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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)


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15 comments

  1. Totally feel your pain. I had a similar experience when flying British Airways to visit my son in London. Look on the bright side, at least your luggage wasn’t lost. I hope you can catch the next flight and be home for Christmas.


  2. The answer? Pacific Blue…


  3. When Jetstar first came on the scene I actually considered flying with them. Same as Tiger. Thankfully, I have never used either, and (in no small way) thanks to another ‘shining’ example of their lacklustre performance from you…… I never shall. I’ve gone Garuda, Pacific Blue, Emirates, and Malaysian (IIRC) to Bali. My first vote is Emirates, and second is Pacific Blue.
    I hope you manage to get to Melbourne and see your family….. if not, there’s always Skype and webcam 🙂
    (Had a laugh about the car though, sorry 😉

    Happy holidays to you, and all the ‘followers’ out there.


    • Sorry, Emirates was to Singapore and KL. The vote changes to Pacific Blue, then Malaysian.


  4. “Your car will not be available as it already been booked by you.”


    • How you kept your cool when they told you that line I don’t know!!
      Consider Jetstar scratched off my list for good.
      I actually flew long-haul with Air Asia to London, you can read about it here – http://www.livebali.net/2010/10/how-to-survive-long-haul-air-asia.html . Thankfully, it wasn’t nearly as problematic as your trip!
      Hope you managed to enjoy the rest of your trip.
      Cheers


  5. Next time you may want to consider this: http://goo.gl/66wFN
    Season’s Greetings to you. I enjoy reading your posts.


  6. I have four guests that were supposed to arrive from Melbourne on Jetstar last night. At 2:00pm, they called to say the flight was delayed by 2 and a half hours. At 10:00pm they again called to say the flight was cancelled and they would probably arrive at 5pm today, via Darwin which doesn’t please them, as they had booked a direct flight.

    Again, no explanation from Jetstar re the delay or the cancellation. Not good enough, Jetstar!


    • My son was telling me about his Jetstar experience a few days ago. His flight was delayed by 4 hours. The only official excuse offered was: “They lost the plane”.

      It gets worse. There was no further explanation for his delay until he boarded the replacement plane. Then an announcement claimed that ‘Newcastle airport took the original plane because they needed it – because they were closing early.’

      Unbelievable.


  7. Feel so sorry for you for booking Shitstar. Nothing else to add


  8. Oh, I felt like crying when I read your story. You hit a horrible combination of “Island time” and corporate cost cutting. Your poor bugger.


  9. I posted a link to your post to JetStar’s facebook page for all & sundry. To my amazement, they even gave the following response (thinking I was the author):

    Jetstar Asia: “Hi Stephen . We always aim to provide the best service we possibly can, so we’re disappointed to hear about your recent experience. If you could please give us more details about the incident here http://tinyurl.com/jetstarcustomerfeedback , we can investigate and use this information to help us improve. Thanks – Jetstar.”

    Thought you might like to know, not that it really helps!


    • Thanks for the cross-post. I don’t really think that formalising a complaint would help. The nub of the problem is not a failure to provide reliable service, which is just not possible when they have zero slack in scheduling due to insufficient numbers of aircraft, and a refusal to wet-lease replacements. It is simply a lack of communication with customers. Although the technology is there, Jetstar has never seemed to show a willingness to use it to keep customers informed of delays. Ironically, this actually increases their costs.


  10. So sorry to hear your experience and I hope you had a great time on the rest of your trip. I completely agree with you and unfortunately this issue is not only apply to Jetstar but to almost all airlines operate in Indonesia. I always furious when they keep using the same excuse when they have to delay or cancel a flight (due to operational reason).

    This whole bad communication and customer service extends to all industry in the country where there is no idea of “customer protection”. Until that happens, we just have to wisely choose what we buy.

    Btw, just stumble upon your blog today and love your writings. I was living in US and now have been relocated to Bali for the last one year.


  11. I wished I had read your email earlier. I had a similar experience only last Saturday 29 April. You guesssed it – JQ 36 was cancelled apparently in the afternoon with no explanations or messages nor an apology. I was told to try the next day but with no gurantees of a flight.
    Desperate to get home, I was rebooked same night from business class to an economy ‘cattle plane’ via Darwin. I now have to call Jetstar for a refund



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