Saturday, July 12, 2008

At what point should one start screaming?

The morning we were to leave for Fiji, things were running like clockwork. We dropped extra bags in the hotel we were to stay in (from where I'm writing this blog entry), dropped off the rental car to Apollo (the last one we'll need on this entire trip), and were in the airport in plenty of time for our flight. It was 2 hours delayed - no big deal. But as the clock ticked down it was pushed back another 2 hours. Then another 2. Then four hours. Instead of leaving at 14:30, we were now promised that the 'engineering requirements' were sorted and our flight would leave at 00:30. It had been a long day, but Nina and Sara to their great credit were extremely patient, and we had a promised departure time. But airline promises are made to be broken. After another few hours we were called together and told that we were being, in their parlance, off-loaded until 06:00. Strange given that we were never loaded in the first place.

We were told that we would be put up in a hotel, given call cards and fed before being shuttled back to the airport for the rescheduled flight. These things happen. We were tired, disappointed, but there is no point in getting angry in these situations. What happened next however, made me angry.

Flying means queueing. Being off-loaded means queuing back through passport, back through customs and back through biosecurity, all in order to queue to get assigned accommodation, queue for the bus, and then queue in the hotel lobby behind all the other poor schmucks. And then, if you're very unlucky, after spending 12 hours in the airport, watching day turn to freezing night, the hotel reception staff will tell you that they don't have any rooms left. None. Nothing in reserve. We'd booked a Quantas flight that was actually operated by Air Pacific, whose ground representatives (in their absence) was Air New Zealand, who had directed us to Hotel Grand Chancellor using an indepentant coach service (and no Air New Zealand ground staff reps). We were four layers away from the root cause of our problem and one step removed from the people who had got us into this immediate predicament. The staff were understanding, but couldn't really help. Air NZ wasn't answering the phone, and all the other hotels nearby were fully booked. It was 10 in the evening, and we had maybe 5 hours sleep opportunity ahead of us before being cattle-trucked back to the airport. If we could only find somewhere to sleep!

Someone, somewhere suggested that we stay in "the house". A stand-alone, self-catering flat around the back of the hotel. "Is it warm?". Yes, we were told. We took it. It was glacial.

I have never felt so sorry for my children, and so guilty for uprooting them from their comfortable existence back home, as I did that night when I saw their earlier spectacular patience rewarded by shivering covers in a strange and inhospitable bedroom. We got our bus 4 hours later, and went through the same queues in reverse - groggy and dislocated, uncertain even yet of whether our flight would be ready.

It ended well. We made it to Fiji. We lost out on one night, but really enjoyed our six remaining days in the tropical sun. I am the forgiving kind, and would normally concentrate on the fact that we got over the bad stuff. But I'm still composing the letter to Air New Zealand whose lack of organization let to that evening's final insult.

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