I actually just planned to visit Eva, Youssri and some other friends of mine for a weekend in Zeist, the Netherlands from August 25th until August 27th, 2017. This time, however, the communication of the assistance in Hamburg and Amsterdam Schiphol turned out to be a disaster!
For the first time – at least as far as flights are concerned – I organized everything by myself. I checked Skyscanner on the iPhone for a cheap and direct flight and came up with an offer by KLM. The problem with booking flights is that every airlines or online travel agency has a different website structure, which is sometimes accessible and sometimes extremely difficult to navigate through.
KLM was one of the accessible websites, and in addition to the booking process, I could even book assistance on their website straight away, without having to search for a phone number or a seperate form.
Because I was traveling completely on my own this time, it was necessary to catch up with the assistance at the fast-train station at the airport in Hamburg. Booking assistance for changing trains at Hamburg Central Station was business as usual, but there is no Deutsche Bahn personell at the airport.
I called the airport office for further information and they transferred my call to the assistance department. They assured me that they would send somebody to the train station to pick me up and I should call them as soon as I am on board the fast-train.
The change at Hamburg Central Station went as planned and they even put me on an earlier fast-train, where I finally called the assistance office to notify them about my arrival. Strangely though, they told me to call back as soon as I would arrive at the airport. If I think it over, I should have insisted, because my arrival time was fixed anyway and they had enough time to organize things in advance. Well, at least I know it for next time.
So, I called back after arrival, and they assured me that they will pick me up real soon. Somehow, this situation reminded me of Arlanda Central Station, just a few weeks ago.
After a quarter of an hour, I was a little curious. I called them up again and this time, they told me that they are currently busy; however, the next free person would come to pick me up as soon as possible. I called again after another while, just to hear the same thing again: “Stay where you are, we’ll pick you up shortly!”
Another ten minutes later or so, I heard a sound of a radio getting closer. At the red cross, they always use radios, so I was assuming it was a red cross guy. He obviously ran down the platform, at least the sound of the radio passed by very quickly.
After some time has passed, a train driver noticed me and I explained my problem to him. He therefore took me to an emergency terminal and tried to sort things out there. Of course, it was not their department and their central unit is located near the central station; so we were actually just talking to random people, far away from the airport. However, after a while, they announced the sentence of the day which was already about to drive me crazy: “Stay right where you are, we will pick you up very shortly!”
Once again, I called the assistance department because – to be honest – I didn’t want to rely on what they told me through the emergency terminal… and it turned out to be the right choice. Nobody got notified by whomever talked to me at the emergency terminal, but they did send one of their coleagues downstairs some time ago, who apparently couldn’t find me. That explained a lot, but for god sake, how invisible can a person with a cane and a sign on the left arm be?
I gave them my exact location, so they knew for sure where to keep a closer eye on in order to find me, and after a total waiting time of 1 hour and 15 minutes, a lady approached me who finally picked me up.
She straight away announced that the red cross at the airport is a little unorganized and that she couldn’t understand why they let me wait for over an hour. A few minutes later in the transit area, we both started joking about Hamburg airport and the red cross’ organization difficulties. In fact, it became a running gag for the entire weekend.
This time, instead of dropping me off at the gate before boarding, we went to the bus straight away after approaching the gate; but from there, everything went as planned.
In amsterdam Schiphol, it didn’t take long for the assistance to arrive and pick me up. By the way, I was quite surprised how fluent I could communicate with her in Dutch. However, her accent was fair enough for me to understand.
She handed me over to another woman from NS (the Dutch public transport company) who gave me a hand checking in with my OV chipkaart and boarding the IC train to Utrecht Centraal.
The OV-Chipkaart is a card which you can purchase and top up with money in order to travel by train, bus, tram or by boat. Additionally, you can load certain subscriptions on the card to travel cheaper in certain regions, for example.
I bought a personal OV-Chipkaart and, in addition, requested an OV-Begeleiderskaart to take an accompanying person on any of my valid tickets when traveling in the Netherlands.
When checking in, they subtracted 20 Euros as a deposit fee, which I partially got back when checking out in utrecht. They only kept the money for the distance that I actually traveled.
I should have pretended that I’d only speak English in utrecht, because the guy who picked me up had a very heavy accent and talked insanely fast. Anyway, he united me with Eva and gave us a hand to board the bus to Zeist.
Checking in with the OV Chipkaart on the bus was fairly easy: just hold the card in front of the scanner after boarding and do the same to check out before leaving.
Most of the time, we were just sitting together and discussing various topics, speaking a mixture of English, Dutch and German.
The only problem I encountered was that the more people joined us, the more Dutch was involved; and to be honest: at some point, I had serious difficulties following their conversations.
Eitherway, we had an awesome time together and I was very appreciated to meet Eva, Youssri and some of their friends I already talked to on the internet. Of course, although it might be unhealthy, typical Dutch snacks were a must!
On Sunday afternoon, Eva dropped Youssri and me off at the bus stop, where we took the bus back to the central station of Utrecht. making it to the service point was a little difficult, but a nice lady guided us to the right spot.
Because I arrived at the train station quite early, the assistance woman took me to a snack bar to get a last typical Dutch snack before departure. Unfortunately, she also relied on my Dutch skills too much.
The train ride to Schiphol went as planned, and a lady picked me up and we went to the main terminal. She then radioed her coleagues who came up with a very familiar sentence: “Stay where you are, they’ll pick you up soon”, after which she guided me to a group of chairs where I could sit down to wait.
NOTE: There is a difference between assistance at the airport’s train station and assistance at the actually airport; in other words: getting me to the plane was- and is not her (the NS’) department.
In order to get assistance at the airport after being brought there by the train station staff, you HAVE! to show up at the check-in desk or the service desk for passengers with special needs. There, they will first check your data (ticket information, etc.) before they get someone to – literally – walk you through the rest.
Since I was in contact with SL (See the entry about Sweden below) who also called the airport to arrange my assistance, I was assuming that NS called the airport as well; why else would they just drop me off somewhere in the terminal instead of bringing me to the service desk? Well, another lesson I learned: Always insist in order to get to the service desk to talk to the airport staff directly!
Anyway, 45 minutes before the boarding started, I couldn’t wait any longer; so I asked a person to get me to any available service desk.
Of course, there was no communication at all between NS and the airport! They got my assistance request on file, but nobody told them I was here already.
In addition, they told me that it was going to be a real close-call, and already offered me to spend one more night in Amsterdam, after which they could book me on the next possible flight.
Fortunately though, we made it through the security check and to the gate quick enough, and they instructed the bus to wait.
The flight went smooth and we had to wait for the assistance who picked me and another person up by car. Except for the fact that they dropped us off at the wrong terminal, all the rest worked as planned and my father picked me up by car.
Of course, there was a lot of stress involved, as far as traveling is concerned. On the other hand though, I learned a couple of lessons I can take advantage of for next time, and – as I said in the past already – situations like those wouldn’t stop me from traveling in the future.
Last, but not least: “Stay where you are” is a sentence you might hear more often when traveling and waiting for someone to pick you up. In most cases – except for the situations stated above – I could usually rely on people who say that, especially when I was talking to them on the phone. In other words: “Stay where you are, we’ll pick you up soon” or any other similar-sounding phrases should not become words you can’t rely on, just because you just read this blog entry or because you also experienced similar situations yourself.
Try to trust in people whom you have to interact with throughout your journey. In worst case, it’s good to know whom to annoy in case of any unexpected problems!