A Most Bizarre Flight

20120907_161457As regulars here will know Thomo spends a good deal of time in aircraft flying from here to there and back again. In my time I have flown on some pretty amazing airlines, some very ordinary airlines and some downright scary. Friday night’s flight on Garuda back to Singapore was perhaps the most bizarre one.

I was flying GA834 from Soekarno-Hatta Jakarta to Changi Singapore.

The oddness started when the tannoy announced that they were boarding the flight whilst I was still walking to the gate – and I was walking there 5 minutes before scheduled boarding. Arrived at the gate to find that the aircraft had not arrived yet. I then spent a pleasant 10 minutes considering what we could board instead of the aircraft.

Another tannoy announcement, distorted in the best Sydney CityRail manner, but which sounded something like “Mr Thompson Ian Leslie please see the desk staff”.

“Hmm” thinks I, “flight looks very full, wonder what this is?”

I was asked if I minded swapping seats as a father was travelling with his son and they could not get seats next to each other. I agreed and went back to waiting.

And waiting.

And waiting.

In fact, we waited another 45 minutes or so past departure time before boarding. We boarded. Once the doors were closed, the two seats beside me were still empty and where I was sitting before swapping was, sure enough, taken up by a man with his son next to him. Two people turned up from the business section and sat next to me. The ‘plane was disconnected from the air-bridge and started engine power-up.

The co-pilot then came out of the business class toilet and sat back down in the cockpit. The cabin crew closed the door again. It was fortunate that he had finished in the toilet as an old gentleman travelling in business class needed the toilet and as he was unsteady on his legs, he had to be assisted into the cubicle.

We  reached the end of the taxiway but the old guy was still in the toilet. The ‘plane then sat and waited until the old chap could be persuaded back out of the toilet and re-seated. The gentleman now sitting next to me was called forward to assist as it seems it was his father. We waited and eventually he was brought back to his seat, at which point the cockpit was informed and the aircraft powered onto the runway, then accelerated and took off, by now 60 minutes late.

At this point I was getting ready to assume my usual flying position of eyes closed and dozing when the cockpit door flew wide open. This permitted those of us with an aisle seat an uninterrupted view of the “office” of the aircraft. We saw the co-pilot’s arms reaching out to switch switches on or off and generally do flying type things. It was interesting, I must admit to watch the arcane movements off the flight crew taking the ‘plane off. I did wonder what the spinning thing was next to the throttles on the Boeing 737-800. I thought flight decks were all computerised now and fly by wire.

After all that, I was very concerned then about selecting the chicken or the fish.

I Flew Budget – Jetstar (Valueair)

20120831_220945All the regular flights were full, it’s holiday season in Indonesia. No Singapore Airlines flights available, no Garuda, Lufthansa full, everyone full in all classes. Our corporate travel policy is that we must book through travel agents, no direct flight booking but this time I had to be in Jakarta and there was no alternative. Not even the 5:00 am Singapore Airlines flight had seats. Jetstar it was.

The first issue was that the online booking website froze at the point of paying for the ticket. We called Jetstar then.

“I’m sorry you have this problem with the website. Yes I can confirm that the booking has not processed. Are you aware that if I book the flight for you there is an extra surcharge?”

“Really … but it is your website that goes belly-up when we try an pay, not our fault mate!”

“Yes, I’m sorry about that but it is the policy".”

Off to a good start. To be honest, I have flown Jetstar in Australia but there it was booked through a travel agent so all was kosher. This was a new experience.

The rest of the booking process was fine (over the phone) and payment was accepted. Jessica booked it, paid on my credit card. Jessica received a confirmation email about the flight.

Two days before being due to travel, Jessica got an email reminding her that she was flying to Jakarta on Wednesday. She wasn’t, I was. However Jetstar had the right passenger and I booked in online.

Arrived at the airport, checked in (nice, pleasant check-in staff) and went to the departure gates to wait. Love Terminal 1 at Changi now, it’s better than many Australian shopping malls.

Jessica had booked me the option pack as I had luggage and she felt that I might be a bit hungry after a day of meetings so she had a meal organised as well. I will state now that the meal delivery kind of made me feel like I did way back when working in the Middle East and I was put on an Umrah flight to Jeddah during Ramadan. A plane full of fasting pilgrims and Thomo, served the full meal in the middle of the cabin. It was kind of like that. The flight attendant comes to me before take off and asks, “Mr Thompson – the chicken stew or the chicken rice?” I took the chicken stew and a Mountain Dew. The rest of the cabin got a Kaya roll and water.

