I had the honor to have a scheduled talk at the Embedded World 2018 show in Nürnberg, right at the start of the show on Tuesday morning. Getting to Nürnberg for the Embedded World without paying a fortune for plane tickets is tricky due to all the other people flying down from Swedish embedded and tech firms at the same time. This year, I was lucky and I had managed to get a very convenient flight at a decent price. Leaving Stockholm in the afternoon around 14.00 on Monday, flying via Frankfurt and then on to Nürnberg, arriving in the early evening just in time for a nice Bavarian dinner. No stress, no late evenings on the U-Bahn into town. A good night’s sleep before getting up and getting to the show with plenty of time to set up for my talk. What could possibly go wrong?
On Sunday, I checked in online for my flight, and everything was in order and on time.
On Monday morning, I followed my daughter to school, and then spent the early morning getting some work done from home. A taxi was to come and pick me up just after lunch. It was snowing a bit outside, but nothing too bad.
This is when I started noticing some worrying news: a big traffic accident on the road south to Arlanda and Stockholm, problems with the trains, and some cancelled flights from Arlanda due to the weather. Arlanda is famous for its snow-clearing abilities, so how bad could it be? I checked the departures online, and my flight was not delayed. Good. Sounded like we had a hiccup in the morning, and surely by the afternoon things would get back to normal. The mid-morning Lufthansa flight to Germany was cancelled, but that did not affect me. I felt sorry for the people who would now be scrambling to find alternatives.
From svt.se news that morning:
Then around 10, I got a message on my phone from Lufthansa and TripIt. The flight from Stockholm to Frankfurt had been cancelled. I was still checked in from Frankfurt to Nürnberg, if I could somehow magically transport myself down there. At this point, adrenaline started pumping. It was very clear that I would not be able to make my presentation using a morning flight. I needed a plan B, and preferably a plan C as backup.
I called our travel agency, who told me they would call Lufthansa and get back to me. In the meantime, TripIt told me that there was one single seat left from Stockholm to Nürnberg on Monday. A single seat. Not looking good.
The travel agency called me back just a short while later, confirming that Lufthansa had basically capitulated. With two or three full flights to Germany cancelled, not much they could do. I was not alone in needing to get down there, and I was not a super-elite honor circle senator… which is likely the only person they would be able to help. I thought about the option of flying just to Frankfurt or München and then driving, but the bottleneck was really getting down to the continent. Lufthansa “helpfully” recommended getting to Arlanda and just sitting there hoping for something good to happen. Not my type of plan, and not clear how it could possibly help.
At this point, I contacted our show organizer to tell her that my talk was in jeopardy, and maybe we could reschedule or trade places with somebody else? I should be able to get down by lunch on Tuesday, assuming that Lufthansa started flying normally again towards the evening or Tuesday morning. It was not clear that we could do that, however, and that my talking slot was most likely locked down. Not a good feeling at all.
However, that one seat available was still available, and I immediately told them to book it. Got it! Now I was set to fly to Amsterdam at 17.20, and then on to Nürnberg in the evening. Arriving at 22.00 in Nürnberg. Late, but not a real problem. This felt rather good, surely by the late afternoon the snow would have let up and Arlanda would be back to normal.
As the hours of the day progressed, the snow kept falling. When it let up a bit, my spirits rose. When it started to snow heavier again, my spirits sank. Never before have I looked at falling snow with such angst.
With some skepticism, I took a taxi at 15.00 to the airport, allowing extra time to get there suspecting that something could be up with the traffic. There was, and it took quite a bit longer than usual to get to the airport.
When I arrived the flight was listed on the departures board with no notes on delays or cancellations, even though some other flights were delayed. Things looked good, but I suspected they might not, and made sure to pack an overnight kit in my hand luggage (I did check in my main luggage, as I want to have room for stuff to buy and bring back from Germany, and plenty of clean clothes for three days at the show). Just in case I got a tight connection and my luggage would fall behind.
At the check-in counter, the agent kindly informed me that the flight was not on time at all. The plane was still in Amsterdam and had not taken off yet, and thus they did not know when it would actually fly. That is a rather interesting definition of “nothing to report” – “we no idea about how late it is going to be, so we say nothing”.
The situation was that Arlanda could only keep one out of three runways operating, creating quite a bottleneck in and out. I spent a few hours in the airport almost pacing around waiting for the situation for the KLM Amsterdam flight to be clarified. Eventually, the information board lit up telling me that the plane was set to be about one hour late.
One hour – that would still leave a theoretical chance to make the connection.
When we boarded the plane, it was hard to concentrate. A bit stressful to know that there is a deadline, and nothing you can do can affect the outcome. We pushed out from the gate, and you could see what looked like 10 cm or more of snow on the ground, with tire tracks from the aircraft visible in the snow. Not a common sight at all, but rather beautiful in an annoying way. Then we had to clear the snow from the wings and stabilizers, losing a bit more time. Just before we took off, I communicated to our show organizer that it looked like I might make it, but that maybe I would not. Still, the chance was clearly greater than zero.
Eventually, we got airborne, and the pilot informed us that we would be between one hour and one hour and fifteen minutes late. I.e., I might make it, or I might not make it. On the plane, I sat next to a gentleman from Korea, who also had a connection – for his flight back to Korea. He was rather concerned about the whole situation, and we had a nice chat about the nature of flight delays and how fast you could run from one gate to another. As we descended towards Amsterdam, the purser made clear that all connecting flights scheduled before 21.00 were going to be missed. I was hosed, and my Korean neighbor too.
