Rule one for television field producers: Expect the unexpected

Dusseldorf airport, where Marketplace Europe got caught in chaos

Story highlights

  • CNN's Marketplace Europe team was on the road in Germany when they got caught in chaos
  • CNN pulls off exclusive interviews -- but sometimes travel hiccups makes life very unpredictable
  • The team's travel plans went utterly awry amid a bomb scare, fog and baggage problems
  • MPE producer Chris Pepper says he's learned one thing: Expect the unexpected

If the consequences at Berlin airport hadn't been so serious, the expressions on our faces would have made the perfect Kodak moment.

Our jaws dropped, color drained from our faces, and we had that sick, sinking feeling familiar to those who've locked their keys in the house. Only this was a million times worse.

CNN International might be able to secure exclusives with the likes of Iran's President or put a man on the moon (well it could if it put its mind to it). But dealing with this situation? It was unpredictable -- and very tricky.

Because of what's easily described as a "communications breakdown" (the check-in clerk didn't listen and wrongly tagged our bags to our final destination, Heathrow) our camera gear and lights were now heading in the wrong direction.

This left us to interview the chief executive of German manufacturing giant Henkel with little more than an iPhone's torch app for mood lighting.

Fortunately the gravity of the situation shocked the check-in agent so badly (her face was priceless) that she kindly chased after said luggage in the bowels of Tegel airport with a screed of labels to correct the mistake.

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As the bags arrived in Dusseldorf, the cameraman Darren and Isa, MPE's presenter, were relieved. A close shave, nothing worse. That is, until we opened our camera boxes and found our batteries had been confiscated and apparently destroyed by the authorities at Berlin's airport. We were told they were potentially dangerous. They weren't.

Luckily, we had our camera batteries and a charger so it was just a second close shave for us. The batteries were returned to our German bureau a day later.

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Clearly, fate wasn't happy about that happy ending. After our interview we returned to the airport to find our flight was canceled due to fog in London, eating into our precious edit time. We were put on an afternoon flight.

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That was wrecked by a bomb scare, leaving us to find a hotel for the night while the authorities took five hours to deal with abandoned luggage which had a metal pipe inside.

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I was ready to shake it at someone by now, as thousands of displaced passengers surged into the airport hotels and assaulted their power sockets with assorted laptop and phone chargers. We don't still know what happened to the pipe.

Amid all the calamity, our cameraman was able to shoot some of the chaos and send it back to our newsdesk, thanks to the hotel's broadband.

Had enough of this already? It's not over yet. When we returned the following day to join a rebooked flight, we found out that was canceled due to technical reasons. BA were very apologetic but by now my cameraman Darren said he was ready to start eating people.

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There was a sense of utter helplessness and ridiculousness. Our updates back to CNN London were being treated with increasing incredulity.

Eventually, happily, the Germans came to the rescue. We were rebooked on a Lufthansa flight which was due to leave in what felt like two minutes, but was actually 20 minutes.

We needed to clear security, which had the longest queue in the world. This wasn't the Germany I know -- where was the predictable efficiency?

We got back to London intact, and the edit took place. I hope we'll be reunited with our bags, all 14 of them, eventually. What have I learned from this experience? Expect the unexpected when it comes to air travel.

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