A Travellerspoint blog

May 2013

The Prisoners of Gate A13

Our 2013 trip to Italy starts out on a decidedly wrong foot.

Exhausted. Grimy. Disheveled. On the verge of hallucinating from lack of sleep. That's how we arrived in beautiful Venezia on the afternoon of May 13th, after a miserable 40 hour transit. The best laid plans of mice and men are at the mercy of....US Airways??

Rewind 40 hours.

We're setting off on our first trip since 2011, a 12 night itinerary that will bring us to Venice, Sorrento, and Rome. With a 2 and half hour drive to the airport, we set off earlier than we need to and arrive at Philadelphia International Airport at 2pm, well before the recommended 3 hour window for our 6:35pm flight on US Airways 714.

We're relaxed and prepared. Mrs. Zukini and I have figured out how to pack for two weeks, each using just a 20" carry-on and a small day pack, thereby avoiding the hassle of checking baggage. We stop by Vino Volo for a light lunch and a celebratory glass of wine, then head over to Gate A13.

At 6pm, boarding begins. We've actually paid US Airways a fee for priority boarding, a ridiculous extravagance, but it ensures that there will be room in the overhead bin for our bags. We settle in and wait for take off....and wait. And wait.

The captain comes on the intercom to let us know there's going to be a delay. They have an indicator light in the cockpit that needs a look-see by maintenance. We've seen this sort of thing countless times before...I've seldom been on a US Air flight without some sort of short equipment delay.

Time wears on. The captain informs us that we have the right to leave the plane, but since there's no gate agent available to let us back on, he advises against it.

Finally, we are asked to exit the plane and return to Gate A13. The problem is proving to be difficult to diagnose, and no one is sure when we will be taking off. A flight attendant tells me that we're going to be switched to a plane that is arriving from San Juan as soon as it's cleaned.

At the gate, we're told that we will depart at 8pm. A substantial delay, but still ok.

That departure slips to 10pm. We're told a replacement plane is on the way from Charlotte.

Customers are getting restive. Warm water is distributed, and dinner vouchers are handed out. Unfortunately, all of the restaurants in Terminal A close at 10pm. A restaurant is open in another terminal, but passengers are advised not to leave the gate area as "the situation is fluid and you might be called to board at any time."

Midnight arrives. The plane from Charlotte hasn't arrived....in fact, it hadn't left Charlotte, as it had equipment problems of its own. I learn that our original plane has a crack in some ductwork that part of the air conditioning and air pressurization system, along with a malfunction in the electronic controls for the first officer's seat. We're told that the plane from Charlotte is finally taxiing to the runway, and we should be on our way by 2am.

There are only three working electrical outlets that can be found in the terminal. Passengers are desperately trying to charge their cell phones so that they can contact their hotels and transportation vendors in Venice. We help a couple from Canada contact their hotel using our Skype connection.

When stranded in the terminal, he who controls the power outlets rules the world.

When stranded in the terminal, he who controls the power outlets rules the world.

Snack boxes of turkey jerky and junk food are distributed. Philadelphia Airport brings down several crates of pillows, eyemasks, and emergency blankets, and leaves them in the gate area. The gate attendants make an announcement at Gate A13, but the passengers are scattered all through the terminal, trying to find space to lie down, and most don't hear it.

Irate passengers keep coming up to the podium, demanding answers. The US Airways personnel mock their anger and outrage as soon as their backs are turned, in full view of the other passengers.

At 2am, the plane from Charlotte has arrived. It carries replacement parts for our original equipment. It also has malfunctioning rest rooms, so it can't be used as replacement equipment until it is repaired. We're assured that we'll be in the air by 4am, on either the original plane, or the repaired plane from Charlotte.

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At 4am, we learn that the plane from Charlotte isn't certified for transatlantic flight. We have to wait for the original to be repaired.

At 6am, we're assured the problem on the original plane has been solved, and the maintenance crew is just putting everything back together. A crew is on the way, and we'll be on our merry way by 8am. A supervisor tells me that the 767's being used for these flights are 30 years old and scheduled to be sold off to another airline. How comforting.

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At 8am, they're short a crew member.

At 9am, the remaining crew times out, and the flight is officially cancelled.

Now it's time for 200 miserable people to scramble for a limited number of available seats on alternate flights. Two podiums are open for flight reassignments, but it's taking an average of 20 minutes per person. An emergency re-accommodation phone number is distributed, and those of us with working cell phones try to call that.