The meal itself was tasty enough. It was not a Neil Perry creation but flavourful enough and certainly hot, fresh out of the microwave.

The packaging however was especially designed so that the clear plastic stretched over the food tray could not be torn off. It just ripped around the edge. The plastic knife provided was little assistance in this area and the whole exercise of getting the plastic cover off with the plastic knife was akin to trying to cut a diamond with a piece of quartz. Still, it did provide some amusement for the passengers around me.

Jetstar (Valueair) was not so bad. Still, looking at the photo above you can see why it is a budget airline – the plane seemed old, around 7 years or so and it rattled badly.

Qantas and British Airways Merger Talks

Do it. Really, best thing that could happen to Qantas. Give up the pretense and just fold. Qantas has aged and it has aged badly. I’ve been travelling regularly for over 20 years now and when I first started flying, Qantas was my airline of choice, even though the service level of the Asian airlines was greater. The reason? It was the safest airline around. I was kind of like Rain Man when travelling. I read the safety cards and knew the differences between aircraft and I even looked at and photographed the different liveries of the various airlines I saw.

The important thing from those early days was that I knew the flight attendants (they were still hotesses and stewards then) were actually not waiters but rather were safety officers first.

The Asian airlines caught up on the safety side and I started to travel on Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines amongst others as well as the likes of British Airways, KLM and Lufthansa in Europe. Qantas service improved but they never really managed to star at the service side of things, relying instead to trading on their safety record.

Now, things are changing. Qantas has had so many incidents lately that you have to start to wonder. Some have been blaming it on the off-shore servicing of the aircraft but realistically, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Malaysia Airlines and so on, well, all their servicing is (from an Australian viewpoint) off-shore as well and they aren’t having the same problems.

I think that at all levels, Qantas has just ceased to care. Executive management are interested in selling it and that’s about it whilst the rest of the staff are more interested in where they will work when it is sold.

On a flight from Sydney to London in September, we had to fly Qantas. The return, London to Sydney, was British Airways. Remembering that the staff on the aircraft are there are safety officers first, compare the two airlines. On the Qantas flight we had left Singapore and were heading across the sub-continent, when we hit some turbulence. The seat belt light was illuminated and passengers asked to return to their seats. None of the flight attendants checked the cabin to make sure passengers were safely secured, they all just disappeared to their seats as well. Compare that to the British Airways flight we took back from London. Again, over the sub-continent we hit turbulence. The seat belt light was illuminated and then the flight attendants checked the cabin to ensure that all passengers were secured in their seat, even though the plane was bouncing around the sky.

Nah – don’t just merge Qantas with British Airways – sell the airline and be done with it.

Travel Terms

I travelled through Malaysia quickly recently on Air Asia – a low-cost airline. I learned a new term. It was LCCT. The LCCT is attached to KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport) and means Low Cost Carriers Terminal. So, what does LCCT really mean? It means a big tin shed with rudimentary air-conditioning and the impossibility of hearing any announcements clearly due to echo.

LCCT, a new term for travellers.

Air New Zealand, So Good and So Bad

We travelled on Air New Zealand recently (sorry Jules, was only there for 22 hours – will catch you for dinner and drinkies next time). We had a flight from Auckland to Sydney (having flown to Auckland on Aerolingas Argentinas). I kind of liked the Air New Zealand service last time I used them a few years ago so was feeling relaxed about the prospect of travelling with them again.

We were to check-in in Auckland and leave on NZ719 departing Auckland at 13:00 and arriving in Sydney at 14:30. We then had to catch a flight from Sydney to Bangkok, British Airways BA 10, departing Sydney at 16:40, so we had left a good two hours to transit Sydney – more than enough time as the travel agent had noted that Sydney recommended one hour as the minimum transit time.

We arrived at Auckland with plenty of time to spare. We went to the check-in desk and asked to check our baggage all the way to Bangkok.

“I’m sorry sir, we cannot do that for you as the policy here is to not allow for the onward checking of baggage when the two flights are not on the same ticket”, said the less than helpful check-in staff of Air New Zealand.

“What do you mean, is this some sort of security policy” asked the somewhat more than normally perplexed Thomo the Lost.

“No – it is policy at this airport” said Air New Zealand.

“What – the airport? Please give me the contact details of the manager of the airport so I can write and complain” asked Thomo.

“Er, well, it is Air New Zealand policy,” noted Air New Zealand. “Let me go and check with my supervisor for you.”

“I checked – we cannot check it through” said Air New Zealand.

