Having travel-hopped my way around South East Asia a flight at a time over the summer, it didn’t occur to me not to hop between flights when booking my trip to Australia for Christmas. I had been advised that I could get cheap flights there from Bali and, as that’s only a 50 minute flight on a cheap airline from Surabaya, I figured I could hop between the two easily enough.
When I found a rediculously cheap overnight flight to Melbourne with Air Asia I immediately booked it, relying on the fact that I could use a good local travel agent in the mall opposite my apartment to sort my ticket out for Bali afterwards. The problem was, I impulsively booked my flight to Oz in Hong Kong when visiting my travel buddy. By the time I got back to Surabaya another week had passed, and although I wasted no time in booking my connecting flight I came up against a problem. It was the end of October and all the sensible people had already started booking their flights out for Christmas. When I was shown the availability of flights, on a Friday afternoon at the end of the Christmas term, I was pretty limited in my choices. All the early afternoon flights were already fully booked leaving me with early evening options only. Now, this might not seem like much of a problem when catching a 00:40 flight, except for two things. There is a one hour time difference between Surabaya and Bali that reduced my travelling time; and, I am the sort of traveller who likes to get to the airport in plenty of time. The fear of missing a flight is my worst nightmare and when, in the past, I have felt that I have been cutting it too fine, I have become extremely stressed. It doesn’t start the journey well, and I hate that. By travelling solo I have reduced the likelihood of it happening dramatically, but not this time…
I booked the only flight available to me and started to pray. It was a calculated risk. Past experience had taught me that flights to Bali on a Friday evening were likely to be delayed, and Christmas travel days are always disrupted, which potentially left me with even less time to get from the domestic to the international terminal in Denpasar. Initially my flight times gave me two and a half hours transfer time, which should have been plenty of time, but of course, any delay would further reduce my window of opportunity.
I tried to cover all my bases. Hand luggage only, so I didn’t waste time waiting for baggage. (I’m an expert packer; you’d be amazed what I can fit in a small shoulder bag that will last for a three week trip to Oz!) I checked in on-line and printed my boarding pass to save further time. I couldn’t do any more. So I worried instead.
The more I travel the more I find intuition a useful thing, and my gut told me this plan was risky.
4am on December the 18th. Departure day had arrived. I had been packed and ready to go for days and I was desperate to leave. Of course I woke up rediculously early, increasing the time I was already expecting to be awake (approximately 26 hours straight) by another hour and a half.
3.30pm. After my final morning at school my 4pm taxi arrived to take me to the airport. Bluebird taxis in Surabaya are the most reliable firm in Indonesia but I’d forgotten that a 4pm booking would mean a 3.30 pm pickup. I arrived at the airport ridiculously early and resigned myself to a long wait before checkin opened. But at least I was on my way!
5.30pm. Having waited a sufficient time at the airport I managed to check-in with Lion Air even though my flight wasn’t officially up on the board. I’d spent an anxious hour watching the boards, conscious of the number of flights to Jakarta (which is the opposite direction to Bali) that were delayed. As I received my boarding pass I was informed that my plane was delayed by 50 minutes. Not by the lady on the counter I might add, but because I noticed that the boarding time was a good 30 minutes after the flight was supposed to depart. I did a quick calculation and reassured myself that I still had enough time to make my flight; but my stress levels started to rise.
6.30pm. I headed to the gate and waited, with an increasing sense of foreboding. Sure enough, an announcement in Indonesian crackelled across the tannoy, the people around me moaned and I looked at the gate information board in horror. My worst nightmare was about to come true. The flight was delayed until 9.30pm! Fireworks went off behind my eyes and I sat for a moment with my hand over my mouth, cursing quietly. Then I steeled myself and went up to the front desk. I explained my situation, showed them my Air Asia boarding pass, and was promptly taken to Customer Services downstairs. The girl from the desk disappeared with my boarding pass for what felt like hours (but was probably only five minutes) and eventually another girl came to talk to me. She told me she could transfer me to an Air Garuda flight scheduled to leave at 8.25pm. Huge relief! She then told me that that flight was also delayed and probably wouldn’t leave until 9.25pm and that she couldn’t guarantee that ground staff would help me once I’d landed. I asked if Lion Air could contact Air Asia and let them know I was delayed and on my way but no, that wasn’t possible because they worked from different terminals and couldn’t contact each other(!) I asked if Lion Air staff could assist with a quick transfer once I landed and I was assured that they would help me in anyway they could. My details and telephone number were taken and emailed to the Bali ground staff and I was advised that they would call me once I’d landed and help me from there. There was nothing I could do except lay it on thick about how important it was that I caught my flight. The girl was very apologetic, and I was very polite. I left Customer Services and returned to the gate to wait feeling less than reassured.
