Monthly Archives: October 2012

The First: Qantas Strike Action; A Tale of One City – Part 2.

Picture courtesy of Nikki Smith

Hotel name in hand we headed downstairs, dreading the impending chaos. We were accosted by a sea of people, impatiently crowding round a make shift barrier of orange vests, forming a line between the passengers and their belongings. The ground staff – rocking the orange – began rifling through miscellaneous sport bags, suitcases and backpacks, scanning for name tags. In an attempt to develop some sort of system, they intended on locating bags, shouting the name and have you step forward. But it was flawed; Some passengers were ridiculously impatient, dramatic and unruly by this stage of the proceedings at LAX airport. There was a man in a wheelchair loosing his temper because he couldn’t see beyond the crowd nor hear if his name was called; There were people pushing forward; People raking through scores of unclaimed bags, as if they were trying to find the body of a lost loved one; People seeing their bags and grabbing at them, breaking the barrier between them and the ground staff. It was all becoming a bit messy and by this point, I could feel my patience fading also as I really, really, didn’t want to be there… Eventually, our name was called and we stepped forward to claim our backpacks. I flung mine over my shoulder, helped Petra with hers and began to head outside.

As we stepped out onto the side-walk, it was to no surprise that the bedlam had spread to here also. The drop off/pick up point was littered with bleary eyed passengers, bags in tow, eagerly awaiting courtesy buses, cabs and lifts to take them to whatever mattress awaited them. However it was now in the very small hours. And as short-staffed the airline and Qantas was inside the terminal, the same can be said for outside; Very little cabs in the rank, a small trickle of mini buses and a select few representatives pacing the side-walk with talk radios.

We were given a hotel: I had the name in hand. We were given our luggage: Mine was laying by my feet like a trusted family dog. We were promised transport: It felt like it was never coming. It was at this time I could feel my patience dwindling from being tried, to being severely tested. I sympathized with the staff, parents stuck with small children and the elderly, but my compassion was wearing thin. I was tired, touchy and had enough. I wanted a bed; I wanted not to talk to Petra; And I wanted some proper/concrete information from Qantas. At this moment in time, I was getting none of the three. Time had ground to a stand still. Outside was as bad as inside. We had been waiting on the side-walk for a couple of hours…

Picture courtesy of Parsons.com

At lengthy intervals, a new bus would pull up whisking happier passengers away with it as we sat and watched on. The crowd had crumbled and chipped away from the wall of luggage and hunched figures it was before, but we were still there; Still waiting; Still listening out for ‘The Marriott down town’; Still tired; And still no closer to the hotel. Could we grab a taxi? Yes, we could, but it would have cost us a huge amount. The staff looked despondent; Like they knew nothing more than we did. And then – as teased before – I had really had enough. Like a moth to a flame, I stormed across the street, flailing out my arms, targeted a blonde haired Qantas crew member that had caught my eye and went on a tirade that I can barely remember. There was no more rational thinking left in my system; I had exhausted it all. I asked – or perhaps demanded – some facts, but all I really wanted to achieve was confirmation of our lift into town. Rather sheepishly, the blonde – who was already under enough pressure without my input – said he didn’t know, but he told me if we were to jump into a taxi, Qantas would cover the fair. As it turned out, this was information they knew all along; Information that would have been helpful during our plight with the pavement. However, regardless of how pissed off I was to hear it, it was all that I needed to turn around, storm back over the street, grab our bags and make progress towards the rank.

Shortly after – as if it was written all along – a black mini bus pulled up to the terminal, just as I had calmed down and joined the rank. Other ‘soon to be’ Marriott guests awoke and began to make a break towards it. We wasted no time in joining them. This looked like our ride into town:

‘Marriott down town???’ We pleaded more than asked.

‘I have no idea where the hell I’m going. What’s the deal? Who’s paying the fare?

If he didn’t hear ‘The Marriott’ and ‘Qantas’ the first time, he definitely heard it the second, third and fourth; Poor guy… We clambered in, snatched our seats, and I closed my eyes for a second or two. As the bitching commenced within the cab by other passengers, I examined Petra to see if she was annoyed with me. She looked back, let out a smile and rested her head on the window. She was fine; We were fine; And finally en route away from the airport. As we pulled out of the terminal, I spotted a woman at the side of the road: She was alone, about early fifties, short grey hair and sporting a baggy fleece decorated with portraits of dogs; The kind you see in tacky gift shops and wonder who buys these things. She was in tears. I had seen her earlier in the evening – not so upset but looking distressed – and I intended on asking her if she was all right. I didn’t bother. As we drove off, I felt terrible for not doing so. Selfishly, I was only truly concerned about her once we had been taken care of. And as emotions were high, I couldn’t really deal with that thought; That plus the image of her on the side of the road – crying her eyes out – began to haunt me, and it did so all the way to the hotel. I really wished I had talked to her…

The ride to the hotel, through the far-reaching, grid like, down town LA, was a short one in comparison to the nights events and we found ourselves soon pulling up to the front door. We were greeted by friendly baggage handlers and an enticing warm glow administered from the hotel lobby. We found ourselves in another queue;This time for check – in. But this was a far more calming affair; Sympathetic smiles, well-informed staff and padded carpet. Within no time we were key in hand, and in our room, marveling at the bathroom, staring out the window and flicking through the channels. Excitement well and truly over for the night, we crashed out, wondering what tomorrow held for us.

