Travel hell vol 2 - The long way around
After so much travel it was bound to happen, so much seamless travel - I was running the gauntlet of good fortune, the tide would surely would turn some day. That day turned out to be today (or few days, I’m a little confused about timezones and how long I have been traveling).
If you haven’t seen it, go check out the first in this series where I escape from an island volcano.
Before the volcano messed with my mojo the original plan was to fly out of Bali on the Tuesday, land in Melbourne for a few days then fly out on Sunday to Lima, Peru via a two hour stopover in Santiago.
Then Agung happened and I didn’t manage to escape the volcano until Friday night. I still got to have a few days in Melbourne catching up with friends and business interests (ps, go buy some Dirt). Next up rejoining my Kaizen family in Lima.
When arranging my replacement Peru flights I noticed all the offered flights were ex Auckland, so I decided to fit in a quick surprise visit to Wellington to visit my actual family, specifically Flynn, my newly minted (and only) nephew - whom I had not met since he was born during my remote year.
Things were going well in NZ, I decided for an early morning flight from Wellington to Auckland so I could spend the day hanging out with a good friend there before heading off in the evening again. Whilst enjoying an amazing summer Auckland day (and a couple of beers) I thought it best to check my flight status, this is when things started to fall apart.
Google reported my flight has been delayed 5 & 1/2 hours, Now departing at 1:45am. I fired of a quick email to the Remote Year travel team to see if they could figure out what was happening and what impact it might have with my onward travel. They confirmed the delay was correct but that I should go to the airport at the correct time anyways just to ensure they don’t think I’m a no-show.
The biggest problem with the delay meant that I was no longer able to make my connection to Lima. The travel team managed to negotiate a somewhat complex but agreeable alternative that had me flying from Auckland to Buenos Aires, then on to Sao Paulo, then finally on to Lima for a total of 20hrs of flying. Without other options I accepted and headed to the airport.
My friend drove me to the airport all the while I had the distinct feeling I was heading into the path of a shit storm. While navigating the throngs of people swarming the AirNZ check-in kiosks I recognised a familiar face. One of the crew from another RemoteYear groups whom I had met in Kyoto. It turned out she and 11 others were ending their New Zealand side trip and were on the same flight (and facing the same delay problems). Things were starting to look up, we decided to get this checkin business out of the way and commit to a solid drinking session.
Surprisingly checking in was pretty painless, I managed to get a boarding pass and my baggage receipt showed it checked in all the way to Lima. When I went to drop the bag off I was confronted with alarms stating I had gone over assigned 23kg limit by 5kg. This was not unexpected as my original booking was upgraded to 30kg. How much could 5kg over really cost, as it turns out A LOT. Due to my now (enforced) convoluted itinerary my excess baggage cost an additional $350! Not willing to fight them and fairly sure I can claim this back from the airline later, I reluctantly paid the extortionate fee.
All checked in I rejoined my RemoteYear friends and we caught an Uber to the closest bar not at the airport. We had 5 hours to kill so closed out that bar then headed to the lounge to continue the party. Finally around 1:45am we boarded our flight - the original boarding time was 8:15.
The 12hr flight to Buenos Aires was fairly uneventful, right up until the end when one of the flight attendants handed me a slip of paper with my transit flight details. The details handed to me didn’t match what I had checked in for. To which he responded, “Jes, you have missed those flights, this will be your new flight”, I was told someone would meet me on the ground to help me out.
We arrived in Buenos Aires at 11:30pm local time, as described there were a number of Air New Zealand staff managing the transiting passengers. Our group had about 20 people that were supposed to be going to Lima. We were instructed that some of us were on a 4am flight and the remainder (me included) were to be on the 6am Avianca flight direct to Lima. This was 6 hours away which was too short for them to put us into a hotel so we were provided with access to the lounge.
This wasn’t the worst news as it meant I didn’t have to fly via Sao Paulo. It was about the same total duration but spent in a lounge rather than a plane. I settled in to a comfy couch with a whiskey and snacks watching YouTube.
I left the lounge around 4am partly to get my boarding pass early, partly just to wander the airport as I was getting a little stir crazy. At 5am the gate staff turned up so I lined up with the rest of the transit orphans. I handed her the print out supplied to me by the Air New Zealand staff which she plugged into her magic box. There were some frowns, then some frantic keyboard pecking, followed by phone calls in Spanish.
She finally said “You do not have a ticket for this flight”. Because of my weird diversion flights, her magic box was instructing her that I only had a reservation not a booking. I tried to explain that clearly this was an error as all the other ‘stuck’ passengers were issued boarding passes without problems. She wouldn’t hear it, eventually she decided that I was being trouble and informed me “the only way you are getting on this flight is if you pay the full fare of USD$800”.
As I realised I was not getting to Lima any time soon I walked off, as I walked away she requested my baggage number so she could eject it from the hold - to which I told her she could figure that out herself (in not so polite terms).
Dejected and without options I skulked back to the lounge, they were brilliant and my only thread keeping me sain, letting me back in (without making me pay) and offering any help they could - including a shower that made me feel human again (thanks Star Alliance lounge Buenos Aires). I managed to get through to Air New Zealand customer support who checked my booking and lo and behold I was entitled to fly on the now departed Avianca flight. After a few more minutes he managed to get me the next flight to Lima, but not until 6pm - 12 hours away.
Perhaps this wasn’t going to be so bad, a Steak, a Malbec and maybe a walk around a new city doesn’t sound too bad at all - or so I thought, when I went to exit and go through customs, I was stopped at security and despite a language barrier was told that I am not allowed to go through customs without my airline ‘vouching’ for me (since my luggage is with them). I tried using an airport help line to contact staff from Avianca but was told they had all left the airport and wouldn’t be back until late afternoon. Back to the lounge I go.
Realising I was going to be here for the long haul, I picked the most secluded area of the lounge where I could go most unnoticed, reaaranged the couches a bit so I could lie down and watch NetFlix on my laptop which was balanced on an ottoman. The next twelve hours were a bit of a blur, drifting in and out of conscienceness, fetching snacks from the bar and noticing the people around me changing.
I woke at one point and noticed that the lounge was completely full, all except the three or four seats around me, I suspect I was being given a wide berth, nobody wanted to get too close to the creey sleepy guy in the corner - this suited me fine. I was a cross between the two Tom Hanks characters from The Terminal and Cast Away.
Finally my flight time came - nope, psych, delayed another 2 hours. I think of myself as a fairly strong willed man, this news came very close to breaking me. Finally I found some Avianca staff at the gate and after fifteen frightening minutes of negotiation they printed me a boarding pass.
The final straw was that upon arrival into Lima, over 40 hours since leaving the house in New Zealand, I was informed that my luggage (yes my $350++ extra baggage fee luggage) was lost in transit! Avianca further refused to courier it to me stating that I needed to take it up with Air New Zealand.
So to put my timeline in perspective, I woke at 6am Saturday in Wellington to begin traveling, I didn’t arrive in my accommodation in Peru until 5pm NZT Monday - without decent sleep or a bed.
Update I have since recovered my luggage (another two days later) and lodged a dispute with Air New Zealand, they have offered to refund my baggage costs and reimburse me for all my out of pocket expenses - but most of all I am just happy to have made it to South America and am equally happy not to be setting foot on another Airline at least for a few weeks.