The minutes crawled past. Another flight ahead of mine was also delayed by two hours. Refreshments were served, camaraderie abounded. Eventually they started boarding and I moved closer to the gate willing the process to go faster. My agitation was palpable. When another announcement was made in Indonesian and everyone laughed I stared around wildly in desperation. Several travellers took pity on me and explained that I could get a snack from the desk. But by this point I really wasn’t hungry. I told them my sorry tale and they were sympathetic. I tried to bolster myself up by reassuring myself that I was in the system now; that the delays were probably the same at Denpasar; that Lion Air would save the day. I twitched, a lot. I tried not to look at my watch every thirty seconds. Time stood still.
9.20pm. Finally our flight was told to board. I tried very hard not to rush, knowing that we were all leaving at the same time regardless of how fast I got on the plane. All the checks and safety procedures took forever. We waited to take off at the back of a long queue.
10pm. At last! We departed from Surabaya, which was 11pm in Bali and meant that boarding for my next flight was starting in forty minutes. It felt impossible.
I twitched. I prayed. It’s possible that I talked to myself out loud. The gray fog and dry mouth of extreme stress had descended.
11.40pm. We landed, as far away from the terminal as it’s possible to be. Everybody moved painfully slowly so I just missed getting on the first bus to take us to the terminal. All the while my eyes were peeled and my phone was poised, waiting for the call from the helpful staff of Lion Air who would save the day…
12.00am. I sprinted off the bus scattering passengers in my wake. The baggage hall was a blur as I saw the sign for the International Terminal. Although Denpasar is small there are interminably long stretches of corridor to run down inbetween, and not a Lion Air staff member or golf buggy in sight. As I jogged desperately round corners and up ramps I realised just how unfit I’d become.
When I arrived at the terminal and galloped past checkin I then hit immigration. SHIT! I’d totally forgotten about it in my panic to catch the plane! Now, I am a queuer, I loath queue jumping and I hate being rude but this time I had no choice. I apologised a lot as I pushed my way to the front, smiling and explaining while working my way forward all the time. Everyone was very kind. I can’t decide if it was my British accent or the tone of apologetic panic in it that cleared the way for me. I sent my bags through, grabbed them on the other side and queue jumped again to passport control. I was processed very quickly and as I went through I realised something was missing. I’d lost my scarf and handbag (with money, kindle and camera in). In my haste I’d only managed to grab half of my possessions. I had to go back.
I charged back round, looking like a headless chicken as I scanned the rows in an attempt to reclaim my possessions, losing several valuable minutes in the process.
Even though I was now pretty sure I’d missed my flight I kept running, nearly decapitating myself on the strap of my shoulder bag as it swung around my neck. I took the long route through Duty Free as I searched for a board to tell me which departure gate I needed. 9A! Last call for 9A! I was going to make it. Then I saw the sign for 9A. It was still 7 minutes away.
With sweat rolling down my face and panting like an asmatic steam train I trot-staggered on towards 9A frantically begging anyone with a walkie-talkie to radio ahead and let them know I was coming. The panic coursed through my veins as I comedy ran along, desperate to reach the gate before it closed. With the gate in sight at the end of the corridor I waved frantically to let the guy behind the desk know I was on my way. He saw me, and promptly dropped out of sight behind the desk! ‘You bastard!’ I muttered before realising that the was Gate 9B, and I wanted 9A!
When I reached the gate I was almost hysterical. Had I missed the flight? The guy who checked my bag and the woman who took my boarding pass just grinned at me. I checked my watch. It was 12.30am. I’d made it, by the skin of my teeth!
Ahead of me a girl casually wandered up to the desk and handed over her boarding pass before heading on towards the plane. WTF!
12.40am. By the original departure time I was in my seat, pink of face and soaked in sweat, recovering my breath and relating my tale to my neighbour while apologising for my state profusely. We didn’t leave until 1am.
As worst nightmares go, it could have been worse, but not by much!