The following morning we arrived downstairs for breakfast after a good nights sleep; Hungry but with patience restored to full capacity. Before coffee we were told to check in at reception for any updates on the strike action (Qantas had sent a representative to stay at every hotel, setting up a desk in the lobby). Last night, upon arrival at the hotel, we had been greeted by someone from Qantas; Young Aussie guy, approachable, friendly and some what light-hearted; Qualities that could defuse any stressful situation. The Marriott’s representative was just as great; Sharp, keen and full of answers despite having limited information. Sadly, neither were to be seen today, and as we approached the make-do Qantas desk, I realised the Aussie guy had been replaced. In his place was an Asian woman; Rather scattered, out of sorts and looking a little bit disinterested; All in all seeming a little uncomfortable in her role, as more and more guests approached the desk armed with queries. She struggled to answer most questions and the ones she did, not very well, even with the added bonus of understanding and patience by most around the desk. It was also a struggle for her to understand most people as her English wasn’t the best. I came to the conclusion that she was either new on the job, or this wasn’t her regular role with Qantas. Regardless, she was doing terribly; Not helped by the fact that there wasn’t much to really say. Most people opted to talk with the Marriott representative – who was doing terrific under the circumstances – instead of her. We longed for the laid back Aussie.

There was only one announcement at breakfast and to no surprise:

‘There are no flights out today.’

We were handed three vouchers each – to the value of 12,15 and 22 dollars – to spend at the hotel on breakfast, lunch and dinner, courtesy of Qantas. Brilliant. This was not only unexpected for us but a real treat. The pool outside – with its enticing blue water, picturesque setting and sun just warm enough to dip your toes in – would keep us in the hotel until tomorrow. The rare opportunity to completely relax – at the expense of someone else – was something we wouldn’t pass down. We, of course, would make the most of it.

Relaxing poolside.

The day came and went inside The Marriott hotel and we had enjoyed the down time. We had nothing major planned for our arrival in Melbourne and could afford to lose out on a few days. We were grateful for that fact and I’m sure others weren’t as fortunate.

On the second day we arrived down for breakfast again to be handed another set of vouchers and to be told that there was no movement on the strike. There would also be a new influx of passengers at the desk, who had arrived at the hotel a few hours after us. The announcement:

‘There are still no flights out today.’

‘I’ll have the steak please.’

Late afternoon on the third day we had just arrived back to the room after spending time by the pool. I was laying, sprawled out on the bed watching TV, trying to figure out the appeal in American football; Petra was in the shower. The phone rang:

“Is that Mr Croaker?

It was the Qantas representative mispronouncing my name.

‘Would you like to fly out tonight at 11.30?’

‘For how many people?’ I replied.

She had problems understanding I was traveling with Petra; Constantly mispronouncing/misspelling her name and I had very little faith in her. It was a necessary question.

‘For two. Be downstairs for 8pm’

I cautiously accepted. But I was apprehensive about going back to the airport. And I hoped not for good reason.

To be continued…

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The First: Qantas Strike Action; A Tale of One City – Part 1

Picture courtesy of Nikki Smith

As I pulled apart my Big Mac, I couldn’t help but feel cheap and disgusting. I don’t eat at McDonald’s often: one of those places I’ve poisoned myself against over the years but we had to spend the last of our dollars –  that jangled in our pockets, blanketed by receipts and tattered directions written on ‘post it’ notes. Besides, we were in The States – one last burger before leaving wouldn’t hurt right?

We had arrived at LAX in decent time for our over night flight to Melbourne. Petra and I were in high spirits as travelling The States was an overall success –  not much in the way of problems and a great way to kick off our trip. We had loved our time in LA and were somewhat sad to leave the US. One month down and three to  go, but we weren’t counting.

We were flying out with Qantas – to which despite losing my bags before – I have no problems. In fact they are one of the better airlines I’ve travelled with.

For a couple of hours, we strolled through the terminal, drinking coffee and taking it easy, beginning  to look towards Australia. I have lived in Brisbane before so I was looking forward to seeing some old faces, but Petra had never been so I was excited for her as well.

Before long it was time to board and without a hitch we settled in. I had torn apart the plastic package they provide you – with toothpaste, a blindfold and other things that get in the way and I probably won’t use. We wondered if we would get the seat next to us free  so we could stretch out later and squeeze in a fairly decent sleep, although in truth I wasn’t bothered about it: they had a whole season of Curb Your Enthusiasm available on the in flight system. I would no doubt be up all night watching that and drinking gin.

