A balding man with a long ginger(ish) beard sits next to his Russian wife who is twice his height. They are conversing with a blond woman and her mother, who sports a leopard print t-shirt. “This must be a hoax,” the bearded man says, slight amusement in his voice. Beyond them stand 400 exhausted passengers from the Norwegian DY 7022/7951 flight from New York to Paris. The flight was scheduled to depart at 10:30 pm that night. Over the course of 30 hours, these 400 passengers will be tortured by the lies and neglect from airport staff, never once seeing or hearing directly from a Norwegian Air Shuttle employee. They will be held hostage at the airport because the airline will refuse to release their bags. They will be told to wait a few minutes, when it will literally take DAYS. Some will spend the night and day in the airport when there is a shortage of hotel vouchers. Others will cry on the subway back to their friend’s couch. All will have never experienced something so strange. I call it, the Norwegian Air Shuttle to the Twilight Zone…
This is the story of how I tried to fly to France on October 1st to begin my time living and working on a French sheep farm and did not arrive until October 4th. While I could go on for hours, I will keep it brief for you.
Let’s start with the obvious. If you buy a $180 one way direct flight from JFK (NYC) to CDG (Paris), you cannot expect everything to go smoothly. I remember, (oh how naive) preparing myself for a delay or for the food to be gross or for the movie selection to be minuscule. I knew this would likely be a sub-par experience. I now know that’s an understatement.
Day 1 trying to get to France.
I arrived two and a half hours before my flight. Necessary– for any normal flight, to prevent being denied boarding. I waited in line to check my bags and was confronted with the first (of many) shocks of the next few days.
“That’ll be $200.”
“If you want to check two bags, you need to pay $200.”
“Oh my god. Um, well…” I said, fumbling for an excuse. “I’ll just check one bag then.”
Fast forward to security. It’s fine and normal. Weirdly ugly, if that makes sense. I have this memory of airplanes and terminals alike to be pretty, clean, and futuristic in feel. This one feels like a bus terminal. Like I’m boarding one of those “$1 to Pittsburgh” buses.
I wait in line to board the plane. I notice I am “Boarding Group B,” which shocks me. I am usually the absolute last to board. I smile at my good luck. Maybe I have a nice seat.
I walk into the plane and find that not only do I have an isle seat (yay!) but I have an entire row to myself. In hindsight, this should have been suspicious. I sit down and wait to be greeted by the crew, the captain, the flight attendants, anything. I expect to see one of those little videos pop up on the screen, welcoming me aboard Norwegian Air Shuttle. Nothing like that happens. We all just settle into our seats in silence.
An hour later, a weird little voice with an unrecognizable accent begins to speak over the intercom. “Hello, we are having delay, there is a suitcase that does not belong in aircraft carrier. We must retrieve it.”
Another hour passes, “Unfortunately, we still do not have located this suitcase, and the retriever is not working, so we do it manual, and it take a long time to do manual. Please patient.”
Every 45 minutes or so, the voice speaks,
“Hopefully we have more information in 30 minutes.”
“We might have more to say in 25 minutes.”
“We having an issue manual closing the door. 20 minutes.”
Meanwhile, it becomes 11:30pm, 12:30pm, 1:30am, and suddently it has been 4 hours and we are all still sitting in this plane, without having taken off.
“Unfortunately we are unable to get bag off the plane, the door not close, we have to cancel the plane. Please wait 30 minutes for more.”
“For safety purposes, we will keep the bags on the plane.”
They’re going to keep our bags? Why? Everyone is strangely calm. Like really, really strangely quiet. Myself included. There are a few grunts, I made a soft, “oh no…” sound. But honestly, I’m feeling pretty relieved to get off this plane. The lack of information and flight attendants was starting to freak me out. Was this some practical joke? Of course, it only got worse.
By the time we get off the plane, it is 3:30am. We are herded outside, past security. I am at the end of a line of 400 people. The line seems to be leading to a place where an employee is explaining what is going on. After about 30 minutes, I decide to investigate and I find not only that there is no Norwegian employee at the front giving answers, but there is literally nobody there except for security.
What the hell is going on?
