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US to JNB: How we did it, rested & solved an airport closing

Louisville, Kentucky
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US to JNB: How we did it, rested & solved an airport closing

We wanted to arrive in South Africa adjusted to the time change and ready to enjoy in amazing scenery, wildlife and people we were about to experience. We flew Delta, some of us using miles, and as a direct flight can be grueling journey, I want to share how we did it with an overnight layover in Europe and dealt with what could have been a trip changing weather issue along the way. Before much more discussion, other airlines fly direct from the US to JNB, and it's up to the traveler to decide if anything I'm about to say applies to their travel and relationship with an airline. I just don't think that a daytime departure from the US gives travelers much rest. I hope other travelers will share how they planned their trips from various destinations

We were able to book our flights on a single ticket from JFK to JNB with an overnight layover in Amsterdam, leaving late in the evening on our second day from AMS with a connection in CDG. The JFK departure was late in the evening. This itinerary gave us a little "Netherlands" before we journeyed on, and we made our reservations over the phone, so that might be what it takes. In spite of our weather glitch in Europe (AMS closed for the day due to a stellar fog), I think it would have been okay for us to book this on two tickets...read on. We booked what was available to us on miles and good fares for those of us who were paying for our tickets.

Here's our background and why we looked for this itinerary: I once sat on the tarmac at JFK with my husband watching a SAA flight leaving for Africa, and he broke out in a sweat. He has made this flight several times on business, and he said, "Do you know what those people are about to go through." That's why we looked for other bookings. From my experience on the direct flight of this duration, you want to leave from whatever country you are traveling late at night. Your want to crash and most direct flights from the US don't let you do this, but flights to Europe do.

After arriving in J'burg, we spent the night at Protea's "Fire and Ice" hotel in Melrose Arch. This is a gated community with lovely restaurants and shops, and we really enjoyed the Protea's eclectic, quirky decor, it's restful and upgraded bedding, and the people who were on the spot as far as service. We scheduled the overnight because it was something we wanted to do and we were flying the next day on South African Airways to Hoedspruit. SAA is not a Delta partner so we couldn't add this to our single ticket, but we weren't going to be out if we missed our flight to Hoedspruit. SAA offers levels of tickets that include refundable fares. We booked those,and were glad that we did when one member of our party had to cancel. Most airlines don't offer this option unless you are a frequent flier. BTW, SAA is now offering a direct flight from Cape Town to Hoedspruit, so whatever I say here applies to travel from the US to CT.

For our flights home, we booked a direct flights from JNB to ATL because this flight was direct and our sleep time would be interrupted. On the trip over, that rest, however, would not have put us on the go once we arrived in South Africa. It's a long,cramped flight and while we could deal with it on our way home, it's not what we wanted before safari. On the way home, my daughter lives in NYC and her flight to JFK would have meant a midway - middle of sleep - stop in Frankfurt, if I remember the layover correctly. By changing her final stop to LGA, she got a single ticket booking to NYC throught ATL without this mid-flight stop. As I've said, on a 16 hour flight, sleep time is important.

Here's what was a unique glitch in our travel that most travelers may not encounter but should know how to handle: We awoke in Amsterdam to an epic fog that closed the airport. On a one week trip, it's the break before arriving for a safari that I'm supporting, and these were unusual circumstances...it made international news. We had a lot of money invested in our trip, and our losses and adjustments would have been much more than the cost of our train tickets. We were happy that, thanks to my time on TA, we knew what to do. Outside the season when we were traveling, there might not have been any problem, but we traveled with a back up planned that worked. When we checked "airport conditions" online, the report was that this could last all day. Our connection was in for an 11:30 PM flight out of CDG and we had time to deal with the situation. We called the airline, changed our tickets, and booked a train from Paris, in that order. As long as you are traveling within the AMS/CDG/Brussels triangle, your airports are within a few hours by train from each other. Go to Thaylys for that information.

Travel is often about the best laid plans going awry and building in the cushions (overnights in Amsterdam to Johannesburg before our safari and a late night out of CDG) and back up plans (a train from Amsterdam to Paris). We are still glad that we did not arrive in Kruger jet lagged!, and ee made it, rested and ready for our amazing safari!

Thank you for indulging me. Our trip worked..

