I lost a big chunk of travel planning expert credibility with my wife when my wife found herself stranded at London Gatwick last week, after missing her flight connection for Norwegian Airlines to Oakland, California. I was on a plane to Sofia, Bulgaria.
We left each other four hours earlier in Amsterdam. I sent her off packed from Amsterdam train station to Schiphol Airport for her solo flight to London Gatwick on British Airways to catch her Norwegian Airlines flight home to Oakland, California.
Meanwhile, I boarded a bus near Amsterdam Centraal train station to Eindhoven Airport EIN, 80 miles from Amsterdam, to catch a cheap $32 Ryanair nonstop flight to Sofia, Bulgaria for the continuation of European travel on my own for another week.
Amsterdam Centraal train station
“May Miss Flight. What to Do?”
Sitting on the Ryanair flight in Eindhoven, a few minutes before take-off on a 3-hour flight, this message appears on my phone from Kelley.
May Miss Flight. What to Do?
I hoped for the best as my flight took off from Eindhoven, Netherlands to Sofia, Bulgaria.
As an aside, Eindhoven, Netherlands is ranked as one of the world’s top innovative tech centers. I only saw a few buildings and the airport. Most of the space on the freeway route between Amsterdam and Eindhoven was polder country.
No ticket home, no place to stay.
Three hours later on touchdown in Sofia, I power up my phone to see the text:
“No ticket home, no place to stay. I want a divorce, you f**king a**hole.”
A string of texts back and forth commence with an angry woman sitting in an expensive airport pub ordering pints for a couple hours while waiting for me to arrive in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Sofia Airport SOF
My schedule changed from a carefree plan for Saturday evening exploration of Sofia to an urgent solution needed for her travel and work problems, while stuck in London with no hotel, no airline ticket, and no plan to get home to California to work in 48 hours.
My only consolation was the 1,250 miles in physical distance separating me from her wrath at placing her in this predicament.
And the fact that she did not take the airport’s customer service desk rebooking suggestion for a flight out of London Gatwick to San Francisco on Sunday for £1,000.
Step 1: Get a London Gatwick hotel room at Crowne Plaza for her to relax and chill out for the night.
Being Saturday night, I could book a last minute London Gatwick airport hotel room at Crowne Plaza Gatwick for $80 that night.
There was no hope of getting her to California on Saturday afternoon from London Gatwick and placing her on a 90-minute bus to London Heathrow seemed like a better option for Sunday morning. She needed immediately relax in the face of her predicament.
Booking Crowne Plaza was something I could do at the airport on my iPhone app. Researching flight options to get her home seemed like something I would accomplish in far faster time once I was in my Sofia hotel room working on my laptop. There was nothing Saturday night, so I had time to get to my hotel in Sofia and find her ticket home for the next day.
Sofia Airport Metro 1.60 BGN / $0.93 for single ride anywhere on system including airport and city.
I caught the Metro from Sofia Airport and made it to my hotel about 90 minutes later after spending 30 minutes wandering around wet streets of Sofia trying to figure out why my iPhone maps was telling me I was standing at Ramada Sofia when I was in the middle of a large intersection of streets over one mile from my hotel location.
Crowne Plaza London Gatwick
There is airport shuttle service to several London Gatwick Airport hotels in neighboring communities. The bus to Holiday Inn London Gatwick and Crowne Plaza is 3 GBP each way. Need cash for bus.
Kelley made it to her room…
a bed for the night…
a hot shower…
and no view.
Meanwhile, back in Sofia, as dusk settled down into darkness of night, I finally found Ramada Sofia hotel. The tower block building is highly visible from Sofia Central train station. I set up my laptop in a room with a more expansive view.
Step 2 Find an airline ticket to California
Good News/Bad News for AAdvantage miles ride home to Monterey, California
The good news and a sigh of relief came when I saw many options were available for booking a one way economy award ticket using Saver level miles from London Heathrow to San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles and even Monterey at 22,500 AAdvantage miles + $170.
The bad news is no award tickets to Monterey or any Bay Area airports SFO, SJC or OAK had the option of getting her to northern California on Sunday. Overnight transits Sunday night in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Phoenix were all available and she had to plan on missing work Monday.
London LHR – Charlotte CLT – Phoenix PHX – Monterey MRY
AAdvantage award 22,500 miles + $170.56 USD.
