Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Flying Fiasco

Segregation is alive and kicking and separating the masses in 2012.  In our inability to use religion, skin colour, gender or physical abilities to judge and discriminate against, in our ‘modern ‘ society, we now clutch at the straw of fiscal spending

Profit is lord; customer service the serf. In a bid to survive in the cut throat airline market, I am sad to say that our national airline has finally sunk to the levels of the interlopers.

It all began one fateful morning in February this year. Purchasing a ticket online bound for Melbourne with our preferred carrier, I was happy in the knowledge that I could travel direct at a reasonable hour, to and from Melbourne.  Fortunately, I had passed Online Purchasing 101 and could decipher the ticketing splits offering bag and food options, and ordered the ‘works’.

Confident in my purchase that coincided with two other couples travelling to the same event, I waited for my departure date.  Alerted to a change in airline scheduling by another couple on the same flight, I telephoned our airline to discuss our booking.  The 0800 operator advised me that no changes could be made as none had  appeared on their system. 

Many weeks later I received a call on my cell phone advising the ‘*changes’ and that an email would follow with amended ticketing information.  This never happened of its own volition.  After further follow up calls I eventually received email validation.

*Two flights now departing an annoying earlier hour......argh! 

New tickets printed, I headed off to meet up with friends for our four day sojourn.  
At check in, a red flag should have gone up when  chased by the check in operator,  advising us that we had to pay for the baggage we had just checked.  I advised the ‘changes’ that the airline had made and the magnanimous supervisor overrode the error.

Once on board nestled/wedged in our economy seats, we were then graciously transferred to business class to join our fellow Koru travellers.  They had requested we utilise the empty seats beside them. 

Joyful in our sudden change of status we settled in to our new surroundings and commenced luxuriating in the extra space.

Then the fun and games began.

As the food and drink cart made its rounds we were identified; seemingly by a yellow Star of David or the likes on a list of purchase options as “Seat only”.  Having purchased a ‘works’ ticket originally but then been rebooked by the airline with no monetary exchange, we had no verification of the original booking. 

With a rising blood pressure, I did my best to explain this to the previously accommodating staff, who could only proceed on what they had in writing.   Henceforth my husband and I were treated like lepers who had escaped the colony.  A bottle of water was placed on both our tables separately, then a bemused steward returned and removed both bottles without a word.  The food trolley circled us making no eye or wheel contact as we sat salivating all the while, being avoided like the plague.

Stewing in my own juices at our treatment, my mind raced as to how I would prove my legitimacy.  Once landed, I hurriedly logged onto my email and produced the original booking verifying our full ‘works’ purchase.

Triumphant in my findings I found the person in charge....who knew all about our faux pas.  She smilingly pulled me aside making all the right noises and expressions but ultimately like Mick Jagger,  gave me no satisfaction. 

I got a generic card to call for these sorts of problems and sent on my way.

Awkward, Irritating, Riling, Niggling, Zapping is apt description for our airline where managerial discretion has been replaced with revenue outcomes. Customers have been relegated to a choice on a list, and grouped accordingly. The bygone experience of international flight has been pared down to the bare bones of transportation.

Whilst there is still a living breathing steward to interact with, I expect empathy, understanding and company pride.  Otherwise what is the point of real people.  In a bid to modernise, streamline and survive in the airline industry, are robots the way of the future?  If so, the current staff  I dealt with do a very good impersonation.

Southern Revolution

The 11.30am start started at 10.30am for some, 12.00 for others. And so it began; the gathering of like minded souls. A week riding the bottom of the south island.  1000kms over 6 days atop carbon-fibre machinery, second to none.  The inaugural Tour of New Zealand proved a catalyst but no solution for the enthusiasts, meaning six months of planning for this breakaway tour group of 21 riders. 

The convoy of two vans played tag, pausing at McDonalds Ashburton for a nutritious interlude.  The journey to Balclutha went remarkably fast considering miles consumed. Captains of industry, airlines, surgeries, and domestic duties amused themselves with cryptic crosswords, Heineken consumption, minutia of cycle purchasing and anything else to distract the necessary evil of travel.

The Rosebank Motel welcomed.  Rooms allocated, we descended upon the bar for a ‘speed dating’ session, keen to become acquainted. Race rules for the pseudo competitors were mulled over a hearty meal of steak and large sides of pre-race banter before an early night. 

Day one of riding began with large breakfasts and riders ready for takeoff at 8am, after obligatory first day photos.  With nary a backward glance we rolled into the streets locating our group confidence and the turnoff for Invercargill easily.

 Southern hospitality is a tangible thing. We touched it at the Whistling Frog cafe 68kms into riding. Devonshire teas were delivered fresh from the oven by enquiring owners bemused with our caper.

We rose and fell with the undulations all the way to the Stirling Tides of Invercargill. Like guests at a wedding breakfast we shuffled  inline, piling our plates with restaurant fare of Michelin quality.
Replenished and savouring the coastal views in the mid afternoon sun, we nearly forgot the additional riding into Invercargill.
Wary of burnout, I opted for the van while the bikers grappled  with off-shore winds.