We get rebooked, but the flight turns out to be from JFK to Munich to Venice...the problem is, US Airways has no way of getting me from Philadelphia to JFK. We try again, this time pulling a flight from Philadelphia to Newark to Paris to Venice. The problem is, the last leg requires a "paper ticket". How do we get that? "Just see a gate agent".

2 hours and 2 gate agents later, no one has a clue how to get me a "paper ticket". They don't even have ticket printers at the gates. They send me to US Airways Customer Service, in Terminal B.

When I arrive, the customer service is desk is closed, not returning until after my Newark flight is scheduled to leave. A cleaning person helpfully points out one of the personnel, heading to lunch. I run after her, and explain my situation. She sympathizes, but says she has no capability of printing a paper ticket either. The only solution she can suggest is that I leave the security perimeter and visit the check-in desks.

Eventually, I get my paper ticket, (along with a second trip through security screening, including a full body scan AND a pat-down) and I'm also rebooked directly from Philadelphia to Paris, and from there to Venice. My flight leaves at 6:30pm, 24 hours after the original flight.

The flight to Paris does take off on time, although, as the last seats assigned, we're stuck in the row 40 bulkhead seats that don't recline, with the galley on one side of us and the restroom on the other. Sleep? Not a chance.

It's 1pm in the afternoon on Monday, May 13th by the time we finally step off the plane in Venice. It's been 44 hours since we've left our house, with fitful bits of sleep interspersed here and there. US Airways sends an email with an apology and a $300 voucher, good for one year. As if.

Coming up, an abbreviated but wonderful sojourn in Venice.

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Posted by Zukini 03:38 Archived in USA Tagged venice philadelphia us_airways flight_714 cancellation us_air delay flight_delay cancelled phl_to_vce philadelphia_to_venice Comments (0)

Better Late than Never

We arrive in Venice!

overcast 68 °F

We're finally on our way to Venice, via Charles DeGaulle and Air France. After a sleepless 8 hour flight in the non-reclining bulkhead seats sandwiched between the galley and the rest room at the rear of the plane, we arrive in Paris for our short layover. Even though we're in transit, we need to pass through a very disorganized security screening that involved a lot of rummaging through luggage and a pretty intimate and thorough pat-down. We also have to pass through passport control, where we're awarded with a French visa stamp in our passports.

I should note that US Airways did us the final courtesy of giving us the wrong local time when we landed, giving us a time 1 hour earlier than it actually was. Thanks guys! Glad we noticed our watches didn't match the airport clocks, or we would have missed our connection to Venice.

It's our first experience with CDG airport, and it is instantly our least favorite. We're at Terminal 1, a ring design with shops and facilities on the lowest level and departure gates the level above that. It's crowded, with minimal seating, and the shops are staffed with surly clerks who clearly hate their jobs and their customers. Fortunately, our sojourn there is brief, and we're soon on our way to Venice.

Flying over the Alps

Flying over the Alps

Our Air France flight is uneventful, and we arrive at Venice Marco Polo Airport (VCE) a bit late, at about 12:30pm local time. VCE is a breeze, especially without baggage claim to deal with, and we breeze right through arrivals and passport control. We're staying in an apartment rental, so our first order of business is to pull enough euros from a cash machine to pay the rental fee, and to get our cell phone working so that we can contact our host.

The ATM proves to be a bit of a surprise...on our last visit to Italy, in 2011, we were able to make multiple withdrawals for large amounts of cash from the Bancomat machines with no difficulty. Now, I don't know if this is universal or just limited to Venice, but the machines seemed to have been reconfigured. I can only make a single withdrawal of 250 Euros. Further attempts yield a message indicating that I have exceeded my international currency exchange limit for the day.

We think this might just be a configuration on the ATM at the airport, so we decide to try again once we reach Piazzale Roma. We've come prepared for any eventuality, though...we've got two separate debit card accounts, each with two debit cards, just in case.

Tip: I've mentioned it before, and I'll mention it again. When you're traveling in Italy, a debit card tied to a CapitalOne online account is your friend. Whenever we pulled money out of a Bancomat machine, we paid NO fees, and the exchange rate was the published daily FOREX rate for the USD vs the Euro. For this trip, it varied from day to day, but averaged around $1.30 for a Euro.

As for our cell phone: our normal carrier is StraightTalk, a great plan at a good price, but one which absolutely prohibits foreign roaming. We decided that, in order to have a functional cell phone the moment we touched down, we would pay the premium price that Telestial.com asks for an Italian TIM Sim card. Their price for this card is high, compared to what you would pay for it in Italy, but you get your Italian phone number well ahead of your visit, and a 15 Euro credit. The Sim is supposed to be pre-activated and ready to use as soon as you arrive.

