We are FINALLY home!
Now I know a lot of performers have horror travel stories... perhaps none more than Paul Romhany as he flies from cruise ship to cruise ship every week... but our trip was a simple flight from Osaka to Melbourne via the Gold Coast.
Only problem was - it was on Jetstar.
When I originally booked the flight, online at Jetstar.com, it was a 7pm departure from Osaka. Jetstar sent me several email notifications letting me know the flight times had changed to 8pm, then eventually to 8.55pm.
So we arrived at the stunning Kansai International Airport
ready to check in at 6pm... and we noticed that people were leaving the check in counter with their luggage.
After about 20 minutes we reached a point in the line where there was a sign telling us that the departure time was delayed until 8.10am... the next morning.
REASON FOR DELAY
According to the sign, "Crew rotation". Apparently, the crew were not rested enough to fly until the next morning.
Most modern airlines use a technique called "planning" which involves things called "schedules". Hopefully Jetstar will introduce this innovative idea sometime in the near future... either that or maybe remote-control planes that don't need crews to fly them.
Thankfully the Japanese staff working for Jetstar were very apologetic and worked efficiently and politely to calm customers and put plan B into action.
In order to soothe us they offered:
Free meal service on the flight from Osaka to the Gold Coast.
Excess baggage was waived.
Overnight accommodation in a nearby hotel.
2000 yen voucher for dinner.
1000 yen voucher for breakfast.
2000 yen is worth about $AUS33, and as the many restaurants at the Kansai International Airport charge regular prices (as opposed to "airport prices") we were able to enjoy a delicious dinner. Of course, as we had to catch a bus to the hotel we were a little rushed, but we enjoyed it as best we could.
As Jetstar had to billet 400 or so passengers we were sent off to different hotels. Sue-Anne and I stayed at the 51 story ANA Gateway. Very nice hotel. Room prices listed at around $AUS300 and, though in need of a freshen up, they were big by Japanese standards.
Unfortunately, ours was next to the elevators and the sound of a lift rushing up 50 floors is like a rocket going off... over and over again.
Later in the night, when use of the lift had stopped, I heard a weird squeaking... I think it was just because the hotel was so tall, but it sounded like the room was haunted by some demonic telegraph operator sending morse code all night.
I think I did manage to get an hour or two of sleep before waking at 4am to catch the bus back to the airport.
CHECKING IN AGAIN
The signs in the airport told us to check in at counters C18-22 - and there was already one family lined up there - so that's where we all went. We were really pleased to be second in line.
Unfortunately, when the staff arrived they decided to use different counters and the line ran, tail-end first, to the new check-in area.
We were checked in by 6.20am and ready to spend out 1000 yen each on breakfast... unfortunately, all but one of the airport restaurants were still closed and didn't open until 7.30pm (which is when we needed to board) and that restaurant was McDonald's. A fellow traveller told us he had a feast for 980 yen, but we opted for the healthier option of not eating.
The flight was uneventful as we were all very tired, and the crew was almost invisible as they had nothing to sell to the passengers. They made one pass just after we took off giving us all a croissant and a small yoghurt, then another pass just before we landed with a hot lunch for everyone (which was actually not too bad). It was at that point the announcer said "This is your last opportunity to request any food"... the passengers let out a sigh as one as we realised we could have been asking for our "free food" at any time during the flight... in true Jetstar fashion, they'd offered it (not when they served us the croissant, but in the letter we got the night before) we just had to ask.
The pilot announced, quite proudly, that he'd made up time and we'd arrive early at the Gold Coast International Airport, which we did. We had just over an hour to clear customs and check in to our Melbourne flight.
We all rushed down the stairs and onto the tarmac, we read the handwritten sign stuck on a witches hat and took the path along the barbed wire fence before entering the tunnel made of cargo containers and emerging in passport control.
Our bags finally arrived on the conveyor belt, we had nothing to declare and were directed down the left line where our bags were thoroughly searched.
