No matter how hard you try, how seamless, on paper the plan is, the odds are something will go wrong. That is not to say I am a fatalist, or a glass half empty kind of traveler, because most of the trips I have planned, and taken, have been relatively painless.
Except our good luck had to finally run out.
It was not a matter of bad planning; it was just one of those times when events didn’t quite go according to plan. It happens.
For instance, the simple objective was to get from Brisbane in Australia to Florence in Italy. There is no direct flight. Booking on an airline site is a horrendous experience, fares are ridiculously high, and there is no accommodating stopovers.
This is a trip that only a travel agent can handle.
The objective, travel to London via Hong Kong, or Singapore, or any medium distant airport, then on to London, or Paris, or where-ever, then to Florence. No overnight stopover, staying in a hotel, not this time, in either of Hong Kong or London.
It was as horrendous for the agent as it was navigating the airline’s internet site. It was not something that could be done, sitting opposite her as she deftly navigated the highways and byways of the travel system on her computer. This was a longer, more intricate job.
Two days later she had the solution for the Brisbane, Hong Kong, London, and thence Florence trip. It would require a stay of 10 hours in Hong Kong, the connections didn’t align according to price constraints, and then a 14 hour layover in London as flights to Florence were not aligned either. All well and good. Cathay Pacific for the trip to London and Vueling Airlines for the Florence leg. At least we would arrive in Florence at a reasonable hour, about 6pm.
On paper, it was the most practical solution in the circumstances.
Reality proved it to be something else entirely.
At Brisbane airport, we were given boarding passes for the flights through to London, but by some quirk of fate had our baggage checked through to Florence. How this could be done without boarding passes for the London to Florence flight was a surprise. Back in Brisbane, the check-in person told us she could not give us a boarding pass for the London to Florence leg because the system would not issue it. We could she said, get it easy enough when we arrived in London.
The first leg went smoothly enough, though we did not realize until we got on the plane that it stopped over in Cairns for an hour or so. This was not a problem, just made the time between Brisbane and Hong Kong longer than we anticipated.
In Hong Kong, we had no trouble getting into the lounge I’d booked. The problem came with the interpretation of using the bathroom facilities, and it took several hours before we finally realized that the bathroom facilities were not part of the lounge but operated independently and you had to book your place. By that time there were a large number of people ahead of us (who obviously knew the problems associated with these facilities) and it annoyed me that the lounge staff did not mention it when we arrived.
The Hong Kong to London leg was as all long haul flights are. We knew what to expect, and arrived in London around 6 am. We arrived at terminal three and the lounge we’d booked was in terminal three. All we needed was a boarding pass to get in.
That was not the case.
Because we could not get back into terminal three without a forward boarding pass we had to exit and go through customs and immigration. We were told that the only way to get a boarding pass for the Florence flight was to go to the airline counter.
The problem was Vueling did not have an airline counter.
This is where tempers started to flare. 7:30 in the morning, no means of getting into the lounge which we had paid a lot on money for, and no one in the terminal being helpful.
The Vueling web site was impossible to use.
The telephone number rang out.
At this point, I was beginning to believe the airline didn’t exist and we had been ripped off.
Only by a quirk of fate, reading the departures board, did I see a flight for Vueling leaving at 10 am, with the check-in counter displayed.
By this time we had spent two very frustrating hours and I was nothing short of angry.
At the gate, the head of the check-in counter, a representative of Vueling was surprised we had any problems, particularly in Brisbane, but happily issued the boarding passes.
When we mentioned the baggage she advised us it was lucky we did, otherwise it would have gone missing. She took the tag numbers and sorted that problem out.
The airline, it seems, is well respected, and based on the service I received, I had to say I agreed
The problem was back in Brisbane with an inexperienced check in person.
There was only one problem in getting to the lounge, now four hours later than we had advised, the fact we had to go back through customs, and in doing so, the duty-free that we had brought from Hong Kong was now outside the limits allowed, and the customs staff were adamant despite the circumstances we could not take it with us. $400 worth of goods finished up in the bin.
It would be true to say that day the customs staff at Heathrow were not the best ambassadors for their country, and one, in particular, would be best doing service elsewhere where human contact was not a requirement. As for the others, they were as helpful as they could be, but rules unfortunately were rules.
At last, rather distressed over the duty-free, and the lateness of our arrival at the lounge, there was no possibility of getting a short sleep before going to Florence. At least we did not have the same problems using the bathroom facilities, our room I’d book had them included in the room.
We rested, and figured nothing else could go wrong.
The plane was advertised to leave London at about 3 pm. We left the lounge expecting to get to the gate on time. We checked on the departure board for the flight to get the gate number, only to see a notice ‘delayed’. When that delay passed 5 pm, two hours later, we decided to go to the counter and find out what was happening.
Only to find there was no airline counter. Again!
We asked at least a dozen people, including the special helpers the airport who there is plenty of signage to say to go to if you have a problem, but not one of them knew where the counter was or who was looking after the affairs of the airline. By this time other irate passengers of the delayed flight were massing, also seeking answers. One discovered who the agent was, and we descended on the counter as a large group.
The first person I saw at the counter was the woman who had checked us in that morning. For her, it had been a long day, and it was getting longer.
The problem, the plane had been delayed on an earlier leg, yes it would be arriving, having just left the lat airport, and we would be embarking about 7:30. For our trouble, we got a meal voucher, and at least we could have a reasonably good dinner.
The plane arrived, we embarked, the service was good and the people on board as cheerful as they could be given the delays and the discontented passengers.
We arrived in Florence just before midnight, our driver to take us to the hotel was waiting for us, and the hotel upgraded us to a very nice room.
All in all a harrowing journey, but at the end, basically a six-hour delay, and two very tired, but happy people. And we were in Florence, in summer. What more could anyone want?