Ah, airlines

As I type this, I’m sitting in the international terminal at Fiji Airport, Nadi.  It is half past eight in the evening, Fiji time, which is four thirty in the afternoon Perth time, and I have lost track of what day it is as I appear to be traveling back in time.  If you’re wondering how Monday 23rd July was; uneventful, slightly cramped.  Both times.

I’d like to have a pleasant reminisce about the last week in Tasmania (which was quite lovely – great company, nice change of pace/scene, got out and about and saw some beautiful, unique things – always good when your own country surprises you like that) but as I am in an airport, at the mercy of airlines and airline staff, it seems only fitting that I blog about flying.

I’m a good flier.  My parents have been carting me around on planes since I was eighteen months old, and I used to pretend I was in the cabin of an aircraft in order to get to sleep at night, as a child.  I find the dim lighting and the gentle roar of the engine to be soothing.  I don’t mind cramped spaces.  I enjoy reading, watching movies and doing other activities that don’t demand any large degree of movement for long periods of time.  The way I see it, being in the air/in transit is your excuse to do whatever the fuck you like for hours on end, because let’s face it, what responsibilities do you have when you’re hurtling through the stratosphere (note: probably not technically correct term for the part of the sky a plane flies in, but get fucked, I’ve been traveling for 15 hours or something)?  That’s right!  NONE WHATSOEVER!

Unless you’re a stewardess.  Or a pilot.  But I digress.

Given my comfort with air-related travel, I’ve never been very picky about airlines.  And with an international move on my hands, money became the greater concern (trumping comfort, cleanliness, sanity, etc).  Airfares from Australia to America generally run $1500-$4000 – a hefty price tag, and not one I could really afford.  Therefore, when I found Air Pacific flights from Sydney to Los Angeles for a little over $900, I jumped at them.

Air Pacific, it turns out, is the flagship airline of Fiji (the airline was formerly known as Fiji Airways – I WONDER WHY).  I’d never heard of them, but then I’d never flown anywhere near Fiji.  I did a quick google before I booked my tickets (just to make sure they weren’t going to be stuffing me into a catapult and shooting me cross-continent – I’m not that chilled out) and the consensus was not good.

But who listens to consumer reviews, anyway?  NINE HUNDRED DOLLARS!  Do you know how many extra dollars that leaves for blackjack and loose women?  MANY DOLLARS.  And so I booked.  I booked triumphantly.  I booked confidently.  I booked like nobody has ever booked before.

It wasn’t too long after the initial booking that I started to have problems; namely, Air Pacific never sent me a confirmation email/itinerary.

In addition, somehow I had been charged twice for the ticket.

As it turned out, the double charge to my card was the fault of Expedia.  And it only took about 5 days and many, many hours on hold to off-shore call centres to straighten out that little blip.  Expedia begrudgingly provided me with a $50 voucher for screwing up royally (after trying to suggest that it had somehow been my fault, and also insinuating that I should ‘sort it out myself/with my bank’ and that there was ‘nothing they could do on their end’).  But during that time, Air Pacific STILL hadn’t emailed me a confirmation or itinerary.

Several more lengthy phone calls to off-shore call centres later, and I received not one but TWO itineraries in my email (for the same flight, fortunately).  My fears more or less assuaged, I went about my business.

Until this morning.

I flew out of Launceston, Tasmania at 6am with Virgin Blue, who were wonderful as ever (despite the mystifying stopover in Melbourne, with only a half hour layover to get through an additional security check and board a completely different plane headed to Sydney – if you know how close Sydney and Melbourne are, you will realise why this makes absolutely no sense).

It was when I hit Sydney that we started having some minor technical hiccups.

Given I had a four hour layover in Sydney, I checked in for my flight to Fiji really early.  I was issued my boarding pass, whereon the gate was printed nice and clearly (Gate 33!  Good good!) and proceeded to make my way their, at a leisurely pace.  Once at the gate, I settled in for a long wait – set up my laptop, got a snack, skyped a little with my friend in Perth.

My ticket said, very clearly, that the flight would begin boarding at midday.  At 11.30, the gate was still looking disconcertingly empty.  It was me, an elderly Fijian gentleman and some middle aged Australians (one had a beard and looked like an outback Santa Claus).  I mentioned to my friend, with whom I was skyping, that this concerned me.

“You’ll be fine.” she said.

“I don’t know if I’m at the right gate, though.”

