17 April 2008

Adventures down under

This is the wombat I made for my husband shortly after we first got married. We had just moved to Seattle and he was working for Boeing. A project took him to Australia to work with Quantas Airlines and I tagged along. We visited an animal sanctuary and the wombats were my favorite animal there, so I made him a wombat for his desk at work to keep him company. Now, the company he works for is being split in two and the wombat has to come home while they move into another building. Wouldn't want the wombat to get lost in the shuffle as happened in the rest of my story.

For the trip to Australia, we flew separately, since work was paying for him to fly business class because it was an international trip while I had to find a cheap way to get there since we were very poor newlyweds with lots of school loans to pay off. (We were so poor that for dinner I would make celery casserole...diced celery, cream-of-something soup and bread crumbs. Tasty.)

My flight on Hawaiian Airlines had a layover in Hawaii, which wasn't a bad deal since I hadn't ever been there before. Then I was to take a Canadian Air flight to Sydney. When I checked in with Canadian Air in Hawaii, I was told they would be more than happy to coordinate my bags from Hawaiian Airlines and have them sent onto Sydney. I was hesitant and said several times I would just go get my bags and check them myself. But, they assured me I was needlessly worrying and getting my bags from one airline to the other was something they did all day long. Naive I was, on my first international flight.

In Hawaii, I bought a few small items for friends and family. One item being a plant root that I made certain was something I wouldn't have a problem bringing into Australia because of customs regulations. Oh no, the plant was fine...here were stickers all over it saying it was approved for import and export. I would later dutifully declare it on my customs form.

After a 12 hour layover in Hawaii, I boarded my non-stop flight to Sydney. Except, as we are taking off the flight attendant announces Canadian Air's non-stop service to Nadi. What????!!!! I start saying, repeatedly, out-loud, "What? I'm going to Sydney. Where the he** is Nadi?" I was in a state of panic. The woman sitting next to me calmly tells me that Nadi is the capital of Fiji, where she is a professor. After we land in Fiji for a layover, the flight was then going on to Sydney. Ok, my tickets said non-stop and made no mention of Fiji. And, oh, did I feel like an ignorant American to not know where Nadi was!! The rest of the long flight to Fiji was a little tense because I knew I had offended the poor woman.

Landing in Sydney was a bit scary. The runway is out in a bay, so as you're landing all you see out the window is water. A bit unnerving considering I had now been flying for about two days without sleep (recap - 5 hour flight to Hawaii and then a 12 hour layover then flight to Nadi and layover and then flight to Sydney). However, more interesting times were in store when I started through customs in Australia.

First, I couldn't find my bags. No where to be found. But, in order to get to the area to report lost bags, I first have to go through customs. I report all the chocolate covered macadamia nuts and other typical Hawaiian purchases. At this time in Australia, for every category you were claiming something in you were required to go through a different line. I had spent a good deal of the time at the baggage carousel only to conclude the airlines most certainly had lost my bags then dejectedly headed to one customs line after another. I was carrying a very large video camera my husband needed for work, so that caused some questioning because I claimed it as a "business" item, even though I had nothing to do with it. The interrogation ensued about what my intentions for entering the country were.

After clearing all but one of the customs lines, I was quite haggard. I headed to the last line, thinking that this one would be quick since nothing could be worse than the scorching questioning I had already endured. Naive girl.

The last line was for organic plant-like materials and I had claimed the little plant root that was hermetically sealed in a officially stamped bag. The customs officer in this line grabbed my root, turned and unceremoniously dropped it into a bin to be destroyed. Truly, he seemed to take great pleasure in confiscating my root. Gleefully he told me that the approval on the root indicated it was approved for import into the US, not into Australia, and there was NO way they were going to let this thing into their country. I was some sort of eco-terrorist.

I lost it, completely. I started crying and blubbering incoherently about all the things that had gone wrong starting with my lost bags, then Nadi, then customs and the root. Another customs official, who was about my age, took pity on me and told me that they could quarantine the root. Through my tears, I filled out a stack of paperwork to save my root from incineration, the root I had only paid about two dollars for.

Then the nice customs guy takes me through the rest of the customs process and walks me over to the lost baggage area. By now, I am the only passenger around in the big airport. The lady at this counter slaps a picture card with all sorts of photos of luggage on it and tells me to pick the one that most looks like my bag. I fill out more paperwork. She takes my forms, stamps them and then tells me they can give me $50. I tell her that I don't want the $50, I want my luggage. She looks at me and says, "You don't want the $50?" I repeat that I don't want the money. She goes and gets a co-worker and points to me and tells him that she can't believe it, but I don't want the $50. He tells me it's not a payment in lieu of returning my bags, but a payment for the inconvenience of having had my bags lost. They would still do all they could to locate my bags. Well, why didn't you say so, lady?! Give me the $50, because it's a drop in the bucket recompense for what I have already gone through.

