Down and Out in the Red Centre

At the end of last week Dani and his grandmother went on a trip to the very heart of Australia. They visited the fabled sights of Ayers Rock (aka Uluru) and The Olgas (aka Kata Tjuta) in what is more or less the dead centre of the country/continent. I will bring you more on this ‘trip of a lifetime’, but first here is the bad news…

Just after checking out of the hotel, with bags packed, the hotel receptionist told Dani’s grandmother that their flight had been cancelled. Just like that and pretty much as last minute as it gets. (They actually still had a few hours which was going to be spent going on a camel ride – I think – but still…)

Dani in the “Red Centre”. Just about as remote as any place on the planet.

Move over (SL)EasyJet and Ryanair… There’s a new kid on the block

The offending company is JetStar. They are at least as shit as EasyJet and Ryanair (both of which have been covered in this blog’s pages in the past). In fact for JetStar, cancelling flights is just like charging you for an upfront seat with more legroom. They do it as a matter of day-to-day business.

Now, as regular readers will be aware, Dani’s grandmother does not speak very good English. She called me immediately (after not getting an answer from her daughter – Dani’s mum – who incidentally, had booked the trip). She put me on the line to talk with the hotel receptionist who was not much help. She was only the messenger and as we know, those poor souls should not be shot. However, I did manage to secure some information. A telephone number for JetStar and the fact that the hotel would put them up for another night if they could not get on another flight.

Here’s the problem… 

First of all phoning JetStar (or any similar company) is almost an exercise in futility – a bloody waste of time. By the time their automatic answering system bounces you around you have to wait hours to actually speak to a human (if they still employ any). So I didn’t bother with that one.

Instead I told them to jump on the hotel courtesy bus and get to the airport as soon as possible and speak to a JetStar representative in person. Dani could translate if/when required. So off they went…

JetStar cancelling flights is not always such a big deal, providing those flights are between major cities (of which Australia only has a few). At least they (pretend to) have inter-city flights every hour or so. Therefore a cancelled flight in Melbourne would just mean waiting a while (maybe a few hours) until they put you on another flight to Sydney. But Ayers Rock airport is literally in the middle of nowhere. As ‘in the middle of nowhere’ as it gets. Anywhere on the planet! It isn’t exactly around the f*cking corner is it?

Missing a flight in (say) Melbourne is nothing by comparison. There are buses and trains to Sydney as well as plenty of flights. Heck, I could even drive there overnight if I really needed to. There are options. JetStar have one flight per day from Ayers Rock airport to Sydney – and they fecking cancelled it! If it had been me there with Dani I would have taken it all in my stride; but it wasn’t. So I will admit that I was a little worried.

As they were heading for the little outback airport I checked on the JetStar website for their other flights out of Ayers Rock that day. There was one to Melbourne in a couple of hours. At least in Melbourne there would (should) be plenty of other flights into Sydney. I began making a fake booking on their website which told me there were plenty of seats on that Melbourne bound flight. I called them up and told them to insist that they are allowed on that flight to Melbourne and then ask JetStar to put them on the next available plane (from Melbourne) to Sydney.

Long story short: They made it onto the Melbourne flight and had to wait a few hours in Melbourne airport before getting another one to Sydney. A bit of an adventure but also more than a little worrying for us all.

Mocking sleeping rough in the outback. Before it almost became reality…

Just a footnote to this little tale: JetStar’s email to Dani’s mum said there was no flight out they could catch that day. But they did offer the same route (via Melbourne) the following day. It was only by my going through the booking process that I discovered that they did actually have quite a few seats on that same day’s flight to Melbourne.

About 11pm we picked them up from Sydney airport. Thankfully a relatively painless ending to what could have been a lot more stressful; or worse.

If there is a moral in this story…

What can I teach my son from this little episode? My advice to him would be that in life (in general) you have to trust companies like JetStar just about as far as you can throw them. Never rely on them and do as much as possible yourself to resolve any such situation.

I will write another post about their actual trip hopefully with some good photos. I may even get Dani to write something about his adventure… Yeah. That would do him some good to get it down on paper (or laptop).

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