Emergencies, FLIGHTS, Germany, Saxony

What to do when your flight home is cancelled at short notice

Imagine this: you are on the last day of your holiday, ready to go home and ready to return to reality – when disaster strikes. You receive a text from your airline telling you that your flight home that very evening, scheduled to depart 5 hours from now, has been cancelled due to lightning storms over London.

For some travellers, this might seem like a dream – fate intercepting to extend their holiday. But for me, it’s a worst nightmare. I’m a planner. All my travels are meticulously planned out well in advance. So when those exact circumstances were thrown upon me last month in eastern Germany, it was a difficult afternoon.

After a few minutes with my stress levels through the roof, I took a deep breath and managed to find a seat to bury my head in my smartphone and think through my options to get home. From a small chair in a grey corridor in the (frankly excellent) Stasi museum in Erfurt, a small city in the German state of Thuringia, I began working out what I needed to do to crawl out of this pinch.

New flight

As soon as I received that text, my airline (Ryanair) offered me two choices: a full refund, or transfer to another Ryanair flight of my choice at no extra cost. Ryanair do not offer these out of the goodness of their heart – they are forced to by EU law. What Ryanair did do themselves was allow me to administer everything via the Ryanair mobile app, which is pretty good as far as airline apps go.

At my present location in Erfurt, I was very definitely on the wrong side of Germany to get a train back to the UK. I researched many options – “Perhaps I could get a flight to Brussels, and then a train from Brussels to London!” – but in the end, trains were time consuming and very expensive. It would be far cheaper just taking the Ryanair option and transferring to the next possible flight. Knowing I had to get home as soon as possible to return to my job, I landed on this option as the best choice.

Unfortunately, Ryanair only flies out of Leipzig twice per week, neither of which were the following day. So I began to search Google Flights for Ryanair flights to London from the next-nearest airports to Leipzig. I found that they fly to London daily from the nearby Berlin Schönefeld airport. I made the decision and secured my place on the next day’s flight, set to leave almost exactly 24 hours after my cancelled flight was supposed to depart.

I hit an unwelcome but short-lived snag when the Ryanair App threw up an unwelcome technical hitch, which meant I had to log into their website over my phone’s browser instead to confirm the transfer. Once I had it, I immediately ‘checked in’ to the fight on the app, and stored my e-boarding pass safely on my phone. This whole process took about 30 minutes in total.

Critical takeaway: there may be flights home from other, nearby airports.

New train

Okay – so I had a new flight home. But it was from Berlin – over 100 miles away from Leipzig airport. So, out came the Deutsche Bahn mobile app. I was very lucky to be in Germany when it came to travelling to the next nearest airport. Late-booked train fares are relatively cheap, with the journey from Leipzig to Berlin only costing €40 and taking just 70 minutes – averaging a fantastic speed of 86mph.

There was another small snag when I forgot my password when logging into the app – a password which I had previously only used once or twice to book tickets. To reset it, I had to go through a verification email, and logging in and out twice. I had a similar situation with my Credit Card when paying for the train ticket – but after another 30 mins, I had it all sorted, with the e-ticket stored safely on my phone.

It was later that night that I realised my booked train ticket to Berlin left me a tight window to get to the airport and reach my plane. Knowing it would make tomorrow easier, I thoroughly researched the options for getting from Berlin Sudkreuz station (in the Southern part of Berlin, where my train was going) to Berlin Schönefeld airport. There was a train that took 30 minutes for just €4, but a taxi might have only taken 20 minutes for a much larger €40, depending on the traffic. The free mobile app Fetch My Way is incredibly helpful for this exercise.

Schonefeld, Berlin’s budget airport, offered me a lifeline

I also downloaded a map of the airport terminal (which I had been to once before, when I was also in a rush) and did my best to find out from where in the terminal flights exiting the Schengen area would be departing, so that I could enter the airport at the right door in case I was pushed for time.

Critical takeaway: research your new transport arrangements thoroughly, so you don’t make a mistake and turn a bad day even worse

New bed

Now that I had a way home and a way to get there, I needed to find a bed for the extra night I’d be in Germany. Since I had a train ticket already booked to Leipzig airport which was also valid to the city centre, the easiest place to stay the night would be that same city centre.

I searched on Hostelworld – another very handy travel app – for all my sleeping options in Leipzig city. There were plenty – all quite expensive, but given the situation I would have paid far more. Having read plenty of reviews, I chose a big family-focused hostel near the station. Hostelworld allows you to book through the app without logging into it – which is just as well, because I had also forgotten my login details. You just have to enter an email address and card details.

The hostel I stayed in for the extra night was in this grand industrial-era building in the centre of Leipzig

When I did arrive later that night I paid the majority of the price with my remaining cash. The room was modest, yet did everything I needed it to – as is often the case with large dorm-based hostels.

Critical takeaway: in an emergency situation like this, you may want to lower your accommodation standards so you can keep costs down and guarantee a roof over your head.

New day off

Completing this logistical exercise, I had to get in touch with my employer to inform them I would not be able to get to my desk the next morning. My manager immediately sympathised and allowed me to take the extra day of leave to cover the 24-hour delay. I also sent an email to him to confirm it in writing. I am very lucky to have an employer with this level of flexibility – but I can’t imagine many employers who would be entirely inflexible after a cancelled flight.

With this extra day to burn in Germany, I had to quickly research and discover what there was to see in Leipzig. Fortunately, with all the stressful steps above being resolved, this process was far more relaxing.

Leipzig’s impressive early twentieth century city hall rises high above the city centre

As I hurtled on the train from Erfurt to Leipzig I downloaded the Google Map of the city to ‘offline’, logged several attractions and filled myself in as to the shape and scope of the city. I quickly found a map of the city’s complex tram network, a map with tourist attractions, a viewpoint to see the city from above, and plenty of impressive buildings to satisfy my love of architecture.

The Tripadvisor page on Leipzig was my portal of choice here, in addition to scouring Google Maps itself and reading reviews of attractions there. You can also use the Tripadvisor mobile app, but it’s a bit cluttered so I prefer the using website from a mobile browser.

Critical takeaway: with a couple of hours of legwork, you can turn disaster into a positive extra day of holiday

Leipzig is full of grandiose shopping arcades, such as the Madler Passage.

All in all, although the experience was very stressful for a short period, I was surprised by how easy it was to resolve if you can just sit down for an hour with an internet-connected smartphone and your fingertips – that truly is a luxury people now have for the first time in human history.

The whole process used up about 100mb of data to book a new flight, new train, new hostel, and all the bits of research that accompanied that process.

The total cost of the turnaround was €110 (€30 train to Berlin, €30 hostel, €20 for an extra day’s food, €30 for the taxi to the airport). Not a small amount by any means, but also not breaking the bank.

If I were to go through something similar again, I now know I’d relish the opportunity to turn bad news into something valuable – namely, that I may get to spend an extra day on holiday, and discover a new destination, while I find my new way back home.

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