This has definitely been the worst travel experience I have ever had. The trip started a bit past 04.00 in the morning in Klaipėda and ended at about 13.00 the next day. The route was Klaipėda-Riga-Paris-Nantes-Clisson.

In this post I will describe how it happened, give some critique about European passenger rights law, and what I’ve learnt from this hell-trip.

I was going to the Hellfest festival that takes place in Clisson, France (You can make as many puns about it as you please:) ).

Part One: The Hell

As mentioned above, my trip started a bit past 04.00 in the morning when I got up to catch a bus from Klaipėda to Riga. When I arrived to Riga, I found a huge mass of people lining up near AirBaltic desks. It was impossible to distinguish if there was a separate line for luggage drop (I checked in online), and airport officers have assured me that I have to go to the end of that massive line. After standing in there for an hour and getting closer to the desks, I noticed that there in fact was a separate line for luggage drop. Yay?

Passed the security, found my gate… and found that the flight was delayed. At first I didn’t worry, in fact, I was happy that I got some time to get some normal breakfast. I had 2 hours for catching TGV to Nantes anyway. But the flight kept on being delayed more and more and I started to worry. When the plane was finally ready, it was already clear that I won’t make it to the train. I had some really good experiences in similar situations with SAS, so I hoped that I will get a replacement ticket for the train or a refund. As we say in Lithuania, hope is the last to die. We also say that hope is a mother of idiots.

Landed in CDG, got my luggage, went through the maze-like structures out. Found an information desk, asked what I can do about my ticket now, and got an answer that I have to go back to the transit area and find AirBaltic office. Back again. Searching the maze for what I need. Standing in line. Explaining my problem. Getting told that I need to go to another place. Going, searching. Standing in line. Explaining the problem. Getting an answer that they can’t help me. The only thing I can do is saving all the cheques and asking for a refund once all of this is over.

Finding a way out of the maze, going to TGV office to try my luck there. Standing in line. Noticing that it’s not the right one. Going to another one. No, they can’t replace my ticket – I have to buy a new one. I have no time to make to the soonest TGV, but if I hurry, I can make it to the next one which goes from the Montparnasse station. OK. Trying to buy a metro ticket to Montparnasse from a self service machine with no luck. Standing in line. Getting the ticket.

When I got on the underground train, I started studying the maze-like map of the lines to find the best way of getting to Montparnasse. The train was moving slowly and the time was running out, but I still had a slim chance of making it. Got off to change the lines to find out that I can’t do it in this station, although it looked differently on the map. Getting back. Finally getting off at Montparnasse. Late by 10 minutes. It’s already 20.10 in the evening and I clearly won’t reach my final destination today.

Standing in line at the ticket office. Dear Gods, the guy can speak perfect British English! And this time I can replace my ticket for a 10 € fee! Getting the ticket. Now it’s 20.50 and I have 10 minutes to make it to my train. Running. Getting on a wrong train at first. But finally I got on the right one. There are no words to express that feeling of euphoria I had when my trip was finally back on track.

I knew that trains to Clisson are not going anymore at this time of the day. I was both mentally and physically exhausted. So I called my boyfreind who was already in festival, waiting for me, and asked whether he would like to spend a night with me in Nantes. He did, but it also took him some effort organizing a taxi and a group of people to get to Nantes. Also, both of us missed one day of the festival.

We got a room in some ** hotel near the station and next day I finally reached Clisson.

A night in a hotel and extra train ticket has cost me nearly 150 €. For me, it’s big money, as around this amount is my monthly budget of living in Klaipėda.

Part Two:  Rights? What Rights?

Once back to Klaipėda, I once again looked at the brochures about passenger rights (we have a few of those at the Tourist Information Office). It is stated there that a passenger is entitled to a refund of expences they experienced due to the fault of carrier. OK, a letter to AirBaltic I write then!

…and get a reply:

<…> I would like to inform you that the flight on the route Riga-Paris on [date] unfortunately was delayed due to extraordinary circumstances. I can assure you that we did everything possible to speed up departure and ensure timely arrival.

Unfortunately we cannot meet your request to refund your additional expenses; however I once again apologize for inconveniences caused by this irregularity <…>

Wait, what? This time I open a website dedicated for passenger rights. Again, it’s written that I am entitled to a compensation. I open up a document and find this:

(14) As under the Montreal Convention, obligations on operating air carriers should be limited or excluded in cases where an event has been caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken. Such circumstances may, in particular, occur in cases of political instability, meteorological conditions incompatible with the operation of the flight concerned, security risks, unexpected flight safety shortcomings and strikes that affect the operation of an operating air carrier

In other words, these “passenger rights” are just for a show. I honestly can’t think of a situation which couldn’t fit into this definition. “The crew was too lazy to go to work” maybe?

I also find it ridiculous that an unused train ticket couldn’t be replaced/refunded. They wouldn’t lose anything, and a reasonable service fee could be taken should that replacement cost something for the company.

It’s also a pity that all means of transport aren’t integrated into one system. Now, if I was late to a connecting flight, I could expect being put into the next one going to the same destination. But it was a train, so no securities!

Dear EU, you still have a long way to go.

Part Three: Some Good Examples

As mentioned above, I had some good experiences with SAS in similar situations to this.

1. Flying Vilnius-Copenhagen-Aalborg. In Vilnius there was a huge snowstorm so the flight (AirBaltic) was late. Several of us therefore missed the last connecting flight (SAS) to AAL. We all got tickets to a following morning’s flight, and a stay at Hilton’s, dinner and breakfast included, for free.  (To be honest, I don’t know whom I have to thank to for that – but after the latest “adventure”, I can’t believe that it would be AirBaltic)

2. Nearly two years later, same route, very strong wind over Vilnius. SAS flight was cancelled. I got a voucher for lunch; when the second flight was cancelled too (there are only two SAS flights VNO-CPH per day), we got an offer to spend a night in a hotel.

3. The next morning my luggage didn’t make it to AAL together with me. While waiting for it to arrive, I could buy the basic supplies and SAS would refund it.

I find it really weird that SAS bothers to take care of their passengers even in cases of force major (bad weather), when AirBaltic refuses to do so when it’s their fleet that needs fixing. Very inconsistent, I must say.

Part Four: The Lesson

– always be prepared for the worst

– have enough money in case you would have to spend additional 24 hours in an unfamiliar town, or even have to buy a ticket back

– know everything about local transport: fares, places of buying tickets, time required for getting from A to B, etc.

– think about travel insurance, especially if you’re flying with cheap airlines

– avoid big airports

– familiarize yourself with airport plan

– don’t plan – this way you won’t have to worry about not making it on time

– avoid cheap airlines

P.S. When going back to Riga, AirBaltic was late again.

P.P.S. In retrospect, I should have complained about this AirBaltic decision to higher authorities.  But I was too tired of all this story already.