Leaving on a jet plane

Last updated 11:12 04/12/2012

Regular readers of this blog have mostly likely come to the conclusion that travel and I are together a recipe for misadventure. This post will only strengthen this opinion. But I would like to point out that really it's life in general that is my "comedy of errors", so let's not blame "travel".

Never has a glass of wine tasted as good as the Withers Hill Pinot Gris I had at Auckland airport on Friday night. Partly because it was paid for by someone else (wine paid for by someone other than you always tastes better, in my opinion) but mostly because I'd just missed my flight back to Christchurch. Like actually missed it, as in time of departure for the plane fairly closely matched my time of arrival at the airport.

Given that I'm usually paranoid about being punctual with regards to air travel, how did this happen? 

In the most mundane way possible. We were on our way back from a couple of days in The Big Smoke to see Russell Brand (more on that later this week) and my travel companion Tulip and I simply got our times wrong. I by confusing the departure time and check-in times, she by adding an hour to our flight time. We independently and in completely different ways cocked up the times, creating a beautiful collision of idiocy, a crux of incorrectness, an intersection of temporal inadequacy, if you will.

For Tulip, who among my friends is the most organised and whom we all to some degree or another rely on to marshal us to restaurants, book taxis at the correct time and for the appropriate number of people, and generally "herd cats" on our behalf, this is an uncharacteristic brain fart. And even for me, someone who is decidedly less organisational but who is usually rendered anxious and worried by the precise scheduling of air travel, this is an unusual lapse.

But we're blissfully unaware of any of this until it's far too late to do anything about it. On the express bus to the airport, I idly check the Air New Zealand app, mPass, as I'm sure we need to be at the airport soon.

At this point it's 2.24pm and our flight leaves at 2.40pm. Wait. Our flight leaves at 2.40pm. OH %^&*. We have cocked up. Badly.

I quietly alert Tulip to the fact that we are running extremely late. Hopelessly late. Tulip goes a bit pale and struggles forward to the front of the bus to ask the driver how far away we are from the airport. Thirty minutes, he reckons. Oh dear. Oh my god, we are such dicks. I have the strong urge to repeatedly slap myself in the forehead but don't because I'm on a bus and I don't want to look like I'm one of those "special people" who usually want to sit next to me on a bus. I send this tweet, which is a) sweary and caps locky and b) pretty much sums up the situation.

A passenger a row behind us on the bus, perhaps curious at the repeated use of the word "dicks" by me, asks when our flight is leaving. Twenty to three, we tell him.

What, two-forty?

Yes.

Twenty to three? 

Uh-huh.

Twenty to three? (The italics were audible.)

Um, yes. And repeating it doesn't actually fix it, I say in what I hope wasn't too shrill a voice.

In fact, I'm not that worried about it at this point. We've missed our flight and no amount of wishing for a time machine piloted by a lanky englishman wearing a bow-tie will make the tiniest bit of difference.

Tulip, after the initial shock of our cock-up, snaps back into organisational mode and phones Air New Zealand to find out what our options are. Apparently flying standby on a later flight but we need to register one hour before the flight leaves.

There's a 3.30pm flight but as we're still on the bus and you have to be physically present at the counter for standby flights that's a no-go. We might be able to get on the 5pm flight. This will make us a bit late for our 6.30pm social engagement but short of bumping into a millionaire with a private jet and a philanthropic urge, there's nothing to be done about it.

I give the Silver Fox a ring as he was going to pick us up from the airport. He's pretty good about it and doesn't make me feel like too much of a failure as an adult.

The rest of the bus ride is a mixture of Tulip being confused about how she let this happen and me saying "we're such idiots - I can't believe we did this" and then laughing.

We get to the airport and join the ticketing office queue, which is kind of long and not at all fast moving. An Air New Zealand lady with a dot matrix printed sheet of paper (people still use dot matrix printer with line-flow paper? Who knew?) is working her way down the queue finding out what people need. At this point the flight we were supposed to be on has been delayed and 15 minutes after it was supposed to leave, is still sitting on the tarmac. Tulip asks if there's any chance of getting on it, to which Donna, the Air New Zealand lady says "I'd be more likely to win Lotto, frankly." Fair enough.

But yes, we should be okay to get on the 5pm flight though it's now been delayed until 5.30pm so that 6.30pm social engagement? Not looking like a goer.

We decide we'd best check what Jetstar is offering just to make sure we're covering our options so I hold our place in the queue while Tulip disappears. She comes back 10 minutes later with the news that Jetstar can only get us on a 10.15pm flight at a cost of $359 and no checked luggage. So that makes the choice rather easy. While I have travelled light (my carry-on case weighs exactly the regulation 7kg), Tulip has a heavier case, so Jetstar is out.

After about 20 minutes in the ticketing queue we get to the front and shell out $69 for me and $79 for Tulip (extra for her checked bag). We then head over to the stand-by desk with a piece of paper clutched in our sweaty hands. The attendant there prints out boarding passes for us and puts them aside and tells us that we need to come back to the desk to collect them at 5.05pm - presumably this is when we find out if there is definitely space for us on the plane.

This is the point at which we retire to the airport bar and Tulip, racked with guilt over how the situation is "all her fault", buys me wines as recompense. I argue a bit, but not too much. I also set an alarm on my phone for 4.50pm even though the standby desk is only 5 minutes away. Being paranoid about timing has always served me well in the past. It's a system that works and I am now going back to it. No more of this relaxed approach.

And then the rest of the trip went smoothly. They did have space for us on the plane (back row) and the flight even left a little early. And now I know how stand-by works, which is something I'd never had the "opportunity" to learn about before.

More important, I know not to rely on someone else to organise things for me. Tulip felt overly responsible for this little hiccup because in some ways I'd abdicated my responsibility to her. She thought we were running to schedule (in her imaginary schedule we would have been bang on time) so I went along with it and didn't check (well, not until it was too late). That's as much my fault as it is hers. I owe that woman a couple of wines.

Is your friend or significant other "the organiser" for you? Are you frequently lazy and let them do all the planning and scheduling for you? What happens when that person proves to be a fallible human being? Stand-by, that's what happens.

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