By Annette Hinkle
This Friday will be Flo Sandelson’s 12th birthday and the celebration includes a sleepover at her house with six of her best friends. The problem is, Flo is in Sag Harbor — and she lives in England.
It all started two weeks ago when Johnny Sandelson flew from London to New York with his three children, Flo, Jacob, 13 and Sacha, 6, for a weeklong vacation in the city. Instead, the volcanic eruption in Iceland and the resulting ash cloud that drifted over Europe has canceled flights in and out of England and has left the Sandelsons stranded on the wrong side of the Atlantic.
“We were in Manhattan for a week, and our friend, Louis, from New York, offered us his lovely house [in Sag Harbor] by the library for one night,” explained Sandelson. “Saturday night we were meant to fly out. But now it looks like we could be here for the spring.”
And while the children are disappointed they haven’t gotten back home to see their friends and are a bit worried about falling behind in their schoolwork, they are making the best of the situation. It helps that people in Sag Harbor have been doing what they can to show the family a good time.
“We’ve been a bit low on confidence about getting back,” said Jacob. “But we did go on a boat trip in Montauk and horse riding at Deep Hollow Ranch. And we were invited to dinner by some people last night. As far as places go to be stranded, Sag Harbor is pretty much as good as it gets.”
The dinner hosts were the Megnas of Sag Harbor — Mariann, Martin and son Timothy. Mariann met the Sandelsons Monday when they stopped in to visit the Megna Glass Studio. After learning that the children were missing home-cooked British specialties, Mariann invited them over to dinner for homemade shepherd’s pie. On Tuesday morning, she took Jacob, Flo and Sacha to Morton Wildlife Refuge in Noyac for a nature outing.
“I quite liked the birds in my hand,” said Sacha.
Meanwhile, Sandelson has been working diligently to try and figure out how (and when) he’s going to get his family back home.
“I’ve got an office in London who calls the airline every day, and no success,” said Sandelson Tuesday morning. “We were just down at the boat yard to see if there were any boats going over. They said not only would it take three weeks, but it’s still pretty rough seas.”
“There is a cruise ship leaving Manhattan for Southampton next week, but they’re charging an exorbitant amount of money,” he added. “I also thought it would be incredibly frustrating to be on the ocean and then see the planes flying overhead again.”
Sandelson, who works in finance and property in England, may not be in his London office, but like many travelers stranded during this crisis, he has learned to adapt to the situation.
“Luckily, I’m able to do a lot by work by phone,” he said. “I can do video conferencing and email and telephone conferencing. It teaches people you don’t have to go across the world to make a business decision. But you do to have your kids back in school.”
Sandelson is not the only parent dealing with this dilemma though, and he noted that in one of his children’s classes, 17 of 40 students haven’t been able to make it back from spring vacation because of the volcano. Meanwhile, Sandelson says his ex-wife is waiting by the phone for news of when they will be able to return.
“There’s this whole idea of why don’t we fly a bit closer to England,” notes Jacob, citing some travelers’ theory of taking any flight they can to Europe, hoping they can then catch a train or boat home. “But what’s helpful about being closer? With everyone being so welcoming here, I said, ‘Let’s wait for a flight to England.”
“I thought everyone was really friendly, but I miss my home,” admitted Flo. “I’d like to get home for my birthday.”
By Tuesday, flight restrictions were lifting across Europe and late in the day came word that British airspace was opening up for commercial flights again. Sandelson received the news he had been waiting days for.
“We just heard that Air France can get us back on Monday night,” noted Sandelson.
Still too late for Flo’s sleepover, unfortunately, but Sandelson has told her that perhaps they’ll take a trip to Coney Island on Friday instead to celebrate her birthday. And while the Sandelsons will soon be back to their daily routine in England, it’s safe to say they will remember their impromptu vacation in Sag Harbor for a long time to come.
“Everyone’s been incredibly kind and hospitable, said Sandelson. “We’re the luckiest standees in the world — and Mariann’s shepherd’s pie is famous and unforgettable.
Top: Sacha, Flo and Jacob Sandelson in Sag Harbor