Edited: 05 December 2011, 03:10
Louisville, Kentucky
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1. Re: US to JNB: How we did it, rested & solved an airport closing

Ooops!

"We called the airline, changed our tickets, and booked a train from Paris, in that order."

This should read "to Paris."

London, United...
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2. Re: US to JNB: How we did it, rested & solved an airport closing

" From my experience on the direct flight of this duration, you want to leave from whatever country you are traveling late at night. Your want to crash and most direct flights from the US don't let you do this, but flights to Europe do."

Lol I certainly don't want to crash on a flight! Glad you enjoyed the safari.

The Hague, The...
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3. Re: US to JNB: How we did it, rested & solved an airport closing

You were so unlucky to see Amsterdam in the fogg.

This was an exception the fogg for days!

Louisville, Kentucky
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4. Re: US to JNB: How we did it, rested & solved an airport closing

LOL! Sorry about the "crash" pun!

Yes, we were unlucky to have the fog roll in to Amsterdam, but we were fortunate to know what to do about it. We acted quickly, booking the train tickets before 10:00 AM while they were still available. An airport closure is different from delays, and we knew not to think about it for very long. Even if the airport reopened in time for our flight, our plane was not likely to have made it to AMS. An airport closure like this one screws up plane positioning for several days, so we acted quickly. The train tickets weren't cheap, but neither would our expenses have been if we were stranded. It was what it was...

MaineUSA
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5. Re: US to JNB: How we did it, rested & solved an airport closing

Well, we took the non stop SAA JFK - Joburg flight and didn't find it that bad at all. We've taken four trips to Asia so we're used to long flights. We sat in the two side seats and between meals, reading, dozing and a good video system the time went reasonably fast. We continued in to Cape Town arriving around 1:00PM. We did some sightseeinf, had an early meal, slept for 11 hours and were good to go for the rest of the trip. Again as in most cases, everyone has a different tollerance for long flights, so what works for one may not for another.

Tempe, Arizona
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for South Africa, Sabi Sand Game Reserve
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6. Re: US to JNB: How we did it, rested & solved an airport closing

Interesting report. In the many years we operated safaris in Kenya/Tanzania, we built in an overnight for clients en route to Nairobi in either London or Zurich. Now, for trips to southern Africa, I prefer to have them fly directly from the US on either SA or Delta - and overnight at the Johannesburg airport when they arrive late afternoon. If they come from JFK on SA and arrive earlier in the day, planning their first night in South Africa depends on where they will go next. But I find that I am something of a hypocrite. Might be that I, too, will overnight at Amsterdam on my next trip early next year!

Dave Patterson - Owner - The Africa Safari

Cape Town
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7. Re: US to JNB: How we did it, rested & solved an airport closing

Hi Troggs

Some useful and interesting points.

However : "The train tickets weren't cheap, but neither would our expenses have been if we were stranded."

This and all the other comments on costs sounds like that you were travelling without comprehensive travel insurance? Surely not. Nowadays it is so cheap and covers you for so much. I just checked my Travel Insurance and costs that you relate would all be covered :

"Additional expenses if you are stranded on an international connection

We will pay up to the amount shown in the table of benefits if your international connection is delayed by more than 12 hours due to poor weather conditions (optionally including weather conditions defined as natural catastrophe), a strike, industrial action or mechanical breakdown, for reasonable additional and unexpected:

• accommodation;

• cost of travel to an alternative point of departure or to alternative accommodation;

• cost of travel from your accommodation to your point of intended departure;

• food and drink; and

• necessary emergency purchases that you may incur for up to five days, whilst you are stranded, waiting to make your international connection.

Please note that there is a maximum of five days cover throughout the duration of your trip."

This same policy covers most other situations likely to be faced over a year's travel, with unlimited trips anywhere in the world. Including up to $16 million (dollar equivalent) Medical Expenses - even covering the potentially horrendous costs for Air Ambulance Repatriation back home. Cancellation of trip before travel or costs to return home if the trip needs to be cut short. Loss or delay of baggage. Loss or theft of personal belongings or cash. Supplier failure and much more besides. This costs me the equivalent of US$97 per year for both myself and my wife. Covering all trips anywhere in the world.