We'd been first off the plane and now we watched, helplessly, as everyone rushed through to meet their connections while Customs officials went through every piece of our luggage. They flicked through our books several times, examined every credit card in my wallet, and stood there reading entries in Sue-Anne's diaries.
I told them that, because our flight was delayed by 12 hours, we'd been told that we had to find a Jetstar person to help us make our connection in time. They said "Good luck" and laughed. They said that Jetstar was always late.
OUR FINAL LEG
Sure enough, they were right. When we joined the end of the line at the Jetstar domestic check-in, I noticed that the 7.20pm to Melbourne was now leaving at 10.20pm. (Due to late arrival of the aircraft... which is weird, because if it was that late it means the plane hadn't even left Melbourne or Sydney yet).
There was an 8.20pm flight to Melbourne, and when I asked if we could be moved onto that, the check-in lady told us it was already overbooked by ten people. (Note, they filled that plane with people, like me, who were earlier in the line. How do they overbook it? Surely they could get a machine that tells them "Sorry, you've already sold that seat to someone else." Maybe one day they will.)
I told the lady at the counter how we'd already been delayed 12 hours and now we had to wait another three and she got her back up and told me not to "pay out" on her as she'd only just arrived at work. At least she was getting paid to be there, a lot of the other passengers were unable to arrive at work thanks to Jetstar's hopelessness.
I took another tack and asked her what she was going to give us as compensation and she quickly wrote out meal vouchers, worth $8, for both of us.
She was very combative and not once offered an apology for the delay. As we were told later by an airport staff member "That's how they're trained to be."
When we went through security where the three food outlets where we met with another passenger who wasn't offered a voucher. He went back out to check-in and had to argue with a supervisor before he was finally given one.
I took my pad and paper with me and headed back to check-in (hey, I had nothing else to do and three hours to kill) and I asked the supervisor what the Jetstar policy was with meal vouchers. He asked me if I wanted one, and I explained that I had one because I'd asked, but other passengers didn't get them. He told me they would have been offered them... "they weren't a secret", I explained that they weren't offered them and perhaps he'd make an announcement on the PA for those who missed out.
A short time later the announcement was made. Unfortunately, most passengers had already bought food and those who were going to go back through security and get their coupons were told the kitchen's were closing in 5 minutes...
So what could you get for $8?
You could get a croissant... $7.65.
Sue-Anne got a fruit drink for $7.60. I paid the extra $2.95 for the burger combo.
As we waited and watch the departure area slowly empty of people we chatted to some of the airport staff. Apparently Monday at Coolangatta Airport is always like this. Jetstar are constantly running late. (Not just Jetstar. As we waited we heard a Virgin 7pm flight to Canberra get delayed, and delayed until it was finally cancelled at 9.30pm)
This explains the lack of clocks in the departure area. We had to keep time by watching a departure monitor... until a security guard came around and switch it over so he could watch the tennis instead.
Finally we got on the plane and were told that, because one of the Jetstar fleet "became unserviceable" (ie: broke) it threw their whole national schedule out of whack and a "domino effect" took over making flights later and later... The attendant who told us this was very well trained as her announcement was gruff, to the point, and her apology insincere.
By this time, I just conked out and slept the entire way to Melbourne.
Touching down at Melbourne Airport at 1.45am we made our way to the baggage carousel and picked up our cases. As we headed out I noticed that the airport authorities have gone all out to stop "unlicensed taxi drivers" from soliciting rides by putting up 5ft tall signs at each exit. Standing right next to the sign was a man holding a crumpled sign reading SMITH who approached me and said "Do you need a taxi?"
We were home.
Was this a "nightmare flight"? No. As I've discovered with a quick google of JETSTAR, it's quite typical.
On behalf of Australian travellers everywhere, we'd like to award you
JETSTAR - AMATEUR AUSTRALIAN AIRLINE OF THE YEAR
So bad, they even make Qantas look good! (Well, most Jetstar flights are code-share with Qantas anyway).