“They’d have called you if you weren’t – they’d have made an announcement”.

When it got to be 12.01 and there was still nothing happening at the gate, I got up and asked the personnel at the gate directly opposite.

“I don’t know.” said the man I asked, looking at me with disinterest.  “Did you check the board?”

“No…” I admitted “…it says Gate 33 on my ticket.”

He shrugged.

I checked the board.

Gate 10.  They had changed the flight to a completely different wing of the terminal, without apparently seeing fit to make any sort of announcement about it.  I hurriedly gathered my things together, told the elderly Fijian gentleman and the middle aged couple (the Fijian gentleman was mildly disgruntled, and we had some quality bonding time in the line at Gate 10) and set off for the opposite wing of the terminal.

When I got to Gate 10, I walked up to the desk.

“Um, hi.” I said, to a woman who somehow managed to look bored, condescending and irritated all at once.  “Er, I was just at Gate 33 and there were a few of us waiting there for this flight.”

She looked at me blankly.

“So, I just uh – well, you know, people were still walking up when I left.  To Gate 33.”

“Well, I can’t do anything about…”

“Perhaps you could make some kind of announcement about it?” I volunteered, hesitantly.

She harumphed, and walked off.

Sure enough, about fifteen minutes later, they made an announcement about the gate change.  A good 30 minutes after the flight was due to start boarding.

Fortunately this wasn’t a problem, as nobody had started to board yet.

The line at the gate was huge.  Huge, and annoyed.  It had gotten to that stage of waiting around where people begin to press optimistically forwards, in the hopes that by sheer force of will they might be able to make SOMETHING happen.  But nothing was happening.  Disgruntled looking ground staff kept making announcements to the tune of “Piss off and sit down, we’ll tell you when you can board.  Jerks.”

They didn’t say ‘jerks’, of course.  Nor ‘piss off’.  But you could read it in the way they tightened their silly little neckerchief things.

After perhaps 40 minutes of waiting in the line to board the plane (discussing the global financial crisis with the elderly Fijian gentleman – and somehow, accidentally – due to a mishearing – saying “Oh, that’s nice!” when he told me he was going back to Fiji for his father’s funeral)  the plane FINALLY started to board.

It boarded slowly.  Very, very slowly.  During the time it took to get from the Gate to the gangway leading to the plane, I managed to make two nice American friends and have a lengthy discussion about the college application process, my job, their job, my future hopes and dreams, the cost of rent in both Australia and America, visas, and my favorite book.  This is how long it took to actually get onto the plane.

It was about 1.30 by the time I was actually sitting in an airplane seat.  The plane had been scheduled for takeoff at ten to one.

We proceeded to sit in an extremely overheated cabin for, perhaps, another 45 minutes.  That’s a conservative estimate.

Finally, the pilot cheerfully informed us, over the loudspeaker:

“Hello ladies and gentlemen!  Sorry for the delay today.  I don’t know how much you know about 747s…”

This was not a good start.

“….but basically, and some of you may not know this, basically there are five engines on a 747!  5!  Two under the wings, which you can see, two under the plane and one in the tail, which you can’t see!”

I had a feeling this crash course (no pun intended) in aviation wasn’t just to keep us occupied until some errant passenger had been located.

“Anyway,” the pilot proceeded “we’ve just been waiting for some paperwork to go through.  Everybody is on board, so that’s good.  But uh…basically the uh…the engine in the tail of the plane is…uh…” he paused “…faulty.”

I looked at the people in the seats next to me, a young newly wed couple.  We exchanged nervous giggles.

“So er, well – it’s not dangerous, but we need it to get the plane started.  So what we’re doing now is, uh, in lay mans terms I suppose you could say we’re going to jump start the plane.  So we’re just waiting on a truck to pull up so that we can do that, get that engine started, and then we’ll be off.”

Jump start the plane.

Jump start.  The plane.

Plane. Start. Jump.

What?

Evidently jump starting a plane is quite a process, because it was probably another 25 minutes until we actually took off.  I thought we might all break into spontaneous applause when the plane finally took off, but as it turned out we were all too tired and pissed off by that point.

I had informed my mother of this little mishap before we took off.

She messaged me back “Pray :P”

Thanks, mum!

In any event, I lived to see Fiji.  I am now about to board yet another Air Pacific flight to Los Angeles.  Let’s see what can go wrong with 10 hours to play with, as opposed to 4.

Over and out.  Pray for me.

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