The Flight From Hell Part 3: Serenity Now!

This is the final installment of a three-part rant about our flight from hell. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

Here’s how part two ended:

One of the jetways pulled away from the plane. I looked at Sher and said “This flight is not leaving without us.” and he said “we have to close the doors at 10:30”. It was 10:20.

And that’s when I lost it. I demanded that they get us on that plane because, after all, this was not our fault but THEIRS, beginning with our delayed UNITED flight out of Portland. I cried and, yes, may have used the “f” word a couple of times. I was angry. If you ask my husband he’ll tell you how much it takes for me to lose my temper with someone in customer service. I know that most things are out of their control and I am very understanding and calm in most cases, but this was too much.

Nina proceeded to then provide excuses – how really it was Air New Zealand’s fault because they didn’t release the ticket (remember that it was a United person who transferred them in Portland) and that there was nothing that they could do. At one point when I began explaining exactly what had happened, she started  to interrupt me. I put up my had in a stop gesture and said “No! Do not interrupt me. You need to listen to what I have to say first before you give anymore excuses. Then she told me that we would likely have to buy a new ticket for Samuel.

HUH? Why would WE need to buy a new ticket? Wouldn’t you comp us the ticket? I mean we BOUGHT a ticket, I had the receipt in my hand.

And Nina replied, “no one gets anything for free.”

Yes, she actually said that to me as I stood there at 10:30pm with my husband and our two small children who had been traveling now for 8 hours, one of whom was visibly upset because he was missing the chance to see his grandparents, and as we watched our plane pull away from the gate.

It was a low moment. It got even lower when Nina began to questions me about how I purchased the tickets. Did I buy them all at the same time? Did I confirm the flight? The answer to both questions was YES and I had the confirmation in my hand to prove it (tip: always take your printed ticket confirmation). Oh, and then she proceeded to deny us any hotel vouchers because it was an Air New Zealand problem.

Thankfully one of the men behind the counter (I think was ground control because he was wearing an orange vest) was kind and understanding. He listened to what I had to say and he empathized with our situation. When I expressed disgust at the fact that we might have to buy another ticket, he said that if they gave tickets to everyone who experienced a problem then they would be giving away tickets all the time. I understand that is reasonable for weather problems, acts of god etc., but not for tickets that we have actually purchased and then were sabotaged by the airline itself. Nevertheless, he listened, and at this point that was what I needed more than anything because this screw up was not our fault and yet here I stood at the mercy of these people who were blaming everyone but themselves.

The same man also said to us (in front of Nina) that of course we would receive a hotel voucher and some food vouchers – though we only received three. Samuel still didn’t count because, well, he didn’t exist despite the fact that he was running around the gate lounge with a bad case of exhaustion-induced loopiness. I think this man may have saved Nina’s life.

There was nothing we could do at that point except ensure that we had at least three seats on the following night’s flight (the next Air New Zealand flight wasn’t for two days). I insisted on a row with a spare seat in the middle – I figured we deserved at least that and apparently complementary upgrades are not their policy.

And so we headed back to the hotel with instructions to check in the next day at around 5pm to see if the situation was resolved or if we’d be on the hook for a new infant ticket. Worst case was that we had to buy another ticket but we’d still be flying out the next day. I couldn’t help thinking that it would have been good to have known that before the plane left. We may have been able to make it after all.

Our hotel was the Doubletree in beautiful Burlingame. We finally fell into bed at about midnight and had a restless sleep until 9am. Our late check out meant that we could make the best of the buffet breakfast, including saving a few pieces of fruit and other goodies for the day ahead. The waitress at the hotel restaurant took pity on us and looked the other way as we stashed a few bananas and peanut butter sandwiches into our bags.

At 1pm we checked out and headed back to the airport – a full 9.5 hours before our flight was due to leave. To look on the bright side, if you’re going to be stuck in an airport for that length of time then you want it to be an airport like SF. They have fishtanks, a MOMA store and even a museum to help pass the time. It could have been worse – we could have been stuck at LAX.

At 4pm I went up to the United check in counter where they told me that they had been trying to rectify the problem with Air New Zealand for a couple of hours without any luck. It seemed we would have to buy a ticket after all. Of course  getting a price on a ticket would take another 20 minutes, in addition to the time they had spent trying to obtain a price the previous evening. If United staff can’t get what they need from their own customer service then what chance do actual customers have.

Grand total out of pocket: $150. Not as much as I had expected but still $150 more than we should have had to pay and something that could have been rectified the night before if they had been able to determine the problem more quickly.

We managed to board the plane that evening at 10:30pm without extra drama except for the screams of an overly- drunk Australian at a neighboring gate who freaked out when the dogs sniffed at his bag and was then handcuffed and taken away by police. Thankfully it had no impact on our flight.

After a very uncomfortable flight and a quick layover in Sydney, we arrived in Melbourne at 10:30am on Saturday morning – a full 24 hours after we were due to arrive.

We proceeded through immigration but there was to be one last burn. Somehow United had managed to misplace one of our bags and it happened to be the one that contained all of my and Kei’s clothes. So there I was in Melbourne, standing at a desk just on the other side of the doors to my family who had no way of knowing what was happening, with the prospect of continuing to wear the same clothes that I had now been wearing for 48 hours. Oh, and Kei and I had the Hen’s and Buck’s (Bachelor and Bachelorette) parties to attend that evening.

As it turned out, Kei had packed just one pair of my jeans in the kids’ bag and I had a shirt in the suit bag so all I needed was a pair of shoes which I bought in a quick 5 minute shopping trip on our way out for the evening. Kei borrowed some clothes from my younger brother – not really his style but he looked good nonetheless. I ended up bowing out of the festivities early due to exhaustion but was proud of myself for making it to 11pm.

On Sunday I made a number of phone calls and our bag was finally located in Brisbane and returned to Melbourne by 4pm. It seems that the person who checked our bags and transferred us to the United flight in Portland had failed to change the tickets on our bags correctly. If you’ll remember, she made a point of telling us how she would have to do it by hand. I guess she became distracted on the walk down and missed one.

Our flight home on Air New Zealand was fairly uneventful (and much more comfortable) except for the fact that the United flight leaving on the same day was cancelled and so our plane was completely booked thanks to the extra passengers they picked up. Seems United had to have the last laugh.

At the end of the day, though, we had a great, busy, fun visit. I will have some more photos to share of visits to wineries, easter egg hunts and of course a wedding in the coming days. I’m sure you’ll need some lighter entertainment after this rant, but thanks for letting me get it off my chest. I start the official letter-writing this week.

One comment

  1. Pingback: Scenes from Across The Pond: Project 365 « Lyrebird Images

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