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Schiphol Airport Or Gameshow?

“Ah, yes, let’s write another live travel diary again. So nice to read back later, all those those wonderful memories. And so relaxing to process my experiences by writing them down at the end of the day…”

When I thought of this a few days ago, I didn’t know yet that my first day of travel would immediately turn into a classic. One that I can draw inspiration from for years to come. That will no doubt immediately put me in the top 3 of “dear-goodness-me-she’s-been-through-a-lot-in-life“-overview of the retirement home.

You’d almost think I’m seeking this out on purpose – turning my entire travel schedule into utter chaos just an hour into the journey. Anything for a good story.

But no, it really gets handed to me. All I had to do was put down a few hundred euros and some extra gray hairs. Worth it, if I do say so myself.

Schiphol Airport Or Gameshow? || The Travel Tester


Level 0 – The Trip Plan

As I write this first section, it is five o’clock in the afternoon and I am sitting, without shoes but with a facemask on, stretched out over three seats in the back of Eurowings’ flight EW 2181 from Amsterdam to Stuttgart.

I don’t know what people around me think is worse, my feet or my possible corona snout, but I just have the feeling that both stinky toes and a corona infection are one of the lesser problems of almost everyone on board at the moment.

Another thing you don’t hear anyone complaining about right now, for a change, is too little space on board. There is literally no one who has another person sitting next to them.

Anyone who has followed my Instagram stories in the past few days (they are still in the bubble called “#Traverse22” on @thetraveltester, for the disaster-loving tourists among us) already knows why it is so quiet on board and why the bags under my eyes are already larger than they usually are.

And anyone who has followed the news a bit lately will also not be surprised to read that my journey from Schiphol Airport today did not go without a hitch.

I am on my way to the city of Brno in the Czech Republic, where I will participate in the travel blogger conference “Traverse”. I have been attending this gathering of writers, photographers, video makers, social media talents and other creatives since 2014. I know most of the more than 200 visitors to this event and can count many of these wonderful people as my best friends.

Throw a big pandemic into the mix and you’ll understand why I’m so excited to see everyone again. But, according to Schiphol, I have to earn that privilege first.

Schiphol of Spelshow? || The Travel Tester
Schiphol of Spelshow? || The Travel Tester
Grab some extra oxygen – you’ll need it for this heart-pounding story!

Level 1 – The Check-In Debacle

It all started so nicely according to plan.

With military precision I had worked out my important times from take-off, through boarding, bag-drop, all the way back to my train to the airport and even the time of my breakfast. You say ‘control freak‘, I say ‘I like to have a little bit of grip on my life’. potato potatoe.

Well, so I’m busy finding the right terminal, then the check-in counter, I labeled my suitcase myself and let it disappear into a device, all is well. They could have dressed me up in a fluorescent vest and offered me a job at Schiphol, so to speak.

Those of you who can already see the joke coming may press the button, because yes, that’s exactly where the problem lies. You see, there isn’t any staff working at Schiphol these days. Or at least way too little. And those who do work there are heavily underpaid and placed in positions where no one can really explain to them exactly what it is they have to do.

And that’s how chaos is born.

I’ve always kind of imagined that the end of the world would look like one of those zombie movies, with empty streets and half-collapsed buildings. But now I’m sure it will just feel like Schiphol on an average Monday morning.

All right, chaos. But how bad was it then? Stories! Photos! Bruises! Dismembered Limbs! I’m sure you want to see everything, otherwise it didn’t happen, right?! Okay, okay, it’s coming!

Schiphol of Spelshow? || The Travel Tester
Look! There go all your hopes & dreams!

Level 1 – Bonus Mission

First I quickly have to transfer at Stuttgart for the second leg of my flight to Vienna, from where I take the bus to Brno.

Originally I was going to fly directly to Vienna to be cheaper, faster and a bit more environmentally conscious and also to make sure that my luggage would arrive at the same time as me – but that would be a very short and boring story. So the travel gods thought: we’ll complicate things for that girl, so she can write some nice stories about it later.