It was just past 11pm when we received an announcement over the Tannoy:

“Ladies and gentleman this is your captain speaking. If I could ask for your attention, I have some important information to share. I have just received a call from head office, and, I’m afraid I have some unfortunate news: Due to industrial action – out of my control – Qantas has decided to ground its entire worldwide fleet meaning, sadly, we will not be flying to Melbourne this evening. At this time I do not have any further information to give, but on behalf of I and the rest of the cabin crew,  I sincerely apologize. I will have to ask you to gather all of your belongings, and leave the aircraft back to the terminal. Again…my deepest apologies…”

As we remained sat in our seats and turned to each other, I wasn’t sure how to feel but Petra looked quite upset. With only a few moments passed, I had already developed the feeling that this could be a difficult situation to navigate. Perhaps a true test of not only my resolve, but of ours as a travelling couple. My mind began to race  making up different, unsubstantiated conclusions in my head. I worried that this would put strain on us –  very, very quickly.

Surprisingly, most passengers (us included) collected their things and left the plane without a fuss. The cabin crew looked as shocked as we were and they also seemed quite passive –  were they also in the dark about it?

Ourselves – and the rest of the unlucky passengers – streamed and weaved our way back to the terminal. We were guided by make shift signs simply reading ‘Qantas’, held out by ever increasingly shy looking crew members.

I began to think of the scene that awaited us upon arrival at the terminal: We surely weren’t the only Qantas flight outbound that evening… I had visions of being met with chaos, however I decided – like the cabin crew – to also remain quite passive:

“Lets just go with the flow on this one. Let everyone else do the stressing” I said to Petra.

To my gratefulness, she agreed.

We arrived back at the check in desks but my suspicions were right –  It was chaotic. There was another out bound flight to Sydney, to which my disbelief,  was in the process of being pulled from the air – subsequently turning around. Frustrated passengers from another flight from the runway also began to stream into the terminal, clashing with our flight like two angry tribes. But we were to expect passengers from the plane in the sky to also join the party. Before long the place was packed and the rumour mill started to turn inside LAX airport. There was talk of another flight, not getting home that night, and all things corporate/business related, spouted from douche bags on smart phones.

After what seemed like an age, it was well after midnight and the Qantas staff still hadn’t heard a word on what to do with the passengers. Everyone was huddled around the check in desks waiting to hear information and by now people were starting to get disgruntled. Petra and I decided to sit close to the desks  (where most of the staff were hiding behind) in case a massive queue was in the making. We figured it was only a matter of time so getting a head start wouldn’t cause any harm. As we waited, some of the business class passengers began to perk up, stretch their wings, clear their throats and step confidently into the front line. Questions and orders began to ring throughout the terminal from those that remained, whilst many of the others had already booked alternative travel via their smart phones, iPads, and net books. Many people only had hand luggage, so those fortunate passengers were already heading out the door. The rest of us remained in the terminal, scruffy dressed in baggy shorts and printed T’s. Baggage still on the plane, but plenty to be seen under ever glazing eyes.

Finally, after another lengthy wait, there was some movement behind the desks. More staff began to trickle through the terminal, dragged out of whatever bed, bar, or office they came from. They began  to make an announcements via white megaphones –  the kind in which I’ve only seen in protests and movies:

“If I could have everyone’s attention please: We have received word from head office in Melbourne and as it stands, unfortunately, there will be no flights leaving LA tonight and throughout tomorrow. We are in the process of arranging hotels for you all and for transport to take you there. Can I ask those of you on the Sydney flights to form a queue here and to those of you on the Melbourne flight to line up at the other side. We will then issue you with a hotel. Once you have the name of your hotel, head down stairs to collect your baggage and make your way outside for transport to your accommodation.”

As bad luck would have it, we were at the wrong side of the terminal and should expect to be last in line. Not only that, but due to the sheer scale of bodies in the terminal and not hearing the relevant announcement, we hadn’t noticed that the majority of the passengers on our flight had already been allocated hotels and were downstairs already. Disappointed that we had failed to get ahead of the game, we rolled our eyes and shuffled over to the other side of the terminal to be allocated a hotel.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by a barren terminal, with only a few lost souls scattered around. Unintentionally, we had lost our Melbourne counter parts and were able to have a clear run at approaching the check in desk. We sluggishly stepped up to the desk, and handed over our boarding passes. In return, we received a piece of paper, marked in black pen, simply reading ‘The Marriott Down town.’ My eyes lit up and I suddenly felt over joyed to not be flying tonight.

When I had booked the trip – spending hours, scrambling through pages upon pages of potential hostels and hotels – I hadn’t envisioned staying at The Marriott: wminimum wage, prioritising with cities to be in, not beds to sleep on and it being beyond the realms of our reality went against it. But now that it was real? We would embrace it with open arms. However, it was still to early to crack open a beer. We had to get there first.