Wednesday, 4 August 2010

In the land of durian and jackfruit

What another insane 24 hours I have just endured... where do I start?

It turns out that under NO circumstances I can acquire an Indian tourist visa outside the country in which I reside - Australia. These laws are new and were only implemented a few months ago.

For those of you contemplating a trip to India anytime, take heed and plan your visit in advance. This can be tricky if you're travelling for an extended period and your intended visit does not fall within the first six months of your journey. The visa commences the date it is issued NOT from the date you enter the country. I am beginning to question my sanity in wanting to conduct a humanitarian project in India!

My next challenge was to somehow salvage some of the money I spent on my India flights. After checking into Chiangi's Budget Terminal, I had one hour to get to the Air Asia counter and back. A seemingly simple task till I realised it was located two terminals away, only accessible by a bus to Terminal 2 and onward Sky Train to Terminal 1.

Aaaaaaaaah. I was literally running.

Long story short. The cold and joyless Singapore Air Asia staff said that it was 'impossible' to get a credit or change the destination of my tickets. My only option was to change the flight dates, however I was warned this could only be done once. Great.

With the clock ticking faster than my brain, I opted to run back to the Budget Terminal and use my flight between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur as strategic thinking time. I needed to calculate realistic and achievable dates for when I could return to India.

Waste time, I could not. After several failed attempts at contacting Air Asia by phone and live chat (only a 415-minute wait), doing it in person at KL LCCT (Kuala Lumpur Low Cost Carrier Terminal) was my only remaining option. It had to be done last night for my flight was scheduled at 6am this morning and if I let it lapse, I would loose my money (and my mind).

By the time I touched down in KL, I was too depleted to be desperate. Not only did I have to act fast to change my India flights, but I was also in a pickle of the accommodation kind. I could not fly back home to Melbourne as my carrier was full and my prospective couch host informed me that I needed to fit in with her schedule (out of the house by 6am and return between 10:30 and 11pm). Not conducive to sorting out my scheit.

In the midst of my madness, and the prospect of spending the night on the airport floor, I had the idea to call my friends who live in Penang (an inexpensive 50-minute flight from KL). They were quick to offer rescue to this damsel in distress, so I booked the next flight. I had three hours before departure to resolve my India fiasco with Air Asia... and that I did.

Expecting a repeat of the Singapore story, I was taken aback by the incredible courteous, helpful and amazingly warm Malaysian customer service. I was told that I would qualify for a credit in which I had three months to use.

"What? But the Singapore girl said... oh never mind, I'll take it", said my mind. Thankfully my mouth stayed shut (surprise surprise).

But it didn't end there. After a series of emails that bounced because the recipient's inbox was too full, I aired my concerns to the still friendly and courteous staff. I explained that while I believed their assurance in my eligibility for a credit (they didn't know about the 'impossible' conversation I had in Singapore), I was concerned that the person in authority would not receive my application prior to my flight departure - hence rendering my request invalid.

I was invited behind the counter (I repeat, BEHIND the counter) and watched as the gorgeous staff member typed notes into my booking. She then phoned her authorising manager, compassionately explained my predicament and got clearance to start the credit process. By this morning I received an email stating that my credit had been granted and I have till November 2nd (the day before my big 4-0) to use the credit. Not only that, but it can be used for any flight to any country. Extraordinary.

The entire procedure took about ninety minutes and before long, I was bound for Penang.

Happy endings are not common with budget airlines, and I am delighted that I have one for you today (that is for those who have read this far - sometimes long stories are just plain long). What a magnificent end to my disastrous attempt at performing an act of kindness in India (still can't say any more about that at this stage).

So here I am in the land of durian and jackfruit. Spikey, pungent tropical fruits that are loved by some and hated by others. A bit like Budget Airlines.

Until tomorrow, seek comfort in knowing that happy endings can still occur after a series of mishaps.

Grace xx

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  1. In a recent holiday in the Philippines I was rescued by a quick acting Manila Airlines crew.

    My connecting flight from Manila to a southern island was due to board in 15 minutes, when I realised the flight on my itinerary had already left the day before, (due to a muck up by my Australian travel agent). Panic!! However the gate official raced me out through customs to the counter to purchase a new ticket ($80 & wavered the penalty) and then whizzed me back through customs, jumping over luggage like show ponies, to the gate with 5 minutes to spare! Whew! Now when I think of Philippine Airlines I get the warm and fuzzes.


  2. Very cool Ms. Liza... I can just see you jumping over luggage like a show pony - did you have braids in your hair? ;-)


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