Qantas flight to Sydney departs and arrives on schedule.
Sir Tessa and Shark Puppet proceed to the Aerolineas counter in order to pick up their boarding pass for the Sydney-Buenos Aires leg of the journey. While waiting to be noticed, they in turn notice a sign stating that the flight in question has been delayed by approximately two and a half hours.
They were prepared for the two and a half hour wait scheduled in their itinerary. They had changed all their cash for US$ and ARG peso and left just enough coinage for a cup of tea, having hit up the bakery very early in the morning for cheap nommy snacks to sustain them while they inhabited the gate lounge. They are not prepared for a five hour wait.
The Aerolineas staff give them a $15 food voucher. This does not go very far.
Sydney Airport is newly renovated and modern, which you can read to mean it contains all the mind-numbing qualities of both an airport terminal and a shopping mall, and combines them into a sublime ecstasy of hope-felling purgatory. Sir Tessa and Shark Puppet walk around, and around, and around, and inspect every single gate lounge (more than sixty), and inspect them again, and again, and stop at every single free internet kiosk to shoot off bland emails to unwilling victims on order to alleviate the boredom, the emails them selves being entirely contentless as they are that bored there is nothing to write about.
There is the concern that with the flight so delayed, they may miss their connecting flight in Buenos Aires to Santiago in Chile, where they are to join the tour. If the delay is only as long as proposed, they will probably still make it.
The delay is longer. Of course.
The plane, a 737, is a (and we use the technical term here) "piece of shit". The tray tables are broken. The arm rests are broken. The chairs cannot actually be put in the upright position for take off and landing. Staff are indifferent. Food is quite ordinary, and Sir Tessa and Shark Puppet are not fussy eaters. Coming in to Auckland, the plane makes a hideous sound which unnerves everyone, and Sir Tessa and Shark Puppet are not nervous flyers either.
It is just after nine at night. While waiting for the doors to open to begin the get-off-the-plane-get-on-the-plane-again-cha-cha-cha dance, an announcement was broadcast as paraphrased below:
"This flight has been canceled. After you have cleared Customs and Immigration please proceed to Check In Counter 38, where accommodation has been arranged for you. Repeat, this flight has been canceled. You will need to collect your luggage from the baggage hall."
Sans explanation. Sans apology. Sans any information regarding exactly how we were going to get to Buenos Aires.
Exhale. Our travelers indulge in a fair amount of pissiness, but refrain from actual stress. The flight to Santiago has been missed. They suspect that tomorrow's flights to Buenos Aires will be departing at approximately the same time, so while they have lost their opportunity to explore Santiago, they still stand a good chance of making the information meeting/trip welcome.
The majority of other people on the flight are not travelers, however. They're going to visit family for Christmas. South America does not do the big schbang on Christmas Day, but on Christmas Eve. Note the date. They were making the ground staff cry.
At Immigration Sir Tessa and Shark Puppet are given a suspicious look and questioned regarding their planned stay of a single night. "Drug mule," the officer is thinking. "Did you not just process all the other disgruntled passengers also staying one night because of the canceled flight?" Sir Tessa is thinking. "I'll slit your nostrils," Shark Puppet is thinking.
At which point, the Quarantine sniffer dog jumps all over them, being as they are carrying bakery rolls covered in pineapple and ham.
They are provided overnight accommodation at the Holiday Inn near the airport, dinner and breakfast included, with a courtesy bus to transport them their. They are told the bus is yellow. They are not able to get any sort of word on whether or not there is a flight tomorrow, at what time, or if they will be able to get on it. They are simply told, "You will be told."
There are no yellow buses. That is because the buses are navy blue.
When asked at what time they were alerted to come pick us up, the bus driver states that they were called at six o'clock. Interesting.
They reach the hotel around ten-thirty, and are pleasantly surprised to be given a private room. It's a good hotel, but not used often given the dust everywhere. The pillows are labeled "soft" and "firm". Dinner is sitting in the bain-maries, and has probably been doing so for the last five hours. Sir Tessa and Shark Puppet, having collected a handful of fellow solo travelers, risk adding food poisoning to their woes, and over this daring-do bond and swap tales because there's sweet fuck all else to do and their body clocks are screwed.
