For all different reasons, people were scrambling to get to where they wanted to be, be it work, family engagements, whatever. So in that respect I was quite surprised I got the phone call. In truth, we weren’t really that bothered if the phone rang or not. We were told to be downstairs for 8pm but to be on the safe side we made the decision to go down for 7pm. We packed our bags with a sense of dread but also looked forward to finally getting to Melbourne.
Bags packed, loose plane clothing on and with a semi-premature feeling of finality, we headed downstairs to the lobby for six thirty – you know, just to be sure. Using the last of our food tokens, – the posh Marriott kind – we pulled up chairs centre circle, dug into some pizza and pasta and maintained a watchful eye over the hotel lobby. We had confirmation that we were on our way out of The States, but I was to remain slightly on edge: I had lost faith in Qantas and worried that there may be more mishaps to come. A few slices in, Petra had spotted familiar faces across the lobby, dragging their bags behind them:
“They must have gotten on the flight tonight as well” she said.
“Hmm…Yeah…I guess…Hold on.”
A gulp of water and some laboured chewing later, I went over to check what the gossip was:
The Qantas representative – the useless one we had been stuck with – was in the midst of getting a grilling from a very angry passenger. It seemed she was upset because people were leaving to the airport, to which she wasn’t told about. She was sporting shades, (tucked into her top) sandals and had a book clutched in her hand. Key point being, she wasn’t ready to leave, and this situation – in comparison – would act as her final boarding call at the airport. I was confused. It was barely past seven. Didn’t she have an hour to spare? As I continued to listen in – looking for my opportunity to get involved – the whole picture began to unravel, and it wasn’t to appeal to everyone’s tastes. Then, the Qantas representative dropped a clanger, heard all over the hotel lobby: She explained that if you happened to have been in your room at the time of the phone call, you were on the flight; If you happened to be by the pool, out of the building, taking a shit or anything else that involved not being by the telephone? Well you would have missed out. And as a consequence, not be flying out of Los Angeles. Never having dawned a Qantas uniform, even I felt qualified enough to realize that this was poor judgement on her behalf. The angry, sandal shuffling woman was now infuriated: She, personally, had been told prior that she would have priority because she was first class. Suddenly, I found it hard to sympathize. Unceremoniously, I piped up:
“Sorry to interrupt, Can I just want to confirm some information with you? We are still leaving at 8pm, right?…”
“ No” She said.
“We leave now. If you want to go to the airport tonight, be outside in five minutes.”
I bounded back over to the table, leaving the angry passenger and the representative behind. I told Petra we were leaving. Bewildered again, she finished her slice and shook her head. We were right to come down early.
News had spread and more and more people began filling the lobby. Some with luggage; Some without. We slid past the gathering crowd, made our way outside and scrambled into a mini-van. Within minutes we were joined by others, and we were on our way to the airport.
Upon arrival, we were greeted with the same check-in desk we fondly remember from those long and stressful hours from a few nights before. Not much had changed: There were still hoards of people, albeit, now in single file; Smiles upon faces and a lightness in the air. We joined in in the back, waiting patiently, ready to move forward and begin zigzagging our way closer to the check-in desk. However, there was one noticeable similarity from the last encounter: The staff.: They looked somewhat nervous; Like they had something to hide; Like they knew something we didn’t; Like they did the night before.The anxiety I felt at the hotel began to creep back in. I couldn’t help but feel that there may be more drama to come.
A few twists and turns later we found ourselves obstructed only by a couple with their young family. The father had been talking to the sheepish looking check-in guy for quite some time. Scanning the horizon, I began to notice more sheepish faces, cowering behind the desks, including our troubled representative from the hotel. There was clearly something up. The man – with his family it toe – turned around and headed right, away from the line. We were up next. I stepped forward, lay my passport on the counter and peered at the man behind the check in desk pleadingly: Within seconds and to no absolutely no surprise, I was to be told that there would be no seats left on the plane. Here we go again, I thought. Despite our early arrival, we were still too late. On the flip side, it wasn’t the end of the world: He offered us a flight to Melbourne, connecting with Sydney. But before he could do so, I had gotten frustrated again and as did Petra. Not with him; Not with the situation; But with the woman from our hotel for – once again – giving out terrible information. As much as I wanted to sympathise with her, I simply couldn’t. It wasn’t mine nor Petra’s finest moment.; flaring out, speaking up and adding nothing but more stress. But, thankfully, it would be the last we seen of her: Cowering; Behind her desk; Well over her head.
As the queue became longer and longer and more and more people streamed into LAX, we began feeling fortunate that we were on a flight at all. There was a good chance that people in our hotel were going to be at the airport later expecting flights out, as well as many others. As the terminal filled up, I predicted a lot of unhappy people. Many will have made a wasted journey and could expect another trip back to the hotel: Too many people, not enough aircraft and a terrible breakdown of communication: This, yet again, was a mess.