I find a shuttle to the hotel. At least the hotel Boeing had told my husband they had arranged for him (he was arriving the next day). It was a VERY nice hotel (think it was the Ritz) and I walk in wearing the shorts and a tee-shirt that I have had on for some time now. The people at the front desk look askance at me. I tell them that my husband had a reservation there for the following day and I would like to check in a day early. No sir, no reservation there. By now, I am a whipped pup and can't take any more. I begin babbling again incoherently, no tears this time since I'm just too tired to cry. The concierge takes pity on me and I begin to relay the story about how my husband is supposed to have a reservation there the next day since he was coming to help Quantas Airlines. He then tells the hotel manager. I repeat the story and they check with the Ritz hotel in downtown Sydney (I was at the Ritz near the airport) and sure enough, the reservation is there. I could take the shuttle there, but know for certain that my husband planned to be at the hotel near the airport so he was close to Quantas. They say they can move the reservation. Great. We're making progress. I proceed to deal with the concierge to get things in order. The hotel manager then reappears and tells me she called Boeing and they said I was on my own for any hotel arrangements. AHHHHH!!! Why would you call Boeing? My husband hadn't even been working there a year and now she was rocking the boat. I knew I had to pay for my extra day myself, I was just trying to coordinate things!! So, instead of letting me add on to his reservation and pay when we checked out, she insisted I pay up front. Sweet lady. Good thing I had the $50 for the lost baggage, because I forked it and the remaining cash I had, over to the concierge. Got my room key and headed up to get some sleep.

Even though I was incredibly tired, I couldn't sleep. My husband's flight was due in early the next morning. So, since I wasn't getting any sleep, I headed down to the lobby to get a cab to the airport. Didn't know how to use their pay phones, didn't know what company to call for the area I was in, etc., so asked the night time desk guy if he could call me a cab to take me to the airport. No problem.

The cabbie arrives promptly, but as I get in the cab, he queries me about why I want to go to the airport at this hour (which was like 4am), seeing as the airport was closed at night. Huh? The airport closes at night? You MUST be joking. I thought I could get some breakfast (seeing as I was not allowed in the hotel dining room because I was not properly attired!) and check on the status of my bags. The cabbie was very kind. He was certain the airport wasn't open, but he would drive me over there to make sure (essentially just a mile or two across the highway from the hotel). He told me he would bring me back to the hotel and pick me up again in a few hours, but only charge me for the one trip. Finally, a kind stranger!! I was so grateful I almost hugged him.

When I got back to the hotel I asked the front desk guy why he didn't happen to mention that the airport was closed. Blank stare.

A few hours later, the cabbie was back and I was on my way, once again, to the airport. Of course, hubby's flight was delayed and my bags were still no where to be found, but I was told I had to keep inquiring so they knew I was still interested in finding them...how stupid.

During the week, hubby is busy working and I take the hotel shuttle into downtown Sydney during the day. Since we had no money to buy me anything presentable and I still didn't have my bags, I remained forbidden from the hotel dining room and, to be honest, they didn't even want me in the lobby. I felt like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.

But, I did become a thorn in the side of the concierge and the lost baggage department at the airport. I called them incessantly asking about the status of my bags (as I was instructed). Finally, the day before we were about to leave, my bags were located. The airport was sending them over to the hotel on the next shuttle. Alleluia! Alleluia!

The concierge tells me he will call me the moment the shuttle arrives with my bags.

A short while later, I'm informed that my bags are in the lobby and I can come down and pick them up. I scurry down, relieved that I would finally have a change of clothes. I check in at the desk and the concierge looks in the room they have for bags for my newly arrived set.

My bags are NOT there. They aren't anywhere. My bags are gone.

At this point, the hotel manager gets involved. The shuttle records show the bags were sent over and signed for by the driver and they were signed in at the hotel. But, in the time it took for the concierge to tell me my bags had arrived and for me to run down to the lobby, they had lost them AGAIN!!!

Now the hotel manager is not happy because I have been a pain in her backside for a week, and at this moment, she is the one with egg on her face. What does she do being the subtle soul that she is? Enlists all the hotel employees to STRIP SEARCH THE ENTIRE HOTEL. Every room, every nook and cranny. As soon as a large tour group cleared out of the lobby, the place was under lock down all because of my stupid bags.

But, search and search as they may for hours, no bags.

I don't even know what to say. I was just tired of the whole ordeal. I began filling out more paperwork because now the lost bags where the hotel's responsibility.

Early in the morning, a few days later, before my husband was to leave for home, the phone rang. It was the concierge. They had located my bags. Instead of being in the hotel, or even in Sydney for that matter, my bags had journeyed to Adelaide. Seems the tour director whose group was leaving as my bags were dropped off the first time, saw the bags in the lobby, and thinking they were the bags of someone in his group, loaded them on his bus. They would scramble as quick as they could to arrange for my bags to be sent to the hotel.

The bags didn't arrive in time for my husband to take them back with him, so we only had a little time before I was due to leave.

Amazingly, the bags did arrive just as I was checking out and I was sooooo glad to be away from the hotel and am certain they felt the same.

But, I still had to go back through customs and complete more paperwork to get my root out of the clink.

In the end, I got the root home but before I gave it to the friend I bought it for, it rotted.

1 comment:

gemoftheocean said...

Wow. The baggage handling from hell! Let me guess, forever after you have carried at minimum a clean pair of undies and a change of shirt and your toiletries on board.