. Sure there were hiccups here and there but, for the most part, I enjoyed every minute (even the 5 hour baking class). Today is where it all fell apart.
I’ll start with the great start to my day. We woke up around 8 AM ready to get this show on the road. We planned on arriving the airport a few hours early since navigating in a city that doesn’t have much signage in English had proven quarrelsome. Before hopping on the metro to CDG International, we stopped by our favorite artisan bakery (folks here eat baguettes as an entire meal and I see why. The bread is so fresh!) and then slid by the supermarket to squeeze our own orange juice. By 9:40, we were CDG bound.
We got to the airport at 10:50, pre-weighed our bags to figure our which clothes we needed to layer on us, and, once we reached our weight requirement, we checked in for what would prove to be the worst flight to never happen. The lady who checked us in said we hadn’t been assigned a gate yet but that we would be between gates 60 and 68. Oh yeah, and our flight had been pushed from 12:50 to 3:30 but that our connection flight out of Iceland wouldn’t leave without the 70 WOW air passengers leaving from Paris. No big deal. That happens all the time, right? So we headed to our gate area.
Now, I have seen flights get pushed back but I can’t recall a time when a delayed flight got pushed up after delay. So, when WOW air called those of us flying to BWI to the counter at gate 63, I thought it to be odd. But, at 1:30, they had figured out a solution to get us to Baltimore. They took care of our flights via British Airways and we just needed to check in at that counter and hop on the 4:40 flight to Baltimore via London. Cool. Great! I don’t care who I fly with as long as we get there safely. So a big group of around half the Baltimore bound customers lead ourselves through the airport to British Airways. This is one of the few times I didn’t let my natural inclination to be a leader take over because I knew something was fishy and I didn’t want to appear to have any idea of what exactly was going on. So Desirée and I followed the crowd.
On this blog, I try not to discuss racial bias unless it pertains to professional development only because this is not the venue for that but, since I am giving you all details on the trip and what made this particular day exasperating, I must touch on this point. As we were walking in a group of 40-ish folks, I was stopped randomly by a French police officer. She demanded to see my passport and ask where I was going and where I was coming from. I began to ask her why I was stopped when 3 dozen white travelers in my group had just passed her with ease. Thankfully my wife squeezed my hand and gave me a look that said “Not the time.” So I answered the officer’s questions and went on my way. This wasn’t the first time I had been treated differently because of my skin and it wouldn’t be the last time. I say that with certainty because, 20 minutes later, another officer did the same thing, allowing the rest of the passengers to pass him. At this point, he was speaking French and I played dumb, told him I didn’t understand him, and kept it moving. I said to Desirée, “They must have a problem with black people here too.” But, in a nation where my rights are limited as well as one that is on edge because of recent attacks, biting my tongue was a humbling but wise decision.
So it’s 2:20 and we finally make it to British Airways to check in. I’m near the front of the line and I keep hearing “WOW air has not made any reservations for you all but we will take your name.” I received the same comforting statement, which did nothing to actually comfort me. These British Airways folks had nothing to do with the delay but I needed someone to be a part of the solution. Right then, a familiar face from the WOW air gate upstairs came and said the company was working on resolving the issue.
A rumor began floating around the group that this was the result of a WOW air strike. After looking it up, I found that the issue was an airport strike in Iceland where our connection flight was. Then we find out that the familiar face from the WOW air gate isn’t even a WOW air employee. He works customer service for the airport. So we are talking to the middleman. One again, not comforting.
By 6:00 PM, the customer service rep was saying WOW air was working on getting us all hotel rooms and dinner for the night because we would not be flying out. It took 3 hours to get us all on busses and to the hotel. Once we arrived, we checked in, ate downstairs at the buffet (the airline was smart in restricting our drink menu to beer, wine, juice, and water because I was about to order the MOST expensive whiskey behind the bar and make it a double), and retired to our room. I said it on Snapchat tonight and I’ll write it here again for posterity:
In business, undesirable situations will happen. Customer service is all about how you handle those situations.
WOW air could not control the airport strike but we should not have been waiting at the airport for 11 hours. When they knew the issue was unresolvable that business day, they should have placed us on direct flights or, at worst, put us in a hotel ASAP. I am still in Europe and, honestly, I need to be home to visit with my aunt who is ill. I pray that tomorrow brings better luck.