We had been told at check in that due to short notice, the plane hadn’t been able to be stocked on time, there for, there would be limited food and drink on board. We were then handed a voucher worth the equivalent of one hundred dollars for us to spend in the terminal: Well, this was different. I had never heard of such a thing. Naturally, my first question was:“Can I spend this in duty free?” He didn’t know. And neither did the guy behind me; Or the woman with too much make up;Or the guy with the tacky phone cover.;In fact no one quite knew what to do with the voucher, including Qantas themselves. But I guess we had time to figure it out. We headed upstairs, voucher in hand, feeling menacing.
Upon further probing we understood that the voucher came with restrictions: The main being that it could only be spent in one place within the terminal; Not a variety of. So with a little deliberation, naturally, we decided we would head to the bar, grab some sandwiches or the like to take away and spend the rest on whisky, cocktails and pints. Naturally.
The bar was dotted with normal passengers but laden with voucher waving Qantas nuisances. We had found a table in the corner and as we looked down on the ever increasingly busy terminal, we had time to reflect a little on the whole situation. I felt sorry for the staff: Not only Qantas, but for the ground staff, the baggage handlers, the taxi and the bus drivers; The catering staff at all the hotels; The maids, the cleaners, the cabin crew and those who had lost out on whatever plans, work or appointments they had waiting for them at the other side of the ocean. We had it easy: an extended holiday with a sprinkle of stress thrown in to keep things exciting, but others may have been effected in terrible ways: Missing a funeral is what came to my mind… As I enjoyed my pint, at Café El Qantas, I also felt sorry for our waitress: She was stressed – big time – and incredibly stretched, trying to deal with the floor on her own. Being a waiter myself for many years, I knew exactly how she felt and tend to sympathise with people I can relate to. I managed to catch a word with her: The consensus she put across on behalf of the terminal, was of the frustration with Qantas, and how chaotic it’s been for everyone involved:This mirrored my thoughts. Everyone had something to moan about or a story to tell. I wished her well and let her get on.
As we settled in at the bar, we began chatting to people around us, most of which were on our flight: A community of disgruntled passengers, becoming happier by the second, gripping onto a pint of lager and looking somewhat more upbeat then their downstairs counterparts
“Do you mind if I sit here?” we were asked, by a man we briefly met in the cue.
His name was Andy: A thirty something year old from Melbourne who was in LA for business. He too had been caught up in the strike but he didn’t seem to mind, despite having a family to get home to. We began talking light-heartedly which came as a welcome contrast to the bull-dozing negativity that was circulating LAX. Even better, he was up for a couple of drinks, so before long we were on the whisky; Petra drank a cocktail. We shared a story or two as we waited on our food (club sandwiches) and he seemed to genuinely enjoy our travelling tales: His eyes lit up when I told him about upcoming plans and how my time was in Australia, Germany and Asia. He had travelled also – And I sensed he somewhat missed those days… We drank at the bar for an hour or two, taking full advantage of our 100 dollar vouchers. I was drunk.
It was time to stream through security and make our way to the gate. On the way we passed a news team, filming people holding up their vouchers to the camera: Would I have done the same if asked? Yeah, probably…We also passed some absolute fool in a Costa type chain, buying everything he could possibly get his hands on; Shortbread, muffins, cakes, crisps – you name it. I felt this was incredibly foolish as you CAN NOT take this into Australia with you: He would either have to eat it all on the plane or declare his loot to customs: So unless he would like to argue/ be fined over a half eaten chocolate muffin, a near empty tube of Pringle’s and a pocket full of crumbs it really wasn’t worth his while. All I was taking into Australia was a belly full of beer, and I was all the happier for it.
We had left it a bit tight to get through to the security checks as we capitalized on every single moment spent at the bar. As a result, we ended up rushing through – Andy included – and made a speedy beeline for the gate. Upon arrival, we were greeted with gloomy expressions, slumped over teenagers engaged with their smart phones and scattered crowds dotted over the carpet. I had seen this before. I knew exactly what lay ahead. Our flight had been delayed: Delayed for another three hours.
Due to the voucher restrictions, their would be no more freebies at the bar. What was becoming a relatively great night, turned into a shit one. I wanted to carry on boozing and fully intended on abusing the drink cart on the plane. But until then, we would have to cough up some dollars. In stepped Andy who kindly offered to buy us another round. Sharing stories had become sharing laughs with him. Another drink was in order. One became two; Two became three; Three became too many, and we danced our way back to the gate. Andy went on to explain how great it was to talk to us, as it brought back so many memories of when he was backpacking: Memories, he said, he hadn’t recalled in years. Genuinely friendly and incredibly kind with his words and time. The drinks we had came courtesy of Andy; The fun we had was priceless.
