Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Airport Dramas

So rather than sending out all this info to everyone in email format, I thought I'd start up a blog so people can read it if they're interested and get on with their lives if they're looking forward to hearing it over a few beers when I get back (although I will have forgotten everything by then). After all, this is what blogs are supposed to be for aren't they?

Anyway, in this episode I get to the airport only to discover that I do not satisfy my own visa requirements and spend the remaining hour before my flight departs shuttling between the check-in desks and an internet cafe buying a new onward ticket and having it printed for me by the officials upstairs. Luckily I make it on the plane in time with whole minutes to spare.

Okay, so my folks give me a hug and two manly handshakes at the airport to bid me farewell (but quick ones because they were stopped at the 2 minute drop-off area) and I waltzed nonchalantly into the check-in queue for Pacific Blue's Denpasar-bound flight.

Soon I reached the counter and handed over my passport and ticket print-out - but the check-in chick (who I learned later was called Erin) still insisted I present her with my 'itinerary'. Apparently I needed a print-out of my onward flight in order to enter the fine nation of Indonesia to prove that I had plans to leave - despite me already being in possession of a two month visa.

As it happened, I had arranged a $25 flight between Medan and Penang (in Malaysia) for the day before my visa was due to expire on the 20th of December as that was the only way the Indonesian consulate would allow me to get a visa. I just had to print it out.

"There are no printers at any of the internet cafes in the airport" I was told by Erin. "But we still have time for you to email your itinerary to me and I can print it out on my computer upstairs", she offered.

Racing over to the computers I inserted my last Australian dollar and frantically searched for and forwarded on my itinerary from AirAsia in the 10 minute interval allotted to me for my money.

With only an hour by now until my flight I was getting nervous as it took 20 minutes for Erin to return with the print-out (the computers had crashed).

But wait! What's this on your visa?! What is this date 30/11/09 in the corner, far away from the emboldened "Visa valid for 60 days from arrival"? Why is your flight booked for the 20th of December???

Well I hadn't seen that date buried in amongst the small script numbers and Indonesian words at the edges of the visa, and nor was I expecting to find it as I had filled out the form for my visa over a month ago very clearly specifying that I was staying until the 20th of December and even including the mandatory print-out of my flight out on that date - and even called the consulate to confirm that such a visa would be provided.

But no - if I was to enter the country in any capacity other than indefinitely detained illegal immigrant (sorry, Irregular Arrival) then I must have a printed flight itinerary for before the 30th of November... and the plane was due to leave in 40 minutes.

By now tensions were rising and I could feel my cheeks reddening with frustration and the possibility of having to make the call to my folks asking them to pick me up from the airport and let me stay for a few more weeks. We discussed the possibility of buying a $2000 fully refundable Pacific Blue ticket home so I could get in the country and then get the money back. In the end I decided to go back to the internet cafe and try to change my AirAsia flight date.

'Borrowing' $1 from a kind check-in staff member I went online again for another 10 minutes to change the flight - but friggin' oath, I could not remember the password I had invented months ago for that website and I locked myself out of it trying.

Restarting the browser did the trick, but then I had to create a whole new account which I kept stuffing up due to wobbly fingers. Then I had to select a new flight - the 29th of November - and pay for it. Unfortunately, half way through entering my credit card details, a sign popped up informing me that I had 60 seconds left on the terminal.

Typing furiously I finally got the end of payment - but it was still processing as the counter ticked down to 7 seconds left... and I still had to get into my Gmail account and email the itinerary back to Erin... and since I only had 25 minutes until my flight, this was pretty much my only chance!

In desperation and 5 seconds to go I turned to the guy sitting next to me, "Do you have $1? It's pretty urgent", I asked. Amazingly he produced the dollar instantly allowing me to insert it in the slot about three quarters of my way through the final second on the machine before it wiped everything. I waited a couple of minutes for the itinerary to appear in my inbox and then forwarded it onto Erin.