Time for plan C. I already knew there was an 08.00 flight from Amsterdam to Nürnberg, so now I had to get on that flight before anybody else figured out the same thing.
Fortunately, when I landed and turned my phone on, a text message informed me that KLM had already automatically rebooked me on that morning flight and updated the reservation. The service for delayed and cancelled flights in Amsterdam was impressively fast and efficient. I went to a self-service kiosk, scanned my passport, and got a hotel voucher, refreshment voucher, and hotel shuttle bus voucher printed, along with a boarding pass for the morning flight. My bag would be stuck at the airport overnight, so I was lucky that I had packed those overnight things earlier in the day. I had not expected this specific scenario to happen, but now that it did, caution paid off.
I called the hotel in Nürnberg and told them I would be a bit late and could they please hold the room. Indeed they could, and since they had already charged my card for the room, I kind of felt they definitely should. They were even kind enough to only charge me 90% for the hotel night I did not use.
Another email to our show organizer: I will get stuck in Amsterdam overnight, but there is still a slim chance to make it. Say 25% or less. Any chance to rebook that talk? Still, I had other things to do at the Embedded World, so I would not just turn around and go home. At least from Amsterdam I was quite a bit closer than from Stockholm.
The shuttle bus dropped off something like twenty people in front of the Park Inn hotel close to the airport, so it was not like I was alone in missing connections. The hotel seemed to be rather used to the situation and got us all checked in very efficiently. We were given the opportunity to have dinner at the hotel at KLM’s expense, but that was too late for me. I must say the service was rather good given the circumstances. This is one very good reason to fly traditional full-service airlines and not some low-cost annoyance like Ryanair. When things go bad like this, a real airline takes care of their customers.
The next morning I got up before 06.00 and grabbed a small early breakfast at the hotel (had to leave before standard breakfast serving started). I got on the bus, got to the airport, through security, and to the gate. Everything on time. Supposed to arrive 09.15 in Nürnberg… could I make it? I quickly realized I could not use the U-Bahn, but the airport home page said that a taxi from the airport to the Messe would take 20 to 30 minutes. Assuming that it would take some time to get my luggage, and some time to taxi in, I decided I was likely not going to make it. I should be able to get to the show between 09.55 and 10.05. Which is just not in time, even if it would be very close.
The plane boarded on time, but then we got a small hiccup. We had to wait a few minutes for a truck to push us out, and after that we taxied for ten minutes to get to the right runway. I felt I had made the right call, I was not going to make it after all. So close, but not close enough.
Once we got airborne, the pilot told us we would be on time to Nürnberg. There was no actual delay from all the taxiing! Still, not likely to work. My previous analysis was still valid, and I had missed it, if only by a hair.
The plane touched down, and by some miracle we were at the airport terminal before the scheduled time! Maybe just a couple of minutes, but in this case minutes counted! I jumped out of my seat, grabbed my bag, and started walking to the terminal and towards the exit. I still had to collect my bag though, and as I was walking towards the luggage pickup I called the organizer and tell them I blew it. Almost, but not quite in time. There was no chance, right? When I got to the luggage pickup area, the belt was not moving yet. I did not even look at the time at this point, too depressing. However, then it started moving, and bags started appearing! Fastest bag offload I had ever seen, but bag after bag came rolling out and not mine.
Finally, my bag appeared, and I started to move very quickly towards the taxi stand. The time was only 09.25, and if a taxi could make it in twenty minutes, I would make it! If it took thirty, I would miss it.
I got out, and there were a line of taxis waiting for passengers but no passengers waiting for taxis. The perfect situation for me. I jumped into the first one, and asked the driver how much time it would take. “Zwanzig Minuten”. That would even give me some time to spare! Time for a new call to our show organizer. This time, with the message that I would most likely make it!
I felt like Schrödinger’s speaker: unknown if I would be in time or not, but the probability function was yet to collapse. The taxi ride felt like the scene at the end of the movie “the Blues Brothers” where they are sitting still waiting for the assessor to come back from lunch – while a huge crowd of police are running up chasing them. You cannot do anything except hope that time is on your side.
Every red light on the way was a painful wait, but the driver seemed sure of his timing. I checked that I had my entry ticket ready, and checked where I was going to go. We finally arrived at the Messe, and got to the NCC Ost entrance. I paid the driver (with a nice tip), and the time was 09.50. Ten minutes to go!
After some confusion around where show floor speakers and conference speakers would go, I found the right entry gates to the floor. I scanned my printed-out voucher and got a proper entry card. It did not bother to even find a lanyard for it but just ran straight in looking for hall 3A. Fortunately, hall 3A is just beyond hall 4 from the Ost entrance, and it was a straight run in! Had I arrived at the other entrance, I would have been too late.
So, with three minutes to spare I arrived at the speaker stage. I got up on the stage, plugged in my laptop, and got fitted with the microphone. As I set up, some thirty people arrived to listen to my talk.
When the clock said 10.00, I turned on the mike, started on the slides, and gave the presentation. Timing was perfect, and I even had time to weave in something probably understandable about how plane flights are like waterfall-based software projects: you start it, and then you have no control or insight until you get a delivery a long time later. Pretty lame analogy, but it seemed like a good idea in the spur of the moment, all hyped up on adrenaline and caffeine.
Just-in-time is in time. No more, no less.
The Lucky One
Turned out I was rather lucky. Many other people from Stockholm who were going to the show fared worse than me, and did not get in until much later in the day. There were Swedes in airport hotels all over Europe, including Paris, Frankfurt, and Zürich. Apparently Amsterdam had some unusually good connections to Nürnberg.