Please hold on to my frayed boarding pass for a bit, because I have to run, otherwise I won’t make the transfer and then this day would be just a tad more disappointing. Be right back.

By the way, just between you and me, how glad I am that I got up at 6 am this morning to arrive exactly at 7:30 am for the opening of the bag-drop of my flight with Austrian Airlines to Vienna.

With a flight that departs at 10 am, of course you want to err on the side of caution. Getting ready to go through customs two-and-a-half hours before departure is a bit on the generous side for a flight within Europe, but the peace that you get in return is worth it for me.

For those of you who can’t read sarcasm: THIS IS MEANT SARCASTICALLY.

Okay, I’m back on the plane. Exactly the same plane as where I just got off, as it turns out.

I walked a little loop through the airport to end up in the exact same seat, don’t ask me how this works. The only thing that was missing was some circus music in the background to give some power to my silly walk.

Anyways, on to Vienna it is – and back to this morning for you, are you still paying attention?

Schiphol of Spelshow? || The Travel Tester
Schiphol of Spelshow? || The Travel Tester

Level 1 – The Check-In Debacle

After checking in my suitcase, I begin to recognize the faint signs of impending doom as the line to gate B31 begins to move AWAY from customs in a curious twist.

And then swings outside into a large festical marquee. Without music by the way, so just a big tent, I guess. And then around the corner into a second tent. And a third tent. And a fourth (for balance I think). And then to an area without a tent.

Here we encounter the first emergency toilets, an international signal that things are NOT looking positive.

Minutes pass and the stream of people is now walking so far away from the terminal building that I can see my hometown of Zaandam (North of Amsterdam) again, so to speak. Just as we are about to touch the border with Austria (I swear I’m starting to smell strudel) the crowd turns and we walk in the right direction again, step-by-step, like a funeral procession.

From here – with Schiphol’s iconic radio tower set against the blue sky high above the dark crowd – we can suddenly take in a bit of the damage.

Impressive photos are sent to loved ones and the harsh reality is clearly starting to hit everyone, given the many sighs and headshakes around me. As we shuffle back to the terminal building, more and more people are clearly starting to get restless and some are already climbing over the concrete barricades to get further forward in line.

The Dutch Royal Marechaussee soon arrives and given the amount of weapons they carry, I personally would rather miss my flight than argue with them, but a few people are already so hysterical that they try anyway. Without success.

The slight despair is now turning into heavy outrage for some and people are starting to turn to each other for support. “Did you leave home so early too?”. “You got right.” “What time does your flight leave?” “In ten minutes.” “Oh dear.” “You got that right.”.

My personal emotional support animal becomes this American lady who is on her way to Romania for a conference and actually tried to do that yesterday already. Due to a cancellation of her original flight, she now suddenly has a stopover in Amsterdam. But with the time between her check-in opening time, this line and her flight time, which is so tight that even Usain Bolt couldn’t make it on a free track, there’s not a chance that she’ll make it to her gate in time.

I hear dozens of the same stories around me.

The main problem seems to be the fact that you can’t get to the airport more than four hours before your flight, that the check-in and bag-drop desks only open about two hours before departure… and oh yeah… that the QUEUE TO GET THROUGH CUSTOMS ALONE TAKES MORE THAN 3 HOURS!

I’m bad at math, but even I see you’re seven feet and two triangles short here.

Schiphol of Spelshow? || The Travel Tester
Schiphol of Spelshow? || The Travel Tester
Schiphol of Spelshow? || The Travel Tester

Level 2: Locating the Suitcase

After about two hours of queuing, I’m back in the terminal building where I started, and a small sign cheerfully reports to me that it will take ‘another 60 to 70 minutes from this point’ until customs.

My flight leaves in 10 minutes.

I immediately turn left to an Aviareps counter, which seems to include Austrian Airlines, I hear from someone in the queue. But the lady behind the counter can only tell me that she can’t tell me anything, that Austrian does not have its own office at Schiphol and that I should ask at the check-in desk what happens to my suitcase if I don’t make the flight.

And oh yes, a small detail of course, but how I can possibly still get to my destination. If I would still be interested in that.