Much quicker this time she appeared from upstairs with the printout, while I was checked in in parallel with another check-in chick (after she had signed the form saying I was legally allowed in the country while hovering around me at the internet cafe in the final minutes). I plonked my luggage not on the conveyor belt as there was not enough time for it to reach the plane but on the trolley with the pilot's luggage (meaning I could have got away with more than 20 kgs if I'd known about this in advance). I was then very briskly escorted past all the queues of customs and metal detection through the secret 'flight attendant route' and straight onto the plane where we took off right on time.

So I guess that's why they say we're supposed to get to the airport 90 minutes before our flight departure.

Anyway, the reason my visa said I had to be out by the 30th of November rather than the 20th of December as I had specified was probably because I later re-read the term, "Visa must be used within 90 days of issue". I had interpreted that as meaning I had 90 days from the 30th August to get into Indonesia ("use" the visa), but no, I had 90 days to use the visa... and then finish using it - ie. the 30 of November. You'd think they'd alert me to this when I was applying for it. And there I was thinking I was being organised by getting it early, when really every day I might have delayed in applying for the visa would mean an extra day in the country.

It kind of reminds me of the time I was installing the Ubuntu operating system and it asked me if I wanted to use "The whole disc". "Of course I want to be able to use the whole disc!", I'd exclaimed. "Why would I want to limit my access to only some of the disc?!" But, inevitably, Ubuntu then went on to wipe my entire 350GB hard drive forcing me to spend the next year slowly accumulating all the movies, music, photos and documents I had lost in the purge. Maybe I need language lessons in English.

Anyway, this whole saga means I miss out on 3 weeks of travel in Indonesia, which rules out my planned trip to Lombok to climb Mt Rinjani, and means I'll have to be pretty swift in my travels through Java and Sumatra, rather than taking it easy as I would have hoped. There's no way of extending my visa.

So yeah, pretty long description - they won't all by like this. And a post pretty soon after I arrived. I just wanted to share this tale with you while it was still fresh in my mind.

I'm staying in Kuta, Bali now. I've got a nice room and the hotel has a pool. Things are pretty normal here really, I don't feel overwhelmed, freaked out or even that things are other than they should be and always have been. I guess Bali is not really the place for culture shock or the realisation of being on my own. I'll let you know how I go in Java.

Not sure what I'll do today. Might just wander around for a bit and read a book.


  1. ...And this was only your first entry. A lot of first blog entries tend to read along the lines of 'and then I got on my plane flight and flew and it was boring and now I'm jet-lagged'. I suspect this is going to be a VERY interesting blog to read! -Zia

  2. I can feel it, this whole trip is going to be a disaster. But in an awesome Felix way.

  3. After all these years, I am surprised by none of this blog haha. I like how you were so typical 'freaky Felix' that they implicitly trust you are not a terrorist. But I am wondering whether it might have been better missing the flight and re-visaing so that you didn't have to cut short all your plans... Anyway, try not to get killed somehow, Felix. I don't know how you might do so, but please don't all the same.

  4. Written with the flair I've come to expect from you Felix! Good to see the trip is already starting on an epic scale! Thanks for helping me while away a few mins at Abu Dhabi airport, it makes my trip so far seem positively lame - but there's still another 13 hours to go! I'll wave as I fly past!

  5. By the way all, my old number has been given back to Thiess, no doubt to be co-opted by some fiery construction manager who doesn't like drunken phone calls at 3am. My new number while in Indonesia is (+62) 81 337 518294.

  6. Felix, you are a Baird
    Arnie Pam

  7. Wow, that was intense! secret airport walkways and everything! thats so lucky you made it.

    I like how you said "in this episode" hahaha

  8. I hope all your future posts relate to Ubuntu installations.

    Oh and did you feel the quake, or too far away?

  9. Sounds like exactly the kind of mess I usually get myself into. I'm just back from Malaysia/Cambodia...it was interesting in how many situations I thought to myself "I wonder what Felix would do here". Interesting to see what Felix actually does do...

    (Btw, much as I am a risk taker and like cutting things fine, for some reason I never mess around with flight check-in times. Always 2 hours before take-off. Always. Too much stuff can go wrong and it's so much harder to recover from a missed flight.)

  10. (Gem)

    Oh my god Felix, I remember Rob telling me about that fateful Ubuntu wipeout. He was adamant that it was awfully characteristic of you :)