Why would anyone travel without this sort of policy in place? Or is Travel Insurance not availabe in the USA?

Edited: 05 December 2011, 17:58
Louisville, Kentucky
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8. Re: US to JNB: How we did it, rested & solved an airport closing

Van_de_Caab, we did have travel insurance through American Express, and the issue for us wasn't so much about reimbursement or an altered trip as it was about getting there. We were meeting a friend of my daughters who was recovering from a broken leg but still on crutches, and she flew directly from ATL to JNB. Believe it or not, a safari worked for her, but touring a city would not. She could be "load bearing" on a limited basis, so once when she was in the truck, she was good to go. The camps were compact, so it all worked! Hers was a last minute booking as my son in law had to cancel because of work, and travel insurance doesn't cover "something came up..."

Once we left the US, the trip was in motion. Vacation days were allotted, and the safari was booked. It was the "stranded" part that yes, would have been covered by our policy, but would have meant a major change in our trip plan. Aside from meeting our daughter's friend, we really couldn't afford extra days waiting for our flights to be rebooked. We could have used our insurance to cover the loss of the safari, but we didn't want to miss it and we did what we could to make it work. On the morning when we learned about the AMS closure, we didn't know if the lodge could have still accommodated us with a late arrival for the duration of our original booking. We would have been heartbroken if our trip was cancelled or abbreviated. Bottom line: We were going to make it to our safari!

We probably should have negotiated with our airline to cover the cost of our train tickets, but we were just anxious to get to J'burg. Hindsight is 20/20, but I'm not sure the airline would have made the commitment while we still had time to book a train ticket and make our Paris flight. People were desperate to find a way to continue on with the their trips from Amsterdam and we were happy that we stayed on schedule.

bwanadave, I think that it's important for any traveler who breaks up his journey to know about their options via a train to another international airport. Most people wouldn't think to do this and spend desperate hours in an airport waiting for an airline to get them to their destination You can take a train from London to Paris in a little over two hours and if we had landed in Heathrow, we could have probably made a similar adjustment if that airport was closed. My personal experience, however, is that Amsterdam is the most efficient airport of the three and that's why we booked through AMS.

We didn't do the direct flight from the US to J'burg because my husband has traveled on several of these flights and was miserable. He was adamant about breaking up the trip, and he had done this on another business trip to SA stopping in Paris. That trip was uneventful and we just ran into some bad luck on ours.

I'm an advocate for leaving home with "Plan B's" on the table and this is one time that we were glad that we did. I reiterate, however, that no passengers should embark on an alternate plan without first talking to their airline. If you miss the first leg or your journey, subsequent bookings are likely to be cancelled.

Edited: 05 December 2011, 20:42
Cape Town
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9. Re: US to JNB: How we did it, rested & solved an airport closing

Hi Troggs

My post wasn’t about the reason that you wanted to make the adjustment. As often happens in this sort of situation if you think and make decisions quickly you can often find a way around the situation – well done!

However in your various posts on this, you have mentioned the additional costs four different times. It seems that this was €400 for the train tickets – plus I am sure additional costs to get to/from the Thalys train and maybe other costs?

My point was simply that if you have full travel insurance, covering your whole trip, not just Credit Card insurance which is focussed only on the individual items that you paid by CC, then you should be able to claim back the €400 plus any additional costs that you paid out. Most Insurance policies don’t require you to get pre-authorisation – certainly not “negotiate” with the airline. Everything can be done after you get back home from your trip. All you should need is proof of the delay – which in this case was all over the newspapers so I am sure wouldn’t be difficult – plus receipts for your costs.

As it seems that you only returned a week or so ago you could probably submit a claim now as long as you have a full policy. The €400 refund should more than cover the premiums paid for the three of you.

My point was simply to recommend to others to be sure that they have a fully comprehensive travel policy before going on this sort of trip. After all your bill might not have been €400 but a few hundred thousand dollars to cover the cost of an emergency evacuation from the bush plus a dedicated Air Ambulance to fly one of you back to Kentucky.

Louisville, Kentucky
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10. Re: US to JNB: How we did it, rested & solved an airport closing

We did have a separate comprehensive policy that was linked through American Express. It covered the issues you've described, and we will look to see if we can get reimbursement. Maybe...and thanks for the advice.