Twenty minutes of complimentary internet is provided. This is of marginally more use than the ten minutes of complimentary phone calls, at $4.50 a minute to contact Chile. The internet time is used to hunt out an email address for the joining hotel, and let them know of her delay so they may pass the information along to the tour leader. They hope.
Eventually, Sir Tessa and Shark Puppet retire to their quarters, where they write the first entry of the South America trip journal.
It does occur to them, over and over, that while they will probably get to Buenos Aires tomorrow, being right on Christmas they may not be able to get a connecting flight to Santiago. If that's the case, they'll miss the tour departure, and if that's the case, they'll have to find some other mode of transport to catch up with them down the road, and if that's the case, then they're going to be fumbling around behind an enormous language barrier.
Which, surprising, doesn't stress them, but they're not exactly looking forward to it.
They watch some documentary on psychics helping police with investigative work, and don't watch Halloween, and eventually leave it on BBC World News with the volume turned down, and completely fail to sleep anyway.
Wednesday, 23rd December 2009
There is a notice board in the dining area saying that there is a flight - huzzah! - and that is all. Rumours abound. One of the collect posse states they need to be out of the hotel by one, although that is probably more to do with hotel staff wanting to clean the rooms than anything else.
They sit and eat breakfast over a long period. Then they sit and drink tea over a long period. Then, purely because they're sick of the hotel, they grab their bags, check out, and wait for the shuttle bus. They were told the shuttle bus was free. They go to board it, and are asked for a ticket. They dash back into reception, are given a ticket - no charge - dash out and give the ticket to the driver. This is getting to be a pattern.
At Auckland Airport they are somewhat confused. There is no Aerolineas counter. Recalling that it was Air New Zealand staff that handled them the night previous, they corner some staff not looking busy enough and dump a general "WHAT IS GOING ON?" upon them. The Air New Zealand staff confirm that there is a flight. Yay! But they cannot check to see if our travelers will get a seat on it, as the Aerolineas system does not open until one thirty, so they will have to wait an hour and a half.
This whole ordeal has consisted of HURRY UP AND WAIT.
Apparently proper transport was organised, as when they return to the counter later they discover the whole flight has appeared. Hotel staff could have told them this, but didn't. They get in line, and wait.
When the counter opens, and the queue starts moving, there is a lack of screaming and crying. This is a good sign.
When Sir Tessa and Shark Puppet's turn comes, they're given a seat on the next flight to Buenos Aires. They're not sure when this flight leaves, or from what gate, but it will be soon. What about the connecting flight to Santiago? The staff won't have a bar of that, and tell them they'll have to sort that out in Buenos Aires. Most helpful.
Sir Tessa and Shark Puppet would be more likely to accept that were it not for the fact that boarding passes were issued for other passengers with connecting flights. Seemingly at random.
Passengers have been talking to each other. Reasons for the cancellation are as follows:
- There was a mechanical problem. (Fine if that developed in flight.)
- The mechanical problem was known in Sydney (!!!) and they didn't think the plane would last the flight to Buenos Aires. (EXCUSE ME WTF WHY FLY IT FROM SYDNEY TO AUCKLAND THEN?!?!)
- They needed to wait for a part to be flown in from Buenos Aires.
- They needed to use our plane to take people who had been stranded in Auckland the night before we arrived onward to Sydney. (Get your own damn plane!)
The majority were of the opinion that the flight was canceled purely because it was only one-third full.
Those with connecting flights to Santiago watched the departure board, in particular a LAN Chile flight direct to Santiago, and wept a little. The board was also watched to see if our flight would be given a gate at any point in time (it wasn't), and exactly when boarding would commence. The board displayed a helpful countdown on every flight listed for departure - boarding in 45 minutes, 40 minutes, 35 minutes - and Sir Tessa and Shark Puppet watched it make it all the way down to 5 minutes, where it remained unchanging for approximately half an hour before jumping back up to 50 minutes. It did this approximately three times.