Again, it was the early hours of the morning and again, we were at the gate waiting to fly. We had made in time to join another queue, waiting to board. The staff had that look about them again: A look that can only be described as unsettling. However the flight had been called, so I couldn’t see what could possibly go wrong. We made our way forward and stepped up to the desk. Ready to board, I handed over my passport and boarding pass:
“Sir I’m sorry but you are not on this flight. You will be on the next, which flies out in a couple of hours.”
Our tickets were right. We weren’t in the wrong. But it seemed things had been shuffled around last minute. As expected, I blew up, but somehow managed to keep it inside, swallow it and get over it within a matter of seconds. There was nothing to be done, and the good natured drunk in me prevailed. We grabbed our bags, shuffled back the way we came and found a place to park our bodies. The bar was now closed. For the next couple of hours, I’d be sobering up on the patch of carpet I chose.
As we settled, Petra and Andy struck up another conversation. I became quickly bored of my chosen tile. I pulled myself up, stretched out and decided to go for a walk. I enjoy being in airports: I love the excitement, the bustle and the people that flock to them. I find being on a plane restricting (for obvious reasons) but at the airport I’m free to roam, wonder and daydream; I’m free to celebrity spot, eat sushi and and read smutty magazines; I’m free to eat peanut M&M’s, try on fourteen different after shaves and play on the escalators; I’m free to stare, peer and watch; I’m free to go where I’ve been waiting to go for months; And I’m free to fantasize about being there, turning my dreams into reality.
As I roamed, I recognized someone that I had fond memories of the last time I was at the airport: There was no second guessing and no mistaking. There she was with her short grey hair and her baggy fleece, with her eyes set deep into a book. It was the woman that I had felt so bad for: The woman that I should have checked on that first night at LAX but didn’t. The same woman that would haunt me all the way to the hotel. I wanted to make things right. I had to talk to her. I approached her and opened with a simple ‘hello.’ She was nothing like I had imagined her being: Very well educated, charming and full of character. Canadian and going to Melbourne on vacation. I explained to her how I felt that night and how it was important for me to clear the air. On an emotional level, situations such as this one – leaving her on the side of the street without so much as a word of concern – can effect me horribly: I tend to dwell over the little things in life. She was lovely. And I was so glad I spoke to her. She to, was full of kind words and she very much appreciated my concern. Her name was Janice. She was crying due to being swept up by the stressful nature of the whole situation and – like everyone else – had no idea what was going on that evening. She got to a hotel shortly after we did. A little bit of thoughtfulness that night may have went far in a sea of people that were only out for themselves. That thought, has stuck with me ever since.
Two hours had past, and I was back at he gate with Petra and Andy. We were met with another hour delay. Still, in high spirits metaphorically and physically, I approached the boarding desk and talked with Qantas:
“I know you are under a great deal of stress but all I want is a truthful answer. Will we be flying out tonight or not?”
We would be. Shortly after our flight was called. It was time to say goodbye to LAX. The ordeal was over. And we were not the worse for it.
Half a dozen gin and tonics later, we touched down in Sydney and were soon on our way to Melbourne: four days late. As we collected our bags we said goodbye to Andy. It was a pleasure to meet him. We swapped contact details and I vowed to write about the strike and send him the link. We waved goodbye to Andy and said hello to Melbourne. We had touched down and the next leg of our trip was upon us. But surely nothing could top what we had just been through. Could it?…
It comes with the territory that things can do and generally do go wrong at some point on a big trip such as that: You take the good with the bad and if you can make something good out of a bad situation, then an ‘ordeal’ doesn’t necessarily have to be that.
Being ‘stuck’ in LA for another few days wasn’t a disaster. I would even go as far as saying that it was a highlight of the trip – Certainly one of the more memorable experiences that I will ever have in my lifetime. We/I were apart of something global and it was truly exciting. Saying that, I’m no stranger to this kind of thing; I was also caught up in the Icelandic volcano eruption, that grounded most of the flights in Europe for a short time. I ended up getting to Germany by bus, train and boat: Yeah, karma certainly isn’t on my side when it comes to travel. For those of you that no me well, I do love a good story, and although I may embellish facts from time to time, the base of this story is 100 percent true.
Life if full of mundane things: Whether that be sitting on the bus on the way to work in the morning, making ‘spag bol’ for dinner for the eighth time this month or wasting six hours straight on the internet looking at absolute garbage on you-tube. To be taken out of the realm of normality and to be placed into something so surreal and out of sort, is a true exercise of the mind. And I – for one – relish this kind of rush as often as I can get it. Would I choose to put myself through that inconvenience again? Of course not. However could I and would I get a kick out of being inconvenienced? Absolutely. Life is full of inconveniences. And there will never be a convenient time.
Merry Christmas and all the best for 2013.
Take it easy folks.