22 July 2014
Travelling “Standby/ Space Available” can be fun. I’m lucky enough to work for an airline, and thus enjoy the perks of travelling Business Class when there is a spare seat. I can also book and change my travel plans at the drop of a hat; after all, I have no seat booked. Life is sweet, my partner and I have the privilege of exploring the world at a reduced rate.
The planned trip home from Vancouver to Perth hits a hurdle in Los Angeles. All flights from LA to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane were full, and each flight already had about sixty souls also on standby. Unfortunately the rest of the week looked the same. But hey, we’re flexible! We booked into the airport Sheraton and lay around the pool warming ourselves, trying to tan through the polluted LA skies. Whilst sipping a Californian Chardonnay we drew up a cunning plan.
A flight from Los Angeles to Dubai. Emirates flies at a civilised 4pm, arriving into Dubai at 7pm the next evening. Yes, it is a 15 hour flight, but we are refreshed, and we haven’t flown over the North Pole before. Bragging warning: I discovered we have now flown around the world, both longitudinally and latitudinally. Now, put your sick bag down … I’m back to the trip.
Dubai airport is a large, gleaming Norman Foster mega-structure. It’s host to the diaspora of humanity, more than any airport I’ve ever visited. Every minute, another planeload of civilisation is dumped with its bags, varying fashion sense and boxes of bizarre family treasures and unique culinary traditions. And body odour. Body odour should be a scratch and sniff chapter in itself. I’m not sure yet sure whether my odour was the worst. I even considered a quick bath from the airport washroom basin; it seemed to be working for the Arab gentleman who was sitting on the sink bench with his feet under the tap…
The flight from Dubai to Perth boards at 1:30am. Enough time to wander around, window shop, pick up a duty-free BMW (I watched a bright red Ferrari that some Sheik “had to have” being loaded into a plane) and even catch a couple of hours shut eye before our direct flight home. I could smell the eucalypts of home already. Wrong. Ten desperate standby travellers waiting to board, and the flight is full. Ok, no problem … there is another flight in seven hours. Time to find another comfortable place place to rest. I definitely smell a little bit whiffy now. Mum would be proud of this statement: “I’m discerning about where I sleep” – my bed, a hotel bed, and a business class sleeper seat. Sadly, I haven’t experienced any of these on this journey.
We’re in our hotel at 1am – our body clocks are so screwed up now. We are congratulating ourselves. No more standby; no more dress pants, collared shirt and leather shoes that the standby travel rules require. We are coming home. We now begin what feels like an episode of “The Amazing Race”. Checking in at the behemoth known as Dubai International Airport was the easy part. We confirmed with the supervisor: our bags had been removed from “standby purgatory”. We had boarding passes split up through the aircraft, but more importantly we were heading home to “a sunburnt country”.
One more check at the departure gate about our bulging luggage revealed that they would not be joining us to Jakarta. Onboard our flight I was informed that our luggage would In fact be taking another Emirates flight to home. Our well travelled “portes” would be taking the DIRECT flight to Perth, the flight we had spent almost three days trying to get on! They would be home before us. Is it possible to be jealous of one’s suitcase ?
Indonesia. Let the chaos begin.
My life partner is Canadian by birth. So patience and politeness is ingrained in him. Each interaction and pointless queue seemed to channel some inner demon in him. He was tired, disheveled, and starting to lose his inner Canadian. It was obvious that all this lining up for immigration, arrival tax, customs, arrival tax stamp was making it impossible to achieve our next flight. I’m sure the 500 hundred other passengers ricocheting from queue to queue in the arrivals hall were also wondering in their heads “couldn’t this be done more efficiently”. Unfortunately, my Canadian wasn’t restricting these thoughts to his ‘inner voice’.
My 81 year old father now gave the performance of his life.
He aged before my eyes, became slightly stooped and developed a limp. Sorry, no Oscar for you, Dad – the limp seemed to swap legs without warning. However, it was enough to get sympathy from immigration and the airport staff who ran us to our next flight bound for Bali.
Friday. Denpasar International Airport. It’s 12 midnight and our final flight beckons. A note for AirAsia. I know you’re a budget airline, but cough up for a departure gate. Trying to depart three flights from the same gate within half an hour is not going to be a smooth process. The last flight was a blur of dribble, trying to sleep upright and coping with “nodding dog” syndrome. However, by 5am the odyssey was over – although I needn’t have been jealous of my luggage. It was lost – but only temporarily, I was assured.
I’m now showered, rested and incredulous that we all survived the return adventure.
The journey home certainly could not take the shine off our wonderful Canadian adventure.