The Monarch Motel morphed into view. Invercargill looked almost appealing with two days to relax as only  ‘Type A’  personalities can; inching up Bluff Hill and racing the Velodrome.
The arranged masseuses arrived on schedule at 4pm. In lots of three, those interested had the hills kneaded right off their muscles. The rest watched on from their mezzanine balcony, sipping beer in true kiwi fashion.

An unexpectedly impressive meal was enjoyed at the Kiln Restaurant.  Toasts made and awards issued, we returned to our cyclist’s village sated.

“Veni, vidi, vici!”  Well, we all did. Bluff Hill; the nipple on the large breast of the far south. Oft spoken, seldom ridden. A warm-up ride of 27km prepared our bodies for the 265m climb up the extinct (we hope) volcanic cone. Our minds were another story. Two kilometres of sharp uphill had us heading for the bushes ‘nervously’, then tossing off clothes passionately like eager lovers.
Ten to fifteen minutes later, dependent on your prowess, it was over. Ruddy faced and self satisfied we grouped for a ‘must have’ snapshot.

Stella’s cafe served up homemade hospitality into booths, characterising Bluff’s unique locale.

That afternoon, insurmountable climbs were quickly forgotten as the team clambered into the ‘home of cycling’, AKA  Invercargill Velodrome.
Jerry Stock; of name and body, valiantly drew on his best coaching skills  teaching the large mass of testosterone, how to safely ride the $25m track. A twelve time Tour of Southland entrant and European cycling guide, his credentials.
Propelled around a 250m track by centrifugal force upon a cereal bowl edge at speed, is electrifying. Physics be damned! 

The Lone Star Invercargill proved a haven with much to celebrate in addition to payment for Jerry’s time.

February 22, the anniversary for the full contingent of Christchurch riders, weighed heavily in our minds alongside the 190km ride to Te Anau.
Textbook riding was observed as we passed through Riverton and the coastal glory of Gemstone Bay ALMOST slow enough for photos.

Colac Bay hid off the main road. The Pavilion cafe incongruous with the raw coastal solitude, easily comfortable on Auckland’s waterfront, dished up the best scones to date. Sated we stared out through the drizzle, warm of stomach and heart.

Acutely aware of the time, at 12.51pm the peloton rolled to a stop. Aligned, heads bowed in the middle of the wilderness, we reviewed our personal demons and mourned the loss of our compatriots for sixty seconds.

Like a large picnic rug, Blackmount School swimming pool spread ahead. Eating sandwiches from plastic triangles, we enjoyed a trip down memory lane when life was less complicated.

Manapouri beckoned.  A sprint finish to the water’s edge.  Skiable backdrops were another photo opportunity, then the final descent into Te Anau, 190km since breakfast.

The expected Te Anau rain arrived overnight and stayed on uninvited. Our ‘commissaire’ halted the tour and we vanned to Five Rivers. A battle between procrastination and indecision ensued.  Ten foolhardy fellows donned their raincoats. One van went ahead brimming with optimistic afternoon cyclists and the other remained behind in ambulance position.
Ironically, the “Dipstick of the day” uniform of OSH reflective ware, proved a safety beacon through the fog.
Queenstown’s unparalleled energy delivered on demand. The Prime restaurant and Alexis Motel, worth revisiting.

The dry night was celebrated like a new mother. Departing  town, persuaded by the brooding sky we headed for the ominous crown range. Climbing one of the highest sealed roads in New Zealand took almost an hour and a lot of puff.
The slippery slide into Cadrona compensated. Rotisserie-like, we huddled about the fire warming our stomachs and bottoms alike on more treats at the iconic inn.

The collaboration of sun, backwind and downhill accelerated our team trials into Wanaka. Fellowship wrestled results and fellowship won.
The Clearbrook Motel provided a comforting sojourn with full facilities for
domestic duties catch up. Keen to accumulate more miles, the
testosterone and tranquillity of the area spurred the group on for a
further sixty kilometres. A shopping window opened for others.

Urban Grind; synonymous with our lives and recreational choices, proved
 a great dinner venue for the team. 
Invading the alfresco tables the bicycle blether accompanied the
tapas menu before a B line was made for inviting beds. 

Day Six in the saddle. Lindis Pass; our final frontier.  Our celebrity cyclist, the 1988 World Triathlon Champion, gave us glimmers of greatness along the way fuelling the group’s professional fantasies.
Gliding into Omarama alongside an airborne glider, was straight off the
cover of ‘NZ Life & Leisure’ magazine.
‘The Wrinkly Ram’ an adequate depiction of the road spent riders, a
laudable lunchover.

The McKenzie canals marked the end of our tour.  We grouped squadron-like and headed for home grateful for the wholeness of mind and body.
The holidaying guitar finally made an appearance at the “Wrap party” and stayed well into the night competing with exhaustion for pole position.

Game over, we returned to point A where it all began.  Gear disbursed, we group hugged and sang Kumbaya as we made our way back to our families and lives, richer for the experience.