Come fly with me…not – Some lighthearted levity with Phil Hall
I’m sure that you have had days when you should have stayed in bed; days when everything that could possibly go wrong, did go wrong. Well this week I want to share with you such a day; two days actually, when the fickle finger of fate seemed to have been firmly pointed in my direction.
It was World Superbike weekend in February this year. After driving (from Wollongong) down and back to the Island Classic in January, we did some sums and decided that it wouldn’t really cost that much more to fly to Melbourne and hire a car. So, the appropriate arrangements were made and I looked forward with great anticipation to the trip.
I was up at 0300 in the morning and in the hire car to take me to the airport in Sydney. Get there at 0430. Walking through the airport on the way to the boarding gate I think that I probably should check the time. I reached into the pocket for the phone – no phone. Check all the bags; no phone. Retrace the steps of that morning; figure out that the phone is still on the bedside table at home.
After cussing my stupidity all the way to Melbourne I was not feeling in any good frame of mind by the time I landed.
At Melbourne airport I found that I had to walk the whole length of the terminal to find a phone shop so that I could buy a prepaid. I finally found one at the far end of the terminal from where I had landed. So, that’s easy, yes? Actually, no, it wasn’t. Getting the phone was fine, paying for it was fine. But then I had to wait over an hour while the frustrated shop attendant tried to activate the phone. The poor girl was so agitated and apologetic as she was an Optus dealer and she had to wait in the automated queue just like anybody else would have to do. Finally she got it done and I headed all the way back to Arrivals so that I could get the shuttle bus to the car rental premises.
After checking with the rental company as to where the shuttle was due to pick up, I waited 20 minutes and, no bus. I rang the company and they explained that they couldn’t understand why I hadn’t been picked up yet. Neither could I but, since it was their responsibility not mine, I suggested that they do something about it. 40 minutes and another phone call later, the bus finally arrived and took me to their depot, about 5 minutes drive from the airport.
The Wicked Witch of the West behind the counter didn’t even apologise for the inconvenience and, after much fluffing around, I finally got on my way.
DO NOT USE ATLAS CAR RENTALS!
Melbourne people will probably understand, but then it took me over two hours to get from the other side of the airport to Phillip Island where I finally arrived after 1300.
The races, of course, were excellent but this is not a race report so I’ll leave it at that.
So, Monday morning after the races it was on the road at 0400 again, driving back to Tullamarine to drop the rent-a-racer and then get the shuttle to the airport. My eyes were out on stalks as they had been all weekend ($3000 excess if you biff the car) and grinding through bumper-to-bumper traffic on the outskirts of Melbourne when it was still DARK for goodness sake was NOT a good way to start my journey home. I arrived at the car rental company office and it was firmly closed! Not a soul in sight. Wondering what to do, looking at the time, conscious of the fact that I had to check in at 0800 and it was already after 7, a small degree of panic started to set in. Since I had already been told that the office would be open at 7 this was not looking good.
Finally one employee arrived, took a long time to book in the three cars that were waiting by now and then dithered over whether he should close the office and take us to the airport or wait until the girl who was supposed to be manning the office from 0700 onwards would actually arrive. Through the window we could see the boss making calls on his mobile. Several frantic telephone calls later revealed that she thought that someone ELSE was rostered on that day and she wasn’t coming. Eventually, he locked up the office and took us to the airport.
I arrived just in time to check in and be told that the plane would be boarding in 25 minutes. As fate would have it, the departure lounge was #27, at the opposite end of the terminal from where I was presently standing. I should add that my injured leg doesn’t like walking very much, likes hurrying even less and long distances even less than that! So, by the time I hobbled around to it, there wasn’t time for coffee or anything to eat.
Not that that would have helped. Gate #27 is on the bottom floor, at the very end of the terminal, level with the tarmac and has NO facilities of any kind, toilets, cafeteria, not even a drink machine.
I’d had some muesli at the house before I left but that was already over 4 hours ago. Starvation was setting in and I knew that what would be offered for food and drink on the plane would do little to help. I felt like I had been banished to the Gulag. Travel with Jetstar? Get used to bargain-basement flying, walking across runways and climbing steps (something else that my injured leg does not like).
Every seat in the departure lounge was occupied but, thankfully a lovely lady saw that I was obviously in some pain and discomfort and she kindly gave up her seat for me.
Then, instead of boarding at 0825 as promised, we didn’t even start MOVING until 0915. Finally on the plane and we were off. Comfortable flight (I booked seat 14C in both directions which mean that I was able to stretch my dodgy right leg out into the aisle – planning is everything) and we landed in Sydney just after 11.
I called the shuttle service to be told that a bus for Wollongong was leaving shortly but that it was going to be very full and did I mind? I did, but, by this stage I just wanted to get home and I’d have been happy with a Cobb & Co coach.
Now, luggage. Upon leaving the plane the helpful Jetstar people had said that we could collect it at Carousel 4. After watching all the luggage gradually disappear from the conveyor and still no sign of mine I started to believe the stories about people whose luggage ends up in Anchorage, Alaska. Then a hassled Jetstar employee hurried up to tell us that the rest of the luggage from our flight was on Carousel #5. I looked over to see my luggage, circulating round and round, looking as lonely as I felt.
In the mean time the shuttle bus driver was hopping from one leg to the other panicking because he was double-parked and was expecting me to have been ready 15 minutes ago.
Was the shuttle bus full? Oh, yes, it was. I was squeezed into the front seat beside the driver with the gear lever in close proximity to my right knee. Off we go. The driver, Geoff, an absolute gentleman, explained to me that, since I lived in Horsley and the shuttle company was based in Dapto, I would need to go along for the ride while he delivered all of his other passengers. Did I mind? Well, yes, I did, but what can you do?
Once we got to Wollongong, I then spent the next two hours in the bus while Geoff delivered about 20 Japanese students to various university accommodation places all over the northern suburbs before he was finally able to deliver me to my door, exhausted, hot, hungry and totally “over it” after 1400. Total journey time? 10 hours.
Come fly with me? No thanks. I will never do Phillip Island by plane again. When I drive it takes me 11 hours, door-to-door and I have the use of my own car when I get there. I am not subject to the arrangements of others and I don’t have to share seats with people who sometimes don’t understand how hard it is for me to do what they find easy.
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