I bump into a British man who got a phone number from the same desk that doesn’t seem to work, but because he doesn’t have a checked-in bag to locate, he’s already one level further that me, so we part ways here.

Schiphol of Spelshow? || The Travel Tester

Level 2: Bonus Mission

Before I go to the counter to locate my suitcase, I realize that I need to quickly arrange a new flight to Vienna, before everyone on my original flight realizes that there are only limited options.

I feel a slight panic attack emerge (normally it takes me two full days to plan the most perfect itinerary) and quickly call Nick, who is working hard at the office, but can still send me some new flight options and on command very sweet tells me “that everything will be alright in the end”.

Then, crouching on one knee in the middle of the aisle, I book another flight on my rotten little phone screen. A direct flight with the same airline is only available very late in the evening, so I’m going for the flight with stopover in Stuttgart, which leaves Schiphol just before five o’clock and will arrive in Vienna at eight o’clock in the evening. There are no other options today.

I immediately cancel my train from Vienna to Brno and book a new ticket for a night bus, because that too is the only transport option that is still running tonight.

Schiphol of Spelshow? || The Travel Tester
current mood.

Level 2: Locating the Suitcase

After arranging this I feel a little better, but the sense of progress quickly fades when I realize that I still don’t know where my suitcase is. Still here? In Vienna? Sold to “Storage Wars”? (or what’s that TV show called where they blindly buy suitcases and hope they’re full of jewels and Chanel clothes?)

Well, if someone takes my suitcase, they mostly get a lot of socks. Enjoy.

The lady at the check-in desk is not from Austrian Airlines and therefore knows nothing, the gentleman who is from Austrian Airlines has not been informed and therefore also knows nothing.

Together with a guy from Suriname, who tried to rebook his mother and two sisters after also missing the flight, I share a raised eyebrow and a shrug. “Good luck further then.” “Yes you too”.

The search for survivors of this zombie apocalypse continues.

In a series of questions to bits of staff scattered around the airport (who can apparently be present to move the poles of the queue, but not to make sure that everyone gets on their flights on time or to provide any information whatsoever), I find out that I should likely be on the ground floor and then likely behind door 16.

Schiphol of Spelshow? || The Travel Tester

Level 3: Door 16

Door 16.

Sounds like Platform 9 3/4. If I go through that, will I end up at the wizarding school? Or Narnia? Or is it a game show and I win either my suitcase or one of many other prizes, including a microwave oven, a bag of money or, I don’t know, a small goat? Who knows at this point.

At least not the Schiphol employees that’s for sure!

The whole experience is now starting to feel a bit like Disney. You stand in line for an hour, but you don’t really know exactly what the attraction is about. It could be a kiddie ride with tree stump-shaped carts, but it could also be a roller coaster with two loops and a corkscrew. Surprise!

Door number 16 also turns out to be a magical place.

After watching the scene for an hour in the queue, I now know that the man behind door 16 is mostly concerned that no more than two people can go through door 16 at a time, that he spends a lot of his energy telling people that they have to step further back because door 16 won’t otherwise close – and that once you are allowed through door 16, the guy turns out to just be there to send you through another door.

Where you’ll have to go next, he forgets to tell everyone, but when you ask, he takes out a clipboard with a big penis drawn on it (I assume, I couldn’t see it well enough) and then he says, after careful consideration…. “the desk”.

Yo, thanks man. Loved this ride.

Now I want to go to the spinning teacups and consume a bucket of popcorn.

Schiphol of Spelshow? || The Travel Tester

Level 3: Bonus Mission

At the (you guessed it) long queue at the lost luggage counter I meet a guy from Oslo, with whom I have some small talk, so that he holds my place in the queue as I climb atop a mountain of abandoned suitcases to see if there’s something there that belongs to me.

There isn’t.

Back in the queue I mentally prepare myself for another disappointing one-hour ride, but then I suddenly spot – in the wild – on the conveyor belt below us… my suitcase!

