Travel

11,000 Kilometres Away From Home

October 2011.

 

1300 – Schipol Airport

Check-in staff:  I couldn’t find your name, miss.

Me: I’m sorry?

Check-in staff: Your name is not on the passenger list.

Me : It can’t be. There must be some mistake Ma’am. Can you check again?

Check-in staff: Are you sure you’re on the right flight?

Me: Well of course! Where else would I be?

Check-in staff: Would you mind checking with the Customer Service over there? They will help you to sort it out.

 

***

0800 – Prinsengracht

My alarm goes off. I reached out to open the window and felt the cold breezed seeping into my hotel room. I picked up my phone and tweeted,

“It’s cold outside. Just want to sneak again under the blanket. Can I just extend my stay here, please?”

And do you remember how they were always saying, “Careful what you wish for” Because you might just get it. And it’s not always in a good way. But what did I know at the time? The only thing I remember was I definitely didn’t want to miss the reservation I’ve made to the Anne Frank Huis that day. So I forced myself to get up, cleaned the room and dragged myself out.

I got back to the hotel at around 1130 and picked up my luggage then headed up to the Centraal Station. It was actually a sunny day, despite the cold breeze. I took time to enjoy the laid-back atmosphere of the city before I bid adieu for good. To the city, to the country, to the continent.

It wasn’t hard to find the ticket counter, but it was quite a challenge to find the correct train which goes to the airport, as usually in other European countries. Because they can suddenly part the compartments and go their separate way in the middle of the road. I don’t like surprise when I was about to catch a plane home.

Me : Is this one going to Schipol, sir?

Train steward : For you? Yes, of course!

Then there I was, boarding the train which “of course” going to the airport, for me. It was a smooth ride and I found myself disembarked at Schipol station at no time.

It was around 1200 when I arrived, and I found that the check-in counter was still closed. Of course, as anyone with international flying experience would know, check-in counter will only open 2 hours (sometimes 3 at earliest) before the actual boarding time. So I decided to had a lunch at Burger King (and paid for the sauce! In Euros! Gee..) and strolled around the airport to kill time. When I got back to the check-in counter, there was already quite a queue, so I joined right in. Imagine the shock when I heard that my name was NOT on the passenger list! So I dragged myself  to the Customer Service agent.

I was originally booked on a return flight for CGK-FRA/AMS-CGK on that Middle-Eastern airline. But, my Schengen visa came out 12hours later than my scheduled flight. Since I needed to catch up with a group schedule, I asked my office to arrange any flight which departed the earliest. And they booked the first leg with some 5-star airlines. But since that one leg cost SO MUCH, I said that I was okay with that ME airline, just cancel the first leg, and make a new booking for the second leg. But apparently, the staff who was supposed to handle this was a new and highly inexperienced staff, so she didn’t really know what to do.  Add miscommunication factor between her and the travel agent, resulting the first leg wasn’t cancelled. Thus, assuming that I didn’t show up for the first leg of the flight, the ME airline automatically cancelled my second leg. There I was, stranded 11,000 kilometers away, without a ticket home, with a visa that expires THAT DAY. Hooray!

I quickly informed my office about this very unfortunate situation while I was still trying to find a way home.

CS staff: We can offer you a ticket on the same plane, miss.

Me: Ohh.. How nice of you! Is it free?

CS staff: Unfortunately, no. *smiles* Though, it’ll be cheaper if you buy return, miss. It’s EUR9xx for return.

Me: (Crap. It is cheap! Even cheaper than my original ticket. Though, I’m not sure I have that much of money) How much for the one-way ticket, sir?

CS Staff : It’s EUR6xx, miss. We accept cash, debit or credit card. No worries *smiles*

Me: (HUGE worries on my side though..) What time are you closing the counter?

CS Staff : 30minutes before the boarding time.

Great, that would give me approximately 2 hours to sell my kidney and buy another ticket home.

Run towards the nearest ATM.

Check account balance – Newsflash : not enough cash.

Run towards internet station.

Check balance on credit card – still not enough.

Shit, when did I spend the money?

Receive call from office – “Check Western Union, can we wire you the money?”

Run through the airport trying to find WU.

Find WU – Yes! A little light outside the tunnel!

Receive call from office – call disconnected – trying to call back – call disconnected.

 “What the hell?” – Not enough credit to make/receive calls, or even to send one bloody-fucking message!

Run to the internet station to fill in credits through e-Banking.

e-Banking can’t be used due to wrong PIN has been inputted three times – Shit! That must be accidentally inputted when I put the key in the bag!

Send email to a friend asking her to transfer some credit to my phone.

5minutes.

10minutes.

Phone credit transferred.

Phone call received.

“Sorry, can’t do WU – the office has closed!!” – No kidding, it was only 1830 in Jakarta time! Doh!

“Go check with the CS staff whether we can use other’s credit card to make the purchase.”

Run back to the ticket counter.

“Sorry miss, the card owner needs to travel together.” – Shit.

Thinking.

Gimme more time to think.

Still thinking.

Call office again. – “What other airlines has schedule to Jakarta this day?”

Office gave list of several flights.

“Try to online book with that blue airline. The last time I flew with them, it’s okay to use other’s credit card without problem.”

“Are you sure?”

“Well, I hope so.”

“Okay. We’ll try and inform you again.”

Tick. Tock.

A lifetime after.

Phone beeped.

“Booking reference XXXX.” – “Check with the airline and let us know the result.”

Run to the automatic check-in counter.

Input booking reference code.

Swipe passport.

** printing boarding pass **

Holy Mother of God! I am GOING HOME.

“IT’S WORKING. THANK YOU!!!”

Only later I found out that the last minute ticket cost USD1,500. For one-fucking-way. Good thing that it’s a company paid expense! Nonetheless, this is absolutely my most favorite travel story to date.

 

Moral of the story :

  1. Do all the dirty work yourself. If the situation doesn’t allow you to do so, just make sure that the people doing the favor for you really know what they’re doing.
  2. Make sure that all your booking are still valid – before you embark on any journey. Thus, it’ll give you extra time to get prepared for surprises along the way.
  3. Put some extra money in your bank account. Just in case. And get a bank which card can be used abroad (yeah, *some* local bank doesn’t have that facilities..)
  4. Get a high limit credit card. At least a limit that will allow you to buy ONE ticket home. Or better, get unlimited (that if you can afford the bill though..)
  5. Work out before any trip! All the running around through floors and terminals (while carrying a 8-kilos backpack) need superb stamina. But then, this kind of situation will definitely pump your adrenaline and makes you run faster and stronger. Good thing I had a 12hours flight back home. Just enough time to sleep like a dead fish.
  6. Get a visa with longer validity. Seriously. Beg your embassy officer if necessary. No need to freak out if only I had another day on my visa.
  7. Last but not least, careful what you wish for. I did mention this, didn’t I? In the end, I got my 4-hour extended stay though.

 

Have you ever experienced an “unlucky” event during your travel? What’s your favorite misfortune story?

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