The Downside Of Flying No-Frills – No Plane! (Part 1)December 23, 2011
I’m not supposed to be here at my computer. It’s 11.05 pm on Thursday 22 December, and I’m supposed to be on Jetstar flight JQ36, lifting off from Denpasar airport at this very moment, enjoying my comfortable StarClass window seat and settling in for the haul to Melbourne to see my family for a brief Christmas break away from Bali.
But I’m not on the plane; after five hours of wasted time, I’m back home in my villa, all dressed up and nowhere to go. Plans and schedules are in disarray. Appointments will be missed, time with family and friends will be curtailed, and my rental car may not even be available. Worst of all, I will have to repack the damned suitcase – and I hate that.
So it’s earlier in the evening and I’m set to go. I’ve somehow managed to get everything organised and sit there patiently while my driver fights through the Bali traffic. Then I sit patiently while he fights his way through the incomprehensible temporary airport entrance schemozzle and deposits me at the new passenger drop off point, which is about 10 kilometres from the terminal. Humping the bags through the security checkpoint (twice – “no, nothing wrong sir, I just forgot to look at your bag the first time”) I finally get my shoes and belt back on and search myopically for my glasses on the conveyor. I thank the gods that I don’t have a prosthetic leg and artificial hip joint – it would take me hours to re-assemble myself and I would miss the plane.
There is no danger of that this time. The Jetstar check-in counter is a milling mass of confused and angry people. All order has broken down because the illuminated signs all say “FLIGHT CANCELLED”, and customers are paralysed with indecision. There is no queue as such and when I reach a counter, the representative sighs and gives me a printed sheet explaining that due to “Operational Requirements” my flight has indeed been cancelled. Further questioning elicits no explanation from the the check-in person. “It’s cancelled” is the only response. “But why”? I ask. “It’s cancelled”, he repeats. He will not be swayed by entreaties; he will not give me any additional information. “When was it cancelled?” I persist, and I am told it was during that afternoon.
So why no email, Jetstar? Why no SMS? Why wait until people arrive at the airport before you tell them there is no flight? And why use the term ‘cancelled due to operational requirements’, which basically means ‘because we wanted to’? If the cancellation is due to mechanical failure, tell us. If it’s because of regional cyclonic activity, tell us. We mightn’t like it, but we will understand. If it’s one of those commercial ‘screw the passengers’ decisions because your plane was not full enough, tell us that too, but we don’t promise to even begin to understand that one. Just. Don’t. Keep. Us. In. The. Frigging. Dark! We hate it.
I ask when the flight will actually leave. “Tomorrow, 11pm”, says the man. He must see something in my eyes, or maybe a fear of Karma niggles at him, because he adds “Probably.” I am less than reassured. Then he explains that visitors who are returning from Bali are to wait outside for a bus to a hotel in Tuban. “What about me?” I say – “I live here”. “Oh” he says, and looks nonplussed. “Maybe ask the bus driver to take you home?” Yeah, right. I can just see the forty-passenger behemoth threading its way through the lanes around my place. “Or just catch a taxi”, he goes on helpfully. “Is Jetstar paying for the taxi?” I ask. “Ahh, no …”
Of course, my struggles with the corporate mindset don’t end when I finally make it home. I won’t be in Melbourne to pick up my rental car at the designated time, so I have to try and call the company to let them know. It’s 2 am in Melbourne, but my call goes through to a call centre in some place where people don’t sleep. I can actually understand the very polite fellow who takes my call and I am pleased. I explain the cancelled flight, and request that my reservation be delayed by 24 hours.
“Ooh”, says the man. “If you don’t pick the car up within one hour of your booked time, they will cancel.” “OK,” I say, “just re-book me for the next day.” “Sorry, the computer says no cars are available the next day”. So I try to introduce some logic. “What about the car I booked for the week – is that available?” I ask. “No, sorry”, he replies. I’m perplexed. “Why not?” A slight hint of impatience at my obvious stupidity creeps into his voice. “Because it’s already booked by you.” I feel like I’m in an episode of Fawlty Towers.
I wonder briefly if the car rental man would consider getting a job with Jetstar, but he’s probably over-qualified. I just blew a whole day out of a very short trip to visit family and friends – I wonder what is in store for me with this airline tomorrow? And I was supposed to be travelling ‘Star Class’, no less. I certainly don’t feel like a star. I actually feel like going supernova.
Thanks for stuffing up my break, Jetstar. Season’s Greetings to you too.
UPDATE: So I’m back at the airport the following night to check in for the previously cancelled JQ36. “Umm, sorry, your 11pm flight is, er, delayed a little.” I give the clerk a disbelieving stare. “How long is the delay?” “Umm, it now leaves at 5.30am.” I am speechless yet again.
We all get herded on to a bus and taken to a hotel. No food or drink vouchers – just a photocopied screed citing “operational reasons” for the current delay. At 1.30am we are bussed back to an empty airport. No-one can even enter the departures area, because there are no staff to operate the security scanners. We all bed down on the hard tiled floor, because there is no seating. An hour later, security staff straggle in and we check in. I am offered a seat at the back of the plane. I politely demand my Starclass seat 3A which has been booked, paid for, and anticipated for six months. I finally get it, but the clerk gives me the impression that she thinks I have pulled a fast one.
We leave exactly on time at 5.30am. I’m charged a higher rate for my rental car because I’m a day and a half late in picking it up. I finally get to see my kids, one of whom has travelled from Perth, the other from Brisbane, for our much-anticipated 48-hour family get-together. I get to see them for a total of 8 hours.
Like I said – thanks, Jetstar.
The story doesn’t end there. I was unfortunate enough to have to fly back to Bali with Jetstar. Read the sorry saga of what happened on the way back in:
“The Downside Of Flying No-Frills – No Plane! (Part 2)”