“Why is this so” asked Thomo.

“It is policy because if we check your bags through and you miss your connecting flight, you become our responsibility”.

“This is crazy” I noted, “as I have travelled much in the last few years and I have never run across this before”.

In fact, today we checked bags through on Thai Airlines (another Star Alliance member) and checked them through to our destination even though the second leg was on a separate ticket.

The closing note on this entry (other than saying “avoid flying Air New Zealand if you are travelling on another airline”) is that the Air New Zealand flight was about 20 to 30 minutes late leaving Auckland as we sat on the plane and waited the arrival of “the last 3 passengers”. Maybe this is the reason, Air New Zealand cannot get itself organised.

Er, for the record, the British Airways (Qantas?) ground staff at the Sydney transfer desk were very helpful as when we got to the transfer desk we had less than one hour left for checking in and boarding (thank you Air New Zealand) and our bags were only tagged to Sydney. They found our bags, checked us in (we literally walked from the transfer desk and boarded the aircraft). The only wee problem we had was that they tagged the bags LHR and so they were going all the way to Heathrow. Fortunately the ground staff in Bangkok were able to pull them from the flight and I could put on some clean underwear.

Avoid flying Air New Zealand if you are travelling on another airline!

Context Sensitive Advertising at its Best

Sydney Morning Herald Article 22 June 2007
The page - showing the article and the advertisement

I saw a piece in the online version of the Sydney Morning Herald called Abu Dhabi playboys cut loose so naturally I clicked on it to see what it was about.

This was a follow-up piece on the Jupiter Mines Executives, known as Bananas in Pyjamas (or B1 and B2) because of their hi-jinks on an Etihad Airlines flight from Sydney to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. These guys were arrested and charged for sexual harassment, being drunk and generally acting the fool. Found guilty and deported from the UAE, seems that Jupiter Mines have also cut them adrift (again).

The fun part of this piece? When I clicked the link the first time, the paid advertisement that came up was for First Class and Business Class travel on Etihad Airlines 😆

Korean Female Crew Capture Middle East

I fly a lot. Recently I have been flying a lot more on Emirates than I have in the past (also on Etihad Airways as well). I was therefore amused to read in the Chosun Ilbo of Korea an article about Korean Female flight crew on Emirates Airlines. I was doubly amused reading this because one of the Korean flight crew working for Emirates is an old friend of mine (and translator for a couple of years that I worked for the korean company).

The article was titled Korean Female Crew Capture Middle East and it appeared in early May. The article noted:

“Korean Crew? They are fantastic!” Emirates Airlines vice chairman Maurice Flanagan says. Indeed, the popularity of Korean crew is rising all over the Middle East. Among the 8,000 crew from 100 countries working for Dubai-based Emirates, 620 are Korean women, making them the biggest contingent after Australians.

Apparently the Korean Staff renew their contracts more often than other nationalities which is one of the reasons I guess they are popular with Emirates Airlines.

I must admit that every Emirates flight I have been on, there has, so far, been at least one Aussie and one Korean flight attendant.

Talking about Thomo’s Baggage Flies Further Than Thomo

For those of you who were interested, the bags did not turn up to the Hotel. At 9:00 pm, after a Pizza from Ronnie’s New York Pizza in Sukhumvit Soi 4, I went to the airport. My bag had still not been seen.

At the airport I asked a Thai Airways type person where Thai Airways handled lost baggage. She said “G Floor”. I went to the lift and checked – there was no “G” Floor. So I found another Thai Airways person and asked them. They said “on the arrivals floor under G Section here”. I went there.

I located the Lost Baggage office and stormed in, really, annoyed by now about my baggage. I let the staff there have it with a full description of how long I had been without my baggage and finishing with a comment about how unhappy I was.

The Thai Staff in that office said “er, we are domestic lost baggage – you need to talk to International”.

“Where is that?” I asked.

“In the secure area” they noted.

At this point they told me to wait and then they telephoned the International Lost Baggage Office. A guy from that office met me and accompanied me into the secure area. We spent a happy 45 minutes searching through hundreds of lost bags until someone said “flight from Sydney?” Upon answering yes, he took us to the back corner of this office and lifted a bag down from the shelves … my bag.

So, about 10 pm on the night I was flying out I was reunited finally with my bag. I had flown Bangkok to Sydney (then driven to Canberra and back) then returned to Bangkok.

My bag had travelled Bangkok to Frankfurt to Vienna to Kuala Lumpur to Sydney and then on to Bangkok.

