Diary of a Guidebook Writer: When getting there isn’t half the fun

Photo: Pixabay

David Nikel
Trondheim, Norway

I must begin this month’s column with the frustrating yet inevitable news that the guidebook launch has been delayed from March to July. As frustrating as it is, ultimately it will be a good thing.

The delay gives me a chance to thoroughly re-check through the text, update prices and opening hours, scrub out a few closed restaurants, and add in a couple new hotels before the copyeditors get their hands on it. It also means the production team can take their time with the layout, photography, and mapping, which should ultimately result in fewer mistakes and a far better product.

Travel delays
All this got me thinking about things going wrong in travel and especially what happens when things go wrong on an international trip.

In Norway, visitors are helped by the fact that all Norwegians understand English, and almost all speak it well. In some cases, better than those of us who speak it natively!

I was due to return to Norway on the evening of December 30 after spending Christmas back in England. Unfortunately, this coincided with a bout of thick fog over London and south-east England, which caused some of the biggest delays of the year to flights to and from London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports. Although modern planes are guided by sophisticated navigation systems, taking off and landing in heavy fog is still considered a safety issue for larger planes.

Information breakdown
When you travel as much as I do, you soon learn to deal with delays. However, this was a new kind of delay! Initially indicated by airport screens as a four-hour delay, I soon received a text message from Norwegian informing me the plane wouldn’t be departing until the next morning and advising me to arrange overnight accommodation. The screens at Gatwick were still showing an evening departure, and the Norwegian information desk reported the same information.

Photo: Jason Tester Guerrilla Futures / Flickr

It took several hours for the extended delay to be confirmed, followed by an extra hour of waiting around to collect our bags, before we finally made it to the hotel via a very expensive taxi, and that’s expensive by Norwegian standards!

In the morning, we received a further notification that the delay would be extended until the evening. We were given a food voucher (approximately $18 each) and got to know the shops and restaurants of Gatwick airport intimately. The food voucher covered lunch, but it didn’t cover the Superdry jacket I ended up buying through sheer boredom or the countless pints of Bedlam IPA that helped soothe the wait. Never has there been a more appropriate beer name.

The problem with low-cost airlines
I don’t blame Norwegian for this delay. They were not responsible for the fog! But it does highlight the issue with low-cost airlines. Communication is never a priority, and almost no one who actually works for the airline is present at airports, because everything is contracted out. This means you are sent around in circles for the correct information, as no one can categorically say what is going on.

You are also required to pay up-front for overnight accommodation, taxis, and so on, and then claim the cost back via a website that’s in desperate need of a user-interface makeover. In this instance, I was refunded the $110 I shelled out on the hotel and taxis in around two weeks, but on previous occasions it has taken a lot longer.

Another issue with low-cost airlines is that the point-to-point model means there is rarely a spare airplane. When an SAS flight cancellation left me stranded at Newark last year, a lady at the SAS information desk booked me onto an alternative flight that left within the hour and actually got me back to Trondheim earlier than my original booking! This compares well to the numerous horror stories of intercontinental passengers with Norwegian being delayed 24 hours while they wait for a replacement plane to be flown across the Atlantic.

A Happy New Year… just
We made it back to Trondheim a whole 23 hours late, just in time to see the New Year’s Eve fireworks. In the departure lounge at Gatwick, one American family had started to panic that they wouldn’t be able to get a taxi at short notice, and so a helpful Norwegian lady called her son and asked if he would pick them up. He charged 500 kroner, but that’s one-third of what a taxi would have cost!

As it turns out, the crew of our flight were summoned into work specifically to bring us back from London, so each of them had to cancel their own New Year’s Eve plans. I am forever in their debt!

Before I sign off, I don’t want you to think I’m warning you against flying Norwegian. Far from it! The experience is undoubtedly a better one than with many more expensive airlines, and I often choose Norwegian for my quick hops down to Oslo and weekends in the UK. However, it’s when things go wrong when you see the difference, and that’s something to factor into any long-haul travel planning.

David Nikel is a freelance writer based in Norway. He runs the popular www.lifeinnorway.net blog and is the author of the upcoming MOON Norway guidebook.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 24, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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