Detroit Lakes family stranded in Marseilles airport for three days
The Mark and Julie Berg family of Detroit Lakes had the perfect winter getaway vacation.
They traveled to the south of France Dec. 25-Jan. 6, and enjoyed the beautiful weather, green grass and trees, an "absolutely fantastic" rented villa and the old city of Avignon.
They enjoyed great baguettes and croissants -- among other foods -- excellent shopping and all the sights of a foreign country. Life was good.
Then they attempted to return home.
"It was a great trip," Mark Berg said. "Ultimately, it was at the end when it was bad."
The family was scheduled to fly out of the Marseilles airport on Jan. 6 to Paris and on to the United States. But a storm took over and changed the course of plans from there on out.
It started snowing and the airport and flights to Paris shut down. In one day, it snowed 15 inches.
Area residents told the Bergs the last time there was snow in the south of France was 30 years ago, and that was just a dusting of it. The last time there was substantial snow, they said, was 400 years ago.
"They didn't have any equipment, totally not prepared for it," Mark's daughter Caitlin Berg said.
After they sat two and a half hours on the plane waiting to take off, the airport called them back and postponed all flights in and out of the airport.
Mark said he could hear the flight tower tell the pilots, "We can no longer see you."
Workers had de-iced a plane in front of the one carrying the Berg family, but without equipment, that wasn't going to work anymore.
"De-icing was with a broom," Caitlin said.
Caitlin and Mark waited three hours to retrieve the family's luggage, while Julie waited in line six hours for new tickets out on another flight.
The family returned to their hotel, scheduled on different flights out the next day, traveling through Amsterdam instead. Mark, Julie and Caitlin were scheduled to leave at 6 a.m., and their son, Tyler, and his girlfriend, Carisa Anderson, were scheduled to fly out at 12:30 p.m.
Mark, Julie and Caitlin returned early the following morning, but found the flights were still all canceled because of no equipment to remove the 15 inches of snow.
They contacted Tyler and Carisa, and told them stay at the hotel, which was fine because the shuttle had gotten stuck and had to be towed anyway.
With the extra nights in the hotels, Mark said he spent an extra $1,000. Unless it's for technical delays, the airlines wouldn't pay for hotel rooms.
While stuck at the airport, Mark and Caitlin said everyone was calm for the most part and everyone was in the same boat.
"We slept a couple hundred feet from the pilots," Caitlin said.
"Not one person was complaining. They were seasoned travelers," Mark added.
They estimated over 1,000 people were stuck in that wing of the airport, and the cafes were running out of food. At one point a café only had brownies, water and pop left.
The airport did provide passengers with cots and blankets though.
By the second day, Tyler and Carisa had made it to the airport, so the family was together again.
The third day at the airport, Jan. 8, Caitlin said she woke up on the surprisingly comfortable cot with people standing around her.
"It was the most awkward thing," she said.
Flights were starting back up again and planes of passengers had come to the airport, which explained the people standing around the sleeping passengers who had been there three days.
It was now Thursday, and the Bergs knew that if they didn't fly out by Friday, they wouldn't be able to leave until Monday because of flight schedules.
Although calm, they weren't in the mood to stay another three days in the airport.
After making friends with people at the airport, Caitlin said they realized something strange -- all the French people were getting flights out and it was mainly Americans left at the airport.
"It was like we got lost and they forgot about us," she said.
Finally, on Friday, the family was scheduled to leave after four days of being stranded in the airport.
"The fun part was meeting people and hearing stories," Mark said.
Since the airplane had been sitting for several days, mechanics were called in to clear the plane for take-off, and Mark, Julie and Caitlin left at 11:15 a.m. for Amsterdam, Tyler and Carisa at 1:30 p.m. From Amsterdam, the family got a flight out directly to Minneapolis.
Many of the people they had met at the Marseilles airport were on that flight and didn't care how they'd get connecting flights to Los Angeles, San Francisco or Hawaii once they got to Minneapolis, they were just happy to be back in the States.
Despite the time at the airport, Mark said the trip was probably a favorite of the family's. "Everyone was absolutely very friendly," he said. Around every corner, he said, the beauty of the land was like "wow! wow! wow! It was like out of a movie."