Mr. Oslo also spots his suitcase and after collecting it we say goodbye again. I say “Until never! Good luck with your life!”, or something along those lines. I’m starting to see double a bit and I’m not capable of socially accepted communication anymore.

But the suitcase is in the pocket. On to the next level!

Schiphol of Spelshow? || The Travel Tester

Level 4: Directly to Jail

Let’s take score for a bit.

I have a new ticket. I have a suitcase. I have plenty of time until the departure of my new flight. In the casino this is 3 cherries and therefore the jackpot, at Schiphol this is only 3/4 of a complete quartet card game.

The thing is, you have to get rid of that newly conquered suitcase first, otherwise you can’t board for your next flight. And so you have to start over again, you will certainly NOT get 100 euros, you have to wait another two hours until the check-in counter opens and then you only have two hours left to get to your gate. Otherwise the game would be very easy.

I use the waiting time to scream into an imagined pillow, race to the Albert Heijn supermarket in the departures hall downstairs for a cold drink and a snack. And to score a facemask, because in Austria (and now also Germany due to my flight change) they are still mandatory on public transport.

I forgot my facemask at home, because in a fit of mental bewilderment I thought for a moment that it was 2019 again and you could simply travel to the destination after buying a plane ticket while continuing to breathe. Silly me.

Schiphol of Spelshow? || The Travel Tester

Level 4: Bonus Mission

What I also didn’t know, by the way, is that the lower hall was apparently reset to level 1 of this game during my shop visit, because when I want to go back up, the stairs and escalators are closed off with red ribbon everywhere. Because apparently… it’s too busy.

No shit Sherlock.

I see an elevator that people still use to go up, but the moment I want to get in it, I am stopped. “Sorry, but this was the last one to go up.”

For a moment I think I’m in a scene from the musical Miss Saigon, where the locals of Vietnam are not allowed to ride with the last American army helicopters during the war to flee.

I dramatically shout, fully immerged in my role as a poor farmer’s daughter “but my husband is already upstairs!”.

Apparently I missed my shot at a glorious acting career, because the man at the door believes me immediately, I can take the elevator and can pick up my Oscar right at the top.


Schiphol of Spelshow? || The Travel Tester
Schiphol of Spelshow? || The Travel Tester

Level 4: Directly to Jail

But, as ever: the show must go on.

In the line for luggage drop-off of my Eurowings flight to Stuttgart (the new end boss of this part of the game), I watch a boy who keeps moving the sign with “Eurowings ➡️” into a slightly different location for over an hour.

We switch rows at least five times and at the end of his shift I am, of course, in the wrong row, together with three friendly Malaysian ladies.

We manage to find the right desk together and I am even assured that my suitcase will go straight to Vienna in one go. I nod, but have already said goodbye to all my socks three times by now. I have almost completely gone through the grieving process and am ready to remarry, so to say.

The Eurowings desk is located in a different departure hall than where I was this morning, but here too I can see the queue to the gates meandering out immediately. The ladies obediently join in the back the queue, but because at this point in my journey I already forgot what time it is, what month I’m from and how much my house lives, I join (without making eye contact) behind a group of people of whom everyone can clearly see that they are cutting the queue like no other. Hashtag SorryNotSorry.

A British woman angrily yells at us that she’s just been waiting in line outside for two hours, but I think I’ll have forgotten her by the time I’m on my (for a change) NOT missed flight that I just paid big bucks for.

And to add to that, I thought the Brits love queuing, so what’s she going on about?

Schiphol of Spelshow? || The Travel Tester
Schiphol of Spelshow? || The Travel Tester
Schiphol of Spelshow? || The Travel Tester

Level 5: C is for Customs

I seem to have chosen exactly the right point in the line to push ahead, because suddenly I can walk freely. I feel very smart for a moment, and immediately text this to everyone with whom I have a blood relationship, but my karma points have clearly decreased immediately, because here we are: I am back in the departure hall where I was this morning.

And so there again is the queue I was in this morning, the one that meanders almost to the border with Austria. Noooooooooo!

Since I already have the reputation of being a sneaky little queue jumper, I return to the spot where I made a left turn to the Aviareps desk this morning.

