Everything was going so well on my international trip around the world. I had two very comfortable flights on Emirates and got to enjoy a chicken Big Mac at McDonalds in the Dubai airport. In Bangkok, I again celebrated the American experience with some French fries from Burger King. We boarded our JetStart flight to Melbourne Australia on time and everything was looking as if I was on track for an on-time arrival in Australia the following morning. I sent an email to my friend in New Zealand that I was on the plane and would be arriving in New Zealand as scheduled. I was extremely excited as this was my first time on the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner airplane. The plane had cool mood lighting and the windows lacked the typical pull down shades (however, on Emirates, my window was trim in premium wood). There was a button underneath the window that allowed you to change the tint of the window.
Sadly, Boeing’s much heralded airplane was unable to get off the ground on Thursday night thanks to a mechanical problem that the technicians on the ground were unable to fix. After three and half hours on the flight, the pilot announced that we had missed the deadline for taking off and JetStar would have to cancel the flight and reschedule for Friday. While I was disappointed, I was initially excited to spend a day in Bangkok…but this excitement would be short-lived. It took nearly two hours for me and other passengers to exit the airport. For me, I lacked a visa for Thailand. But after a few discussions with Thai immigration officials, I was granted a transit visa to Thailand. At 6:00am, I was finally given a room at the Novotel Airport Hotel. I was too exhausted to enjoy anything…But for a few other passengers on my flight whose visa had expired the day they were leaving, they had to spend an uncomfortable night in the airport.
I’ll get back to my travel woes shortly but I want to spend some time talking about air travel. I love traveling and seeing new places and I have a fondness (and overzealous interest) in airplanes. I was excited in 2012 to fly the Airbus A-380 and had been looking forward to the new Boeing 787. But like all things in our society, quality has been overtaken by quantity and we now suffer with recalls, ccancellationsand near misses. In March, it was reported that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) had raised concerns about the 787. The initial concerns centered on the lithium-ion batteries used to supply power to critical systems on the plane. After a few incidents, the plane was grounded until the problem could be fixed. The pilot on our JetStar 787 didn’t say whether our plane was experiencing problems with the battery but he did say that the connection between one of the engines was not registering in the cockpit. Customer care and quality of goods seem to be at an all-time low. Recent arguments between passengers on some flights highlight the simmering tensions that exist in customers. These tensions will only continue to grow as airlines pack more people into smaller planes. Which is why Emirates is currently dominating international markets and pleasing customers with preferential treatment, whether in first class, business class or economy. For one, the airlines is owned by a government known for over-the-top antics (tallest building in the world, ski resort in the desert and the highest tennis court in the world (on top of one of the hotels), non-existent labor contracts that constrain other airlines (like United and Qantas) and good customer service.
Back to Thailand…when I got to the hotel I started looking up potential flights in case JestStar was unable to get the passengers out of Bangkok. I slept for four hours because I was too concerned that I would miss the call from the airline informing me that the flight had been rescheduled. At noon, there was no information. I found a Philippines flight that would get me to Sydney by 7:25am on Saturday morning. However, when I contacted JetStar, I was informed that I had a confirmed ticket on a 6:30pm flight that would arrive in Melbourne at 6:25am on Friday morning. That was perfect because I would be able to catch a connecting flight to New Zealand and be in Auckland at noon preserving some of my lost time in New Zealand. An hour later, I called Jetstar again but was informed that my 6:30pm flight had been rescheduled to Saturday at 6:30pm. I was now scheduled to arrive in Australia on Sunday in-turn unable to make it to New Zealand before my friend headed back to the United States. The excuse once again was that the technician who was flown in from Australia was unable to fix the problem.
I was now in “Amazing Race” mode. I had wasted the morning thinking Jetstar would get me out on time but now I had to take matters into my own hand. I went on Kayak and started searching for flights that would get me to either Australia or Auckland. I was excited when I found a Cathay Pacific flight that departed Thailand, connected through Hong Kong and arrived in Auckland at noon on Saturday. Sadly, the flight departed at 3:30pm and it was currently 2:30pm. There was no way I would be able to clear security and immigration in addition to purchasing a ticket. The next option was a Singapore Airline flight that connected through Singapore and arrived in Sydney at Noon. The flight was scheduled for a 6:30pm departure. I raced over to the airport only to be told by the ticket agent that the flight from Hong Kong to Sydney was booked and I would have to stand-by. I had no interest in traveling to yet another city to be trapped. She could tell I was frustrated and losing hope so she suggested I try Thai Air which coincidentally had a flight to Auckland. I raced over to Thai Air in hopes of getting out of Bangkok. I was informed that the Thai flight to Auckland departed on Saturday but there were flights available to Australia. I could choose between Melbourne and Brisbane. By the time I could make up my mind, the Melbourne flight was booked (mostly with other Jetstar passengers taking their travel plans into their own hands). I quickly booked the Brisbane flight that was scheduled to depart at Midnight. I went back to the hotel to take a shower and have dinner with other passengers.
Despite the stress and frustration that comes with flight cancellations, the experience wasn’t as bad as it may have seen. These situations are the few times where you get to interact with a random assortment of passengers from your plane. For one or two days, they are your best friends. You share your frustrations, talk about your family and joke about the “joys” of traveling. I met a women who, after nearly a decade serving in ministry in Thailand, was returning to assist in the development of new projects for the ministry. She was Australian but spoke what seemed like perfect Thai. She also had experience serving in Africa (Cameroon and Chad) She was traveling with the 17 year old daughter of a friend. Another women had just finished a consultancy in Bangkok and looking forward to spending time with her husband and children once back in Melbourne. There were two young guys who were trying to get back to Australian to partake in the finals of the Australian League Football between Hawthorne and Sydney.
After 28 hours in Sydney, I was now on my way to Brisbane, Australia…a city I knew nothing about. All my research had been on Sydney and Melbourne.