At some point in the long dark tea time of the soul, Sir Tessa and Shark Puppet noticed an Aerolineas plane sitting out on the tarmac, with maintenance popping in and out of it.
"That's our plane," spoketh Sir Tessa, and Sir Tessa spoketh true.
At last a gate was given, and when the announcement came over the PA there was cheering. Cheering! The posse head to the gate lounge, where they waited a further hour, ANOTHER DAMN HOUR, before boarding. Where they sat on the runway for another twenty minutes or so. And when they roared up the runway and finally left the ground, there was a hell of a lot more cheering, in a sort of "we're in the air you're stuck with us now!" way.
Staff, just as indifferent, and nigh prickly. Food, just as ordinary. Sleeping pills, well, they can only do so much on a plane. Which turns out to be not much at all.
Buenos Aires, ACHIEVED. That is exactly what it felt like, a grand achievement touching down on, at the very least, the correct continent. The longest leg was done, not long to go now.
Commence mad rush on the transfer counter!
Where it was made very clear that they needed to get to Santiago today. The Aerolineas staff plopped them on the next flight without even raising an eyebrow, and told them to check in their bags at-
But we don't have our bags, we're not entering Argentina, so...
Arcane symbols jotted on a list and a paper and pencil luggage receipt is handed over. Paper and pencil. This does not bode well, and gives rise to images of getting to the right city only to be without rucksack. Not a good state to be in, given the tour is due to depart Santiago at six in the morning tomorrow.
But, nevermind! They have a boarding pass! They are so close to their objective! They race to the gate, and hurry up and wait.
Such a lovely sight (and further proof that even at their home base, Aerolineas can't get their act together).
They boarded - ON TIME. The plane was in much better condition than the one flying the Sydney route. Interesting. They took off - ON TIME. Ham and cheese sandwich and further indifference. They arrived in Santiago - ON TIME. Their luggage arrived - ON TIME.
And so, more after more than twenty-four hours delay, most of which was spent completely in the dark having been given no information on the situation or what steps were being taken to see them reach their destinations, Sir Tessa and Shark Puppet arrived in Santiago.
They had missed the introductory meeting, but were in the right city, and would depart with the tour on the morrow.
That is, if the tour were following the planned itinerary. Which it wasn't. But that particular tale is for another time.
Wednesday, 6th January 2010
The final deviation from the tour's itinerary came from below, not above. It was noted that Metallica were playing at Estadio River Plate in Buenos Aires the night before the truck was due to arrive in the city.
Sir Tessa and Shark Puppet plant themselves in an internet cafe in Ushuaia. After much wrangling with the Spanish dictionary, tickets to the concert are bought. This is followed by plane tickets to fly from Trelew to Buenos Aires the day of the concert.
The Aerolineas site (which shall not be linked to here) is old fashioned, to put it kindly. Booking the ticket online is straight forward, surprisingly. And lacking any point at which to enter credit card details, surprisingly.
A read through of the confirmation email confirms that Sir Tessa and Shark Puppet have indeed booked a seat upon that flight, and it is reserved just for them, but they will have to pay for it within twenty-four hours or it will expire.
Oh. Well. Okay.
Fortunately there is an Aerolineas Argentinas office in Ushuaia, and it is still open. They roll in, take a number, mutely hand over their reservation details along with a wad of cash, and their seats are paid for and confirmed.
Some of their fellow Metallica-goers are told that twenty-four hours prior to the flight they will need to reconfirm their tickets AGAIN. Sir Tessa and Shark Puppet are not told this.
Yet others who booked the flight do not notice the caveat about payment. When all have regrouped back at the hostel and they are informed of this, there is some concern. This is followed by confusion about the Aerolineas opening hours, which leads to them not going to the office until it is well and truly closed.
This leads to further concern, as on the morrow the tour is leaving lovely Ushuaia and its Aerolineas offices and heading out on long remote highways to camp on the side of the road.
