Flight Nightmare!

Hello from … Sydney?! Australia? Wait, weren’t we planning on skipping this continent? Yes, but yesterday was quite the trying travel day and we are currently sitting in a hotel outside the Sydney airport. Let’s trace back the sequence of events that led us here.

Yesterday morning, we got up bright and early to begin our journey from New Zealand to Singapore. The day before, we purchased some packing supplies to construct our makeshift luggage: two boxes to serve as suitcases, two rolls of packing tape, and one 60 meter roll of bubble wrap. Yes, 60 meters. You see, at the packaging store down the street from our hostel everything was cheaper in bulk. Two rolls of tape were the same price as one and the colossal 60 meter roll of bubble wrap was cheaper than a shrimpy 10 meter roll. So, we supersized everything, figuring it would be better to have too much than to run out. Here is Sarah transporting the tape and wrap back to the hostel.

By the way, Auckland International Backpackers is by far the most disgusting place we have stayed so far. Every table in the kitchen was stickier than a vinyl car seat in August. The kitchen was not cleaned a single time during our 5 nights there and the couches in the TV room were noticeably wet to the touch. The smell of mildew and mold was everywhere – so much so in the shower that it was nauseating.

Transporting the supplies from the hostel to the airport went smoothly. The boxes created a nice platform for the massive roll and we even had an orange flag just like the ones you get at the lumber yard. The day definitely went downhill from here.

A few days earlier, we had called the Auckland Airport to enquire as to whether or not they sold bicycle boxes. They did, for $NZ30. Expensive, but we figured it was worth it to not have to transport a huge box to the airport and we had also heard from other cyclists online that the bicycle boxes sold at airports are usually huge. We were giddy at the thought of dropping our bicycle into an enormous box with room to spare. When we arrived, we were surprised to learn that the boxes the airport sold were the used ones discarded by cyclists who had arrived at the airport. $NZ30 for this?! You have got to be kidding me. We picked through the pathetic lot and chose the two biggest boxes, but they looked like they were designed to hold children’s bicycles. The next two hours were spent disassembling, packing, and repacking our bicycles into the dwarf boxes. We were lucky to have all the tape and bubble wrap because we used most of it. Sarah gave up on getting her bike to fit about halfway through and focused on creating some avant-garde packaging sculpture with her box. Her inspiration for the piece was the natural form of the rhinoceros.

With our mutant boxes in hand, we sidled up to the Emirates counter to try check in. We began to get worried when the clerk insisted on weighing each and every bag we were carrying. 10 kilos, 40, then 80. The numbers kept climbing and our hearts kept dropping. We were also told that since Emirates has an allowance for golf clubs and fishing rods, but not bicycles, we were going to be charged a bicycle fee in addition to being charged for the weight of our bicycles. What?! “What is the bicycle fee for then?”, we asked. Silence. The clerk then proceeded to punch some numbers and then got a pained look on her face. She didn’t have the heart to read out the total to us, she just swiveled her computer monitor around to show us. $NZ850. Panic.

After Sarah peeled me off the floor, we began to weigh our options. Shipping some of the gear on a cargo flight was a possibility, but it could take quite a while to arrive in Singapore. We decided to check it out and were directed to the “nearby” office. I guarded our belongings while Sarah made a mad dash over to the cargo office, which was actually close to a mile from the terminal. Three days and NZ$350 is what they told her. She rushed back and after about 2.5 seconds of deliberation we decided to bite the bullet and pay for it. She pushed the cart of bikes back toward the office like a bobsled pilot at an Olympic trial and I waited for her to return.

Over an hour later, I was still waiting and was sure we were going to miss our flight. I kept staring off in to the distance, straining to catch a glimpse of Sarah’s head bobbing through the bushes as she raced towards me. Here is a visual depiction of how I felt at this point.

Finally she did return and as we raced back to the Emirates counter she relayed the details of what happened to me. When she returned to the cargo office, the clerk had informed her that since our bicycles were large but light we were going to have to be charged for the volumetric weight instead of the previously quoted weight. Be honest, how many of you have even heard of volumetric weight? How much was that going to cost? Surprise, surprise. NZ$850. After enough bitching and moaning by Sarah, she got the supervisor of the warehouse to agree to only charge her for the actual weight. This must have been quite the no-no, because it involved several approval forms and then some destroying of evidence so no one would be able to figure out who actually charged her the cheaper price.

