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.

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About Darren Crocker

Thirty one year old Support Worker from Aberdeen, Scotland now residing in Edinburgh. View all posts by Darren Crocker

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