Well, that's not how it worked out.

Any attempts to make a call resulted in a speedy Italian error message, too quick and too poor quality for me to understand. I gathered that there was something wrong with my activation or my balance. I stop at the Tabacchi shop in the airport to buy a Ricarcicard (the way you recharge a pay-as-you go phone in Italy), but I'm unable to apply it to the phone. I'm stumped. Somehow, we're going to need to contact our host to let her know we've arrived.

We step outside the airport to the Hello Venezia/VeniceConnected machine, where we collect our pre-purchased transportation pass (we've already pre-purchased a WiFi pass for Venice as well), then hop on the bus for the 1/2 hour ride from the airport to Piazzale Roma. Since I have the WiFi pass, I'm able to connect my phone up to the public internet in the Piazza, and make a Skype call to Luigia, our host, to let her know we're finally on the ground (albeit a day and a half late). She'll meet us at the Giardini vaporetto stop.

TIP: Venice offers a WiFi Connected card, for a 24 hour, 72 hour, or 7 day period. This buys you a username and password to connect up to the Venice public WiFi spots, near most major piazzas. It works well, but can only be used on one device at a time, and, of course, is limited to the range of areas where it can be used.

While we're at the Piazzale, I try to pull some more cash out of the ATM there with my original card. It won't permit it. My wife tries hers, and she's able to snag an additional €250, but that's it. We have to switch to the cards for our backup account to get enough to cover the apartment and our other costs.

We hop aboard a Vaporetto for our first ride on the public transportation system in Venice. It's pretty simple to figure out where you're going, and all we need to do is swipe our transportation ticket at the card reader before we board. A short time later, we're met by Luigia, who will escort us to our apartment near the Bienniale Gardens in the Giardini district.

The area is beautiful. It's about a 15-20 minute walk east of Piazza San Marco along the waterfront, but it's a different world. The public gardens border the east side of the area, the broad, park-like Vialle Giuseppe Garibaldi borders the west, and it's just a lovely residential neighborhood.

Calle Sarasina

Calle Sarasina

A chapel at Corte Sarasina

A chapel at Corte Sarasina

Luigia takes us to our ground-floor apartment on Calle Sarasina. It's compact, but efficient, and pretty well equipped. Windows on two sides of the apartment keep it well ventilated during the day, though they have to be closed at night for both privacy and limitation of noise.

Our apartment at Ca' Sarasina

Our apartment at Ca' Sarasina

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We're pretty well exhausted, and would love nothing better than to take a nap, but it's far too early for that. We explore the neighborhood, heading up to Via Giuseppe Garibaldi to pick up some essentials for the apartment, and scope out some restaurants for dinner.

Via Garibaldi

Via Garibaldi

We can't resist stopping for a gelato while we're at it. While we're out, I pick up an internet connection and make a Skype call to Telestial, to try to get the phone Sim problem straightened out. They tell me there's nothing they can do, and I should try to find the TIM store near the Rialto tomorrow. I'm so impressed with their great customer service, I promise them I'll let everyone know.

We have a 7pm tour scheduled for this evening with Laguna Eco Adventures, and I'd like to let them know we want to postpone it because of our delayed arrival, but I can't find their phone number anywhere. Coincidentally, at that moment, my phone rings...apparently, I can receive incoming calls on my Italian sim, even if I can't make outgoing ones. It's Giovanni, from Laguna, and I'm able to explain the situation to him. We shift our tour to 7:30pm tomorrow.

It's too early for dinner, so we go out wandering, consciously avoiding the tourist areas and sticking to the back streets of Castello and the Arsenale.

The canal at the end of Via Garibaldi

The canal at the end of Via Garibaldi

Calle San Zuane in Riello

Calle San Zuane in Riello

Ponte San Pietro

Ponte San Pietro

San Pietro Campanile

San Pietro Campanile

A creepy display in a residential window

A creepy display in a residential window

We have an early dinner at a touristy restaurant along Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, Osteria al Garanghelo, where we enjoy Pizza Margherita and a side of grilled vegetables (which went directly on top of the pizza!), along with a half bottle of their house red. Somehow, we find our way back to our apartment, and collapse.

Tomorrow, we'll be visiting the Palazzo Ducale, wandering Venice in search of a TIM store, and taking an evening tour of the canals. See you then!

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Posted by Zukini 16:23 Archived in Italy Tagged venice giardini basilica_cistern sarasina Comments (0)

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