Pity I could not get the frequent flyer miles for my bag.

Quote

Thomo’s Baggage Flies Further Than Thomo
Sunday night, Bangkok, nice new airport called Suvarnabhumi (still haven’t got my tongue around that one yet) and Thai Airlines (who had recently moved their head of Baggage Services to a desk with no responsibility). Thomo was flying from Bangkok to Sydney on the flight that left 18:15 from the airport. Thomo arrived in Sydney Monday morning but his bags did now.

 

So, finally, an email from the Bag Lady in Sydney to tell me that my bag will be arriving Sydney soon and she will instruct for it to go on the flight to Bangkok tonight means I may have my bag tomorrow – before I fly out again.

Thomo …. Not a happy passenger!

Thomo’s Baggage Flies Further Than Thomo

Sunday night, Bangkok, nice new airport called Suvarnabhumi (still haven’t got my tongue around that one yet) and Thai Airlines (who had recently moved their head of Baggage Services to a desk with no responsibility). Thomo was flying from Bangkok to Sydney on the flight that left 18:15 from the airport. Thomo arrived in Sydney Monday morning but his bags did not.

Filled in the report with the ground staff. This is not Thai staff but is outsourced to the Menzies Company in Australia – they also handle Emirates baggage, amongst others – more on that later. I then picked up the hire car and drove to Canberra after being promised that I would be contacted later that day with news of my bag.

Got up Tuesday morning and as I had not heard from Thai Airlines, I telephoned the contact numbers given me. The Thai staff member who looks after this was on sick leave so I called Menzies. After much enquiring they noted that they believed my bag had been located in Frankfurt and could I tell them what brand it was.

“Polo, I think” said Thomo.

“Yes, we believe that the bag is Polo” said the Menzies staff. We will have the bag sent to Sydney.

“OK” says Thomo, but please remember I am in Canberra so telephone me about delivery. Also note that I am likely to fly out of the country again tomorrow afternoon or Thursday.

“Oh, OK. It will take 30 hours for the bag to get back from Frankfurt” says the ever helpful Menzies.

“But that means it will arrive in Australia after I have left” says Thomo.

“Well, we will have it come anyway” says Menzies.

At this point I went out to do the business I had come to Canberra for. Later that day, I called Thai again and spoke to the Sales Supervisor who was on holidays. She was sympathetic and helpful and promised to do what she could. Later that day I confirmed my flight out on Wednesday.

Wednesday (er, yesterday as it seems), I checked in at Sydney Airport with my Woolworth’s Shopping bag, laptop and camera, and spoke to the Thai Ground Staff at the airport (not the Menzies staff). They checked my bag and said “yes, we have found it, it is currently in Vienna and is due to go on a flight to Sydney via Kuala Lumpur”.

To be fair to Thai, she did notice, at this point, that I was not going to be in Australia and so she said she would try and have “the bag pulled from the bin in Kuala Lumpur”. I asked her for a contact number for baggage lost and found in Bangkok, Thai’s home port, but she did not have that so she gave me the general reservation number instead.

I arrived in Bangkok.

Thursday morning I got up, had breakfast. I received a phone call from the Thai Bag Lady in Sydney (who has been most helpful) and she gave me the number for the baggage lost and found at Suvarnabhumi Airport. Unfortunately I copied the number down wrongly and so I rang the Thai reservations number in Bangkok. The nice person there, simply identified as agent 3176 (yes, that was what the telephone system identified her as), gave me the number of the baggage lost and found at the new airport.

I telephoned that number but no one there spoke English. They did give me another telephone number which was never answered. I checked the Thai Airways website and they have a press release there called “THAI Sets Up Call Center on Lost Baggage” which notes that “Passengers who have not yet received their baggage may contact THAI’s Baggage Service Department at Tel. 0 2130-0057-58, 0 2130-0060, 24-hours a day.” Of course, no one speaks English there. The web address so you can check is http://www.thaiairways.com/About_Thai/Newsroom/Press_Release/Press_Year_2006/press0906_274.htm

So, finally, an email from the Bag Lady in Sydney to tell me that my bag will be arriving Sydney soon and she will instruct for it to go on the flight to Bangkok tonight means I may have my bag tomorrow – before I fly out again.

Thomo …. Not a happy passenger!

And Whilst Nattering About Airline Security

Is Australia the only country where those who check the X-Ray images on hand luggage cannot tell a laptop with its battery in from the X-Ray image? Is Australia the only place where the laptop has to be removed from the laptop bag for X-Ray?