I dive under the barrier and between the waiting people and ask a question at the desk to which I secretly already know the answer. I take the already familiar piece of paper with the non-working Austrian Airlines telephone number on it and think that by now it seems enough like I am here with a good reason.

Without batting an eyelid, I shuffle along in the line again, staring hard at my phone and silently hoping I won’t be noticed by the rest of the queue zombies and ripped to shreds by them.

Schiphol of Spelshow? || The Travel Tester

Level 5: Bonus Mission

My devious tactics have worked and I can now go up an escalator, where the next hurdle presents itself: the line for customs.

Well, actually two rows, because now I have to make the choice for going LEFT along the post or going RIGHT along the post.

I go for left, but I realize right away that I made a wrong decision, because the right row moves much faster. I always do this wrong in the supermarket as well. But then what? Of course you’ll see that right at the moment you change lanes, the one you just came from suddenly disappears, followed by a prize draw of the millionth store visitor – landing exactly at the person who has taken your spot.

But still, the right lane really moves a lot faster.

Should I? Should I? Should I?

Ahhh! OK! I’ll do it! Wheeeeeee!

With eyes closed and hold breath, I peep under the ribbon to the right lane.

For a while, I’m scared to look at my old place in line to see whether I’ve made the wrong decision, until we my new line bends off enough to never know the answer.

We seem to be moving along consistently, so I feel pretty good about my decision. When I then hear the girl in front of me say to someone that this is “the better queue” (she was apparently in the left lane this morning and missed her flight because she barely moved along at all) – I know I can move on with the rest of my life without regrets.

That is, if I don’t spontaneously scatter into a thousand pieces from fatigue, and the chances of that happening seems to be quite high. My legs have already started to wobble and I have a strong urge to curl up into a ball and close my eyes for a little while, lying in the huge mountain of empty plastic bottles that have collected in and mainly around the rubbish bin next to me.

Schiphol of Spelshow? || The Travel Tester
Schiphol of Spelshow? || The Travel Tester
Schiphol of Spelshow? || The Travel Tester
Schiphol of Spelshow? || The Travel Tester

Level 6: The Final Battle

Then, suddenly, the moment is there and I get to dump all my valuables, belt and jacket in a big gray bin and hand it over to an exciting device that goes in search of my hidden packages of hash, knife collection, battle axe and six-pack of dried iguanas.

I myself go through another scanner, which picks up the sweat stains on my back and feet very precisely. It’s a beautiful experience.

After this, my shoes have to go through another scanner on their own, just because, and after that I can finally, FINALLY share the news with the world that I realistically could just make it onto this flight.

* insert the singing of angels here *

“Yes, if the flight doesn’t still get cancelled, of course”, my mother adds via WhatsApp as an encouragement on this glorious day.

But, it isn’t and in the large departure hall I quickly find my gate (+100 points) and I collect some bonus points in various places in the form of a muffin (+50 points) and a bottle of iced tea (+75 points).

I find the toilet (+250 points) and a power socket (+1000 points) and can complete this level with a nice final score when I eventually board the plane (+10,000 points) and – with nobody sitting next to me (+2500 points) – take off from the runway (+1 million billion points).

The only thing left to say is: “Thank you for flying with me today“. And Schiphol, thank you for this memorable travel experience. I hope that processing my claim will bring you just as much pleasure. See you next time. But I wouldn’t sit around and wait for that.


Schiphol of Spelshow? || The Travel Tester
Schiphol of Spelshow? || The Travel Tester

PS. The observant viewer knows that I am of course still far from my final destination in this story and that there is a good chance that the continuation of this journey will also not go completely smoothly…

If you want to drop out and move on with your life, that’s up to you. YOLO! But if you feel like it, go to the toilet, grab a jar of cookies and keep an eye out on this site, because in a next blog I will happily continue with my own gloating.

If you still dare leaving the house after reading about my ordeal…


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Tuesday 21st of February 2023

Oh, My God! What a roller coaster for you. This incident would have given me a bad panic attack in the very beginning.