One Metallica-goer calls the Aerolineas customer service line with the intent of paying by credit card over the phone. Their call is picked up and put on hold. When they come off hold, the operator tells them that the office closes at ten o'clock. It is three past ten. Five minutes were spent on hold. The operator answered purely to state that they would not be offering any assistance good bye.
Phone calls ares made the following morning, in the last big town the truck passes through, and the various orphan tickets are paid for.
Friday, 22nd January 2010
At Trelew Airport, one Metallica-goer has trouble checking in, as apparently his ticket has not been paid for. This is despite him paying at the same time, on the same call as everyone else. It takes much to-ing and fro-ing before he is allowed to pay cash.
The flight is half empty. It isn't as though there aren't enough spare seats.
Another Metallica-goer misplaces her wallet at the check in counter. It is later discovered handed in, sans cash.
Ham and cheese sandwich. The stewards do not wish to work any longer than they must, nor do they want work hanging over their heads, so as soon as they are done handing out the meals, they come around to pick up the trays, taking most meals before they are finished, whether the person wants to give up the meal or not. This is followed by a bit over an hour of flight time.
Tuesday, 26th January 2010
Sir Tessa and Shark Puppet bid adieu to their new friends and the city of Buenos Aires, and head off to the Buenos Aires Airport. Again. They arrive at ten-thirty at night, just over three hours of check in time, which is suitable for an international flight.
They check the departure board to see what check in counter they need to head to, and discover that their two am flight has been delayed till quarter past four in the morning...
Buenos Aires airport is considerably less interesting that Sydney, and considerably less clean, and has even less going for it in the small hours of the morning. Sir Tessa attempts to contain her mildly unhinged giggling. Shark Puppet curses all the friends they just left in Buenos Aires, knowing they are at a live drumming show and heading onto a bar afterward.
Only a few of the chairs lack arms, and so sleeping space is at a premium. Weeks of camping comes in handy and Sir Tessa and Shark Puppet make do on the concrete floor, where they completely fail to sleep.
The Aerolineas staff appear and form a processing line, where they call up row numbers, check passports and proceed to check everyone's hand luggage. Again. As if that hadn't already been done. This takes a very long time, and it is closer to six than four by the time the plane leaves the ground.
The staff and food are as expected. They are, thankfully, not held hostage in Auckland a second time, but apparently others were, as there is once again great cheering when the plane departs Auckland for Sydney (after yet further delays).
Because their travel-fu is so corrupted by Aerolineas's interference, even the Qantas flight home to Melbourne is delayed.
Sir Tessa and Shark Puppet are not impressed.
It isn't as though Aerolineas is hiding what they are. Their emblem is the condor. What's a condor? A giant smelly scavenger. A carrion eater. Yep. In the official inflight magazine, there was a letter from the CEO of Aerolineas Argentinas, where he proudly states that in the last year they renewed their aviation safety clearance. That was all the airline achieved, and this letter toted that as if it were something to be proud of, a massive accomplishment. DUDE. YOU NEED THAT TO OPERATE AN AIRLINE. ANY AIRLINE.
This airline was chosen because it was the cheapest. Flying to South America is usually reasonable, but at the peak time, which combines Christmas and the summer holidays, prices rocket up to well above $4,600. The Aerolineas flight was around $3,400, which is still a lot of money but fit in my budget. Just.
If you, like me, must fly Aerolineas because that is all you can afford, then take an extra day or two to get to your destination. I believe you have a 50% chance of being stuck in Auckland, as while there is only one flight number, there are two planes, one running between Sydney and Auckland, and the other running Auckland to Buenos Aires, and they don't always meet up in the middle.
If you expect any degree of customer service, drop those expectations. Aerolineas isn't there to help you out, even when they mess you're in is their cause. They. Don't. Care.
If you are buying internal flights for Argentina, don't book online. Just go into an office, they're quite common.
If you can't eat a ham and cheese sandwich, bring your own food.
Hell, if you want to eat anything bring your own food, or they'll steal it back.
In fact, just don't fly Aerolineas Argentinas.