Let’s begin with the end of the story:
Our long-planned vacation was fine. More than fine. It was spectacular.
However, there was a period on Thursday night when I believed that it was ruined, that we would be out many hundreds of dollars, and that instead of spending our glorious 5-day Easter break driving the Great Ocean Road, wine tasting in the famous South Australian vineyards, and visiting the purportedly magical Kangaroo Island, that we would be grumpily staring at the rain for five days over our familiar Sydney Harbour.
The lesson learned here is that (though I usually reserve name dropping only for things I am positive about), I will never book a flight on Tiger Airways again.
Because we had put ourselves on a rather tight schedule of driving beginning on Friday morning, we’d decided that we’d better leave on Thursday night, stay over in Melbourne near the airport, and depart on our great adventure first thing in the morning.
Due to the fact that it was a huge travel weekend and, also, that I am abiding my New Year’s Resolution to be on time for things, I pestered Partner-in-Crime about being early to the airport.
We got in line two hours before our domestic flight was scheduled to leave, and I settled in for the wait with a smug sense of self-satisfaction at my promptness.
We proceeded quickly to the front of the line (queue, as they say here). When we got near the front, I noted to P-i-C how churlish the three counter attendants seemed, as they hardly looked up from their computer screens while snarling, “come forward.” I started hoping for the one who appeared to be the least gnarly attendant, as I felt the others might try to claw our faces off (metaphorically speaking) if we did not present our identification quickly enough.
When we were, quite literally, next in line to “come forward, grrrrr,” the attendants began calling for passengers on the 8:45 flight to Melbourne (we were on the 9:00 flight). In a disorganized rush, panicked passengers began to wave their hands and rush to the desks, dodging under the lane markers and forming make-shift lines/bundles in front of the three counters. We stood in a daze at the front of the line, as we were shoved out of the way by families with strollers and guys twice our size with surfboards.
Finally, one of the attendants came out and tried to make a bit of sense of the chaos, creating an actual line for the 8:45 passengers.
And there we waited, front of the queue, for 45 minutes as those tardier than us paraded past. We got not a word of apology or thanks for our patience from the surly staff.
Finally, after an hour in line, we were allowed to check in. There was some minor drama where the counter attendant sought to smack us with an extra luggage fee based on some particularity of how luggage must be pre-booked online, but P-i-C – ever the Boy Scout – nipped that in the bud, and we were on our way to our gate.
With supposedly only minutes left until boarding, we noted, ominously, that there was no actual plane waiting at the gate.
Boarding time came and went, and P-i-C went to look at the departures board. It appeared that our flight was now moved to a different gate and was scheduled to leave in almost two hours. No representative from Tiger had come by to mention the change – passengers were left to figure it out themselves.
We glumly traipsed to our new gate and waited. P-i-C called the car rental place to make sure they’d still be open when we finally landed. He called the hotel to make sure we could still check in at the very late hour we’d finally get there. I fought off sleep, as I’d been up since 5:45a.m. and so badly wanted a bed.
Not long before our new departure time, we noticed that a new flight was posted on the board at our gate, set to leave before us. And, we realized, it was the 8:45 flight, that we’d had to get out of the way for at the boarding gate.
Still no airplane was at the gate, by the way.
Finally, at around 10:30p.m., a Tiger representative came on the mic and announced to an overflowing gate full of exhausted travelers that “due to Sydney airport curfews,” our flights had been cancelled. We were to proceed back to the check-in counter to make other arrangements.
I’m sure I don’t have to explain to you the audible roar that went through the crowd, followed immediately by mad dashes by the most spry members of the contingent to get to the front of the line at the counter. One does not have to be a math genius to understand that two full planes of passengers divided by the very few seats that might be left on other flights this holiday weekend = heartbreak for most of us.
P-i-C channeled a gazelle and secured a spot near the front of the line. I sad-facedly and slothenly followed suit, and piled into line with him some time later.
I thought I’d seen chaos earlier in the night, but what would next transpire was like something from the Kathmandu airport. Police had been called in to keep order, but no extra staff members appeared to have been brought in to help with the process.
When I look up “chaos” in the thesaurus, appropos words include, “bedlam,” “pandemonium,” “tumult,” and “holy mess.” P-i-C and I kept our heads low and worked our smart phones, looking at plane, train and bus schedules, and even tried in vain to secure a rental car for a possible all-night drive to Melbourne.
When we got to the front of the line, we were met with the same attendant who checked us in. Let me interject – I was feeling a great deal of sympathy for these three counter attendants, as they were clearly in for a very long night. We were told that we had the option of flying into our airport of choice on Saturday (reminder: this was Thursday) or flying into the other airport in Melbourne at 10p.m. on Friday night and somehow make our way to the other side of town.
By then, we would have lost our first day of travel, and I was not certain that we could make it up. Hotels were lined up at each stop, the expensive ferry ticket to Kangaroo Island had been purchased ages ago, and there was little wiggle room.
We took our chances and decided to go for the refund option. We were told that the refund would be with us in “3 to 6 weeks.” How comforting. We had to turn over our boarding passes in order to be eligible for a refund so, logically, P-i-C asked for a receipt guaranteeing that we’d actually get the money back. The counter attendant refused, gave us a card with the customer service line on it, and kept repeating, “I took your boarding pass. That means you’ll get the refund.” Seemingly eager to get rid of us and sort through some more angry customers, she told us that she was just a contractor who did not actually work for Tiger and directed us to go speak to the manager, a floppy haired guy younger than me, who was currently in the middle of the crowd being eaten alive.
Regrouping, we worked every bit of juice left in our phones and miraculously located two seats on a JetStar flight that left at 7a.m. The price was more than double what we’d paid, we were losing the cost of the first night’s hotel, as well as $80 in transport costs going back and forth to the airport; but at that point, we just wanted to get to Melbourne, so we booked the flight, thanked our lucky stars, picked up our suitcase, got back on the train to home, slept three hours, and came back to the airport at 5a.m. for our perfectly lovely JetStar flight.
Now, my anger with Tiger is not about the fact that the flights were cancelled. I understand that delayed and sometimes cancelled flights are part of travel. Weather delays or a broken part happen. We have to roll with these things with as much humility as we can muster.
What I can’t roll with is learning that allegedly these Tiger flights were cancelled due to ongoing safety concerns that were so serious that they were cited by the airline authority nearly a month earlier.
What I also can’t abide is the fact that they lied to their passengers by trying to pass the blame for the flights not going to “curfews” at the Sydney airport. No, Tiger, it was not the airport’s fault that you could not provide planes.
Finally, what still has me seething to this day is the absolute lack of care and concern for their passengers. We were treated like chattle from the first moment we queued, and when crisis hit and our flights were cancelled, there was seemingly no plan in place, no extra staff to smooth the way, no apologies for our inconvenience or offers of recompense.
It would seem that in this jungle, the Tiger is king and we got what we paid for. …
Happier news to come soon! Tired and bedraggled as we may have been, the rest of our trip was a dream … here’s a little glimpse of things to come.