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    Volume 9 Issue 20| May 14, 2010|

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Immita Manal Amena

The pilot of Thai Airways flight TG916 announced “Ladies and gentlemen, I have an announcement to make. There was a volcanic eruption in Iceland at 9:12pm Bangkok time. The ash has spread to UK and has caused most of the airports to be shut down, including London Heathrow where we were supposed to land. So I regret to inform you that we will be making an emergency landing in Paris.”

The first emotion to hit me was excitement, since I had always wanted to see Paris. Almost instantly, the whole situation set in and I was blinded with panic. I was a 19-year-old girl travelling completely alone, and landing in a country for which I had no visa. Other passengers around me were having mixed feelings about the situation. Some were panicking like me, and a few were excited about going to Paris. A woman was saying to her husband “Greg! We're getting an extended honeymoon! Isn't this amazing?” Listening to all the muttering around me I thought well, at least they have someone with them!

A few minutes later, the Captain made another announcement. “I have just been informed that the airport in Paris is completely full and will not be admitting any other planes. So we will try to land in Frankfurt instead.”

They made us wait for about 1.5 hours without any news whatsoever, during which time more passengers joined us from other Thai flights to London Heathrow. After that, they announced that the situation had not changed, and that we would have to stay in Frankfurt overnight. Unfortunately, there was an exhibition in Frankfurt the next day, so all the hotels were booked, which meant we had to stay in the airport. Also, the airport would be closing the following day at 9am, and would not open until the day after. They told us they would be providing “beds” for us where we could stay the night, and they would also provide food and drinks.

When we got to gate C13, we saw that it was just a long stretch of hall where at least four hundred camp beds (they were actually more like stretchers used in ambulances, and were very hard) were spread out, and the place looked, ironically since we were in Germany, very much like a refugee camp, which I guess it was at that point. A very good friend of mine who knew I was travelling that day and had heard the news, called me to ask if everything was okay. I told her what had happened and she consoled me. My parents called soon after, and gave me a lot of advice. Honestly, without their support, I could not have held myself together!

Breakfast was served in the morning. After getting something to eat, I looked at my phone to check the time and got a huge shock. My phone was almost out of battery. A very depressing feeling stole over me as I turned off my phone. I felt as if I was being separated even more from my family.

Later, an airport manager came to us and announced that they had found a hotel for us and that we should gather our belongings and go to gate B55 where we could retrieve our luggage, and then we could take buses to the hotel. When I gave my passport to the security officer, he looked through it and told me I could not pass since I did not have a visa. I was dumbfounded. I told him that we had made an emergency landing in this country, so how on earth would I have a visa for it? He said it was not his problem and told me to step out of the line. There was nothing I could do, so I stepped out of the line.

Hopelessness engulfed me, and there was nothing I could
do to remove it. I turned my phone back on and called my mother. The first words I said to her when she answered were: “Momma, please take me back home!” My voice broke on the words. But my phone died at that point and I was left feeling more alone than I had ever felt in my whole life. After one and a half hours, I could not stand it anymore. I asked another official who was standing nearby for help. He was a nice man, and told us to follow him to the visa office when we got there, another officer took our passports. I began to pray. I prayed continuously for the two and a half hours that they made us wait. Finally, the official came out. He turned toward me with a grim expression and handed my passport to me and said in a heavy German accent, “You have a two-week visa. Please follow me, I will take you through security so they will not hassle you”. I felt so relieved that my knees threatened to collapse under me. I dutifully picked up my bags and followed him.

Within an hour, we were on our way to the hotel in a taxi. Our taxi dropped us off at the “nH Hoteles”. I was so relieved at finally getting a bed that I lay down at once. After some rest Thip and I went out in search for food. Frankfurt is a beautiful city, even the very little that I saw was beautiful. When we got back, the receptionist told us that we were to be downstairs by 8am if we wanted to know what was going to happen to us. The next day, down at the reception, we were told we would finally be heading to London by bus. The buses arrived at 12:45pm.

We stopped at a small highway restaurant to get some food. When we got to the port, the staff members informed our bus drivers that the next available ferry was at 8:45am the following day. We told them that the airline must have booked tickets for us. They replied that they had not heard a word from the airline. At this point, we were all very angry at the airline for sending us like this. The bus drivers decided to try and take the Euro Tunnel, which goes under the English Channel. It would take longer, but we had no other option, so we turned around and headed for the Euro Tunnel. There we were informed by an official that no one was allowed through the Tunnel without booking 24 hours before. This was a very wrong thing to say because when she said this, the bus seemed to explode. Finally, one of the passengers, told everyone to settle down, and pleaded with her to let us through. She relented, and we were on our way.

Finally, after about half an hour, we were on our way. We exited the Tunnel and made our way through England to London Heathrow.


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