The only positive thing to come out of all this was that we learned that our bicycles plus all of our gear weighs just a hair over 99 kilograms (218 pounds).

When we reached the counter, we had only 30 minutes until our flight departed and our clerk had told us to come right back to her, so we budged right to the front of the line. “Excuse me, but were you in this queue?”, a woman asked Sarah. Sarah explained our situation and turned away from the disgusted woman who then stared me down. The lunatic look on my face from the preceding events must have intimidated her, because I could literally see her sucking vile words back into her mouth.

With our boarding passes, we rushed through customs (after paying a NZ$25 departure fee each. Another what the?) and made it to our flight to Sydney just in time. On the way, we passed a clueless young guy making his way towards the Emirates counter with a kayak wrapped in bubble wrap. I cannot express in words the pity I felt for him.

When we arrived in Sydney, we learned that our Gulf Air flight to Singapore had been canceled. At this point, nothing could faze us so we just listened in silence as the clerks told us they would provide us with a hotel room and food for the night. We had to pass through Australian customs and in doing so lost our delicious New Zealand apples and our precious pepper spray.

So now we are spending the day in Sydney waiting for our flight and enjoying the comforts of a hotel. A king size bed, private bathroom, and free restaurant meals are so luxurious it almost makes the troubles worth it. Almost. Tonight we will fly to Singapore and hopefully our bicycles will arrive soon after us.

Moral of the story: Do not fly Emirates with excess baggage unless you also wipe your ass with twenty dollar bills.

6 Responses to “Flight Nightmare!”

  1. alison Says:

    That probably sucked, but it was a bit entertaining on this end! Better luck in Singapore!

  2. John Erck Says:

    I liked your summary.

  3. Smoov Daddy T Says:

    dayaaaaamn! sorry to hear about your woes…. sounds like every travellers nightmare but with the added bonus of 99kgs of luggage. i’m glad you at least got to chill in a nice hotel.

    i suppose you’ve already left sydney by now, but on the off chance you still happen to be there, catch the train to town hall station and go get yourselves a cupcake from ‘cupcakes on pitt’ (on pitt st, naturally). then hit up any one of the amazing sushi joints in the area. that will be sure to put a smile on your face!

    wellington misses ya. we have two families who are interested in gus! we met one of them last night, and are meeting the other one tomorrow. keep your fingers crossed for him!

  4. Dad Says:

    Sir Jamie!
    I know you are very good with computers but I just have to say: “You may have missed your calling.” Your writing skills are incredible. The way you can capture in words the emotions, the unique insights and observations, make reading your entries a complete joy. I must also congratulate you on your sense of humor. To take such tragic moments with such grace an style is truly amazing. The self portrait really does capture the moment. I was laughing so hard (and out loud) when I read this post! Keep up the great attitude and the great work. Well done Sir James! Bon Voyage Sarah and Jamie!
    Peace & Love,

  5. Dad Says:

    Volumetric Weight in kilograms = (Length x Width x Height in centimeters) / 6000

    Sometimes, large items with a light overall weight can be charged according to the space they take up on aircraft.

    This calculation has become very popular among all airlines in recent years. The calculation originally was applied to air freight or cargo. Nowadays the calculation has been used with regard to certain types of passengers for the obvious reason of increasing revenues and profits.

    For example, an extremely large person from Texas, say Houston (The most obese city in the USA) gets on a passenger plane. The obese Texan is full of “himself” and is also full of “hot air”, which affects the weight volume ratio described above. Typical for a Texan. The person is charged for two or more passenger seats rather than one. His obnoxious attitude towards others (“hot air”) PLUS the extreme weight he is carrying PLUS the extraordinary volume he takes up PLUS his length, width and height EQUALS more money for the airline and peace and tranquility for the other passengers.

  6. ali wick Says:

    oh my goodness!! i was just checking in on your progress since i said hi back early in the year. sorry to hear about the airline runaround, and it makes ya wonder how much they would have charged for an ACTUAL rhinoceros??? :) lots of smiles from the wes’ coast, and here’s to hoping you found those cupcakes…

    -ali from seattle.

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