I booked her on an afternoon American Airlines flight from London Heathrow to Charlotte, North Carolina.
I opted to send Kelley home to Monterey via Phoenix where she would stay overnight and catch a nonstop flight to Monterey on Monday afternoon. Kelley is night person, so arriving in Phoenix at 11pm and leaving the next afternoon is preferable to her arriving in LAX in the afternoon and flying at 7 or 8 am in the morning.
Step 3: Book a National Express Bus Ticket from London Gatwick to London Heathrow
Kelley had until 9:30am to get to London Gatwick for the National Express 25 GBP (26.50 GBP with booking charges) bus ticket I booked in her name for an 80-minute ride from Gatwick to Heathrow.
Step 4: Book Hyatt Place hotel at Phoenix Airport for Sunday night
Hyatt Place Tempe/Phoenix Airport is a World of Hyatt category 1 hotel at 5,000 points per reward night. That was a great reward value for me to put Kelley in a $150 room Sunday night with complimentary breakfast for her 15 hour overnight layover. Only issue was no hotel airport shuttle service after 11pm, so taxi to hotel, but hotel shuttle service provided back to airport on Monday.
Still looking for Sofia
After a hectic several hours for me too, I headed out to explore Sofia. I ended up only walking a couple blocks to Lion’s Bridge where I purchased a döner kebab at a small cafe and a couple bottles of Staropramen at a Billa market. On the walk back to the hotel I came across a tourist restaurant with Stella Artois on tap for $2.00 a pint and chilled out with a brew inside.
We both had a long day of travel with some stress. Kelley hit 11 on the stress-o-meter in London, while mine dialed down quickly in Sofia, Bulgaria once I saw there were lots of reward tickets available to Monterey with AAdvantage miles.
All is Sort of Well that Ends Well
Within 90 minutes of being in my Sofia hotel room I had Kelley’s travel plans home to Monterey sorted out. There was no more talk of divorce and no more name calling.
The whole travel missed London flight connection set us back an additional $300 for a ticket, hotel and transportation, plus I redeemed 22,500 AAdvantage miles and 5,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points.
Travel emergencies is when I really appreciate holding onto my frequent flyer miles. Most of my flight travel is on paid low fare economy class tickets.
Kelley was relaxing with room service dinner on a Saturday evening around 6pm in the Crowne Plaza London Gatwick. I had booked her National Express bus ticket from LGW to LHR airport for Sunday morning 9:35am with arrival at London Heathrow 10:55am.
Her American Airlines ticket to Monterey was reserved for 22,500 AAdvantage miles + $170 in ticket taxes, due to the high cost of flying out of London on award tickets.
The 1:30pm flight London LHR to Charlotte CLT was reserved with a seat assignment in a 2-seat economy section of the Airbus A330-300. No seat mate booked next to her at time I made reservation. She said she had the section to herself for the flight.
Kelley was relieved to be back in the USA early Sunday evening and 2 hours later she was on a flight to Phoenix, where she stayed overnight. She was impressed by the size of the room at Hyatt Place and thought my Hyatt Gold Passport Diamond status got her an upgrade.
I don’t recall if she has been to a Hyatt Place before. And she did not recall. When I saw her room photos, I told her she did not have an upgrade. Those are standard Hyatt Place rooms.
She arrived home in Monterey Monday afternoon and made it to work Tuesday with only one missed work day.
By Monday afternoon I had walked some 30 miles around the city of Sofia experiencing the cityscape and city parks, while eating, drinking and shopping on the cheap.
Iceland in April?
Kelley is a reluctant traveler. She likes being other places, mostly when it is other places in Europe. She does not like the traveling aspect of travel.
Next month I planned for us to travel to Iceland, Copenhagen and the Baltic countries. She has said several times the past few days since I got back from Europe that she does not want to see another airport for some time. I’ll give her a few more days to recuperate. WOW Iceland might end up being my solo journey in April.
Best Takeaway from the Experience
Plan for at least three or four hours when connecting in London LGW or London LHR with a change of airlines at the same airport.
I usually London as an overnight stay when I fly into the city with one airline and out the next day with a different airline, especially when it involves a change of London airport. That might explain why I was not as familiar with acceptable times for changing airlines at London Gatwick as I probably should be.
We travel and learn from
our my mistakes.