An hour later the airport supervisor comes down to answer questions. He is tall and large, but speaks with a faint voice. He answers each question individually, making no attempt at addressing the entire crowd. Other than the strange little voice on the plane, we have not all been directly spoken to. And essentially, the supervisor is here to say he doesn’t know what is going on.
“What is happening?”
“When will I get my luggage?”
“I need my luggage because I want to make other arrangements”.
“Is there another plane?”
After what feels like pulling teeth, we learn that the flight crew has gone home because they have exceeded the number of work hours they can complete in one day (what). They have no idea when we can get our bags because they are stowed away until the crew can retrieve it. We have been put on the next plane which leaves at 10:30 pm the next day, maybe. We can get ~reimbursed~ for hotels, maybe.
Day 2 trying to get to France.
At this point I’ve gone mad but I am hopeful. After calling my dad at 5 am to come get me from the airport, I spent a therapeutic car ride explaining everything. My padre and I agree there is something fishy going on, especially the detail on how the plane was only half packed. They must have cancelled it on purpose and tomorrow they will combine the two planes. Or something. Even if that’s what’s going on, I’m okay with it. Just as long as I know when I will get to France. According to my phone, the plane has been delayed until 12:30 am. I’m okay with it.
But when I get to the airport… again … I am confronted with the same exact scene as the morning. 400 lost sheep people. No information. Nothing. I see some familiar faces, people I complained with the previous day.
For the next five hours we are treated like sheep. One employee tells us our bags have been released downstairs. Everyone begins to clap and jump in joy, only to find that once all of us have gotten downstairs, there are no bags. We ask another employee, I swear to god he says,
“So, this is just between you and me, but I just checked to see if your plane is coming… and there’s no plane. We can’t find the plane.”
“Go upstairs and talk to the employees up there maybe they have more information.”
We do as we are told, herding single file up the broken escalator. When we get there, in lieu of information, the employees give us $17 food vouchers. Enough to buy a glass of wine, cheezits, and chocolate ice cream. I spend an hour eating and drinking with my new friend, Whinnie, who’s from Hong Kong and is a fashion designer. We talk about our lives on the outside.
At this point, it is 12:30 am and I am beginning to lose my mind. This is the moment where I decide to distinguish myself as a human being and not a sheep. These are the moments you get to choose in your life… to go along with the status quo (which in this case included succumbing to the nonsense, resigning in a clump on the ground) or you make history! Start a revolution. Revolt! I begin speaking to Whinnie about my idea. She giggles. Then I talk to this German guy about it. He’s drinking a beer and agrees. His French friend agrees as well. If it becomes 1 am and we still haven’t gotten any answers, we are going to start screaming and running and demanding answers!!!
At 1 am we are told to go downstairs to retrieve our bags. Okay… sure… I’m convinced they heard of our scheme. We run downstairs, again with some cheers in the air (we never learn). What do we find?! NO BAGS.
And so we begin a small little revolution, chanting, “We want luggage! We want luggage!” … “LUGGAGE LUGGAGE LUGGAGE.” We begin cornering the employees. They begin to yell at us to stay back. I mean it’s completely ridiculous. “GIVE US OUR LUGGAGE. WE NEED OUR LUGGAGE.” I’ve never wanted to carry around my suitcase so badly before.
FINALLY THEY OPEN THE DOORS.
We get our own stuff back!!!! AFTER 27 HOURS!!!
We all rejoice!!!
Then we have to wait in line to check in for another hour, go through security, and once we finally make it to the boarding gate: THE FLIGHT IS DELAYED. It doesn’t even say till when, it just is highlighted in red. I buy another glass of wine. Finally at 3:30 am, we board the freakin’ plane. And what do you know? It’s completely full.
When we finally land in France (after the most terrifying and tumultuous flying I have ever experienced) all of us clap and sigh. I hear the German guy across from me say, “we should all have a reunion next year, yes? Do it all over again?”
As much as I will miss the friends I made in distress– I will never, ever do that again. And I hope you won’t either. Please don’t book Norwegian Air Shuttle. I know it’s tempting. I know you probably know people who have taken it no problem. But this company needs to be dismantled. This is no way to treat human beings. It’s no way to treat sheep either. Spread the word.