Anyone who has ever passed through an airport knows that travel days are, at the very least, exhausting. After a good travel day, the excitement of arriving allows people to overcome their fatigue and hit the ground running. On the other hand, after a particularly rough travel day, the phrase “Never again!” is mostly likely to be on the tip of one’s tongue.
This is a story about a horrific travel day experience where we went through the emotional wringer and learned a few valuable lessons along the way.
We began the day in Siem Reap, Cambodia. It was hot and humid, our backpacks pressing our clothing into our sweat-soaked skin, but we were in good spirits after touring the Angkor Temple Complex for the past three days. We were looking forward to the next portion of our trip in Bali, Indonesia. But first we had to get there…
We entered the terminal at Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport and proceeded to Air Asia’s check-in counter. We presented our passports and handed over our checked luggage: one large wheelie suitcase and a duffle bag. Little did we know that Air Asia is a budget airline that has excessively strict baggage policies.
The lady behind the ticketing counter kindly told us that our bags were too heavy and that we would have to pay about $400 to take them with us. This sum was outrageous given that the total cost for both our tickets was less than $200. When we balked at the price, she suggested we rearrange our bags to make the heaviest a little lighter. If we could accomplish that, the price to check our bags would drop to $200. Not having much of a choice, we turned into “those people” – the suckers you occasionally see with all of their belongings strewn about the floor in front of the check-in counter.
We did manage to rearrange everything and paid the astronomical fee for our two bags, but the Air Asia agent wasn’t finished with us. Since we had transferred some of our belongings from our checked bags into our carry-on bags, she insisted that she weigh our carry-on bags as well, something we have never experienced in all our years of travelling. Surprise! Aaron’s carry-on was too heavy now too. After round two of being “those people” and shuffling items between our carry-on bags, we were finally handed our tickets and allowed to proceed through security.
Once we reached the gates, Aaron headed straight for the nearest bar and ordered an 8:00am scotch. It was not the best start to our travel day. We couldn’t imagine that it was about to get much worse.
Lesson One of the Day: Always check the baggage requirements for each airline before you depart on your trip.
We flew from Siem Reap to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia without incident. However, when we inspected our tickets from Kuala Lumpur to Bali, we noticed they had completely switched our flights without informing us. Our arrival time in Bali was now five hours later than originally scheduled.
By now I had had it up to here with Air Asia and was determined to give them a piece of my mind. I marched us up to a customer service agent and, with great restraint, politely inquired why they would change our flight without telling us. The agent was exceedingly nice and told us she could rebook us on an earlier flight that would depart in four hours instead of seven. The only catch was that we had to go get our checked bags and re-check them in. Aaron suggested we just wait in the terminal for the later flight, but I was determined to get to Bali as fast as possible. So, against Aaron’s better judgment, we re-booked our flights and went to get our luggage.
What I had forgotten was that customs lay between us and our checked bags. The line at customs was huge. People slowly shuffled forward in lines that snaked around the over-heated room multiple times. I began to suspect that trying to catch the earlier flight was a colossal mistake.
After an hour of waiting, we got through customs and headed to the customer service area to pick up our bags. Upon arrival, we were told that they couldn’t find our bags and that we should return in an hour. At this point I burst into tears, fully realizing the disaster I had unwittingly brought upon us. Aaron came to my rescue and vehemently told them that we were not leaving without our bags. Apparently, that combination of emotions worked on Air Asia’s customer service team because within five minutes our bags were at our feet.
By now it was around noon in Kuala Lumpur’s bustling main departures terminal. The space had lofted, opaque ceilings allowing natural light to illuminate another series of endless lines as people checked in for their flights.
As we navigated the crowds toward yet another customer service line, my phone started ringing off the hook. When I finally dug it out of my bag and answered, my mother’s distress on the other end of the line was palpable. She had been using an online flight tracker to make sure our flight arrived safely when suddenly, according to the map, our flight disappeared mid-route between Kuala Lumpur and Bali. I reassured her that we were still safe, if not particularly happy, on the ground in Malaysia and explained that Air Asia had cancelled our original flight without warning. Her fears assuaged, I turned back to our current predicament: re-checking our luggage.
We made it to the correct customer service counter and got in line. Thirty minutes passed. Forty minutes passed. An hour passed, and there were still two families in front of us. This day had without doubt turned into the most horrible travel experience, and I knew that this portion of it was all my fault. The tears started to flow silently down my cheeks again. It didn’t help that Aaron was silently fuming and shooting me “I told you so…” glares every few minutes.
After an hour and a half, we made it to the front of the line, got our new boarding passes, and re-checked our luggage. Relief washed over us as the customs agent placed a second stamp in our passports, proving that we had indeed spent one day in Malaysia.
Lesson Two of the Day: Unless absolutely necessary, never rebook your flight mid-trip if it means you have to go through customs to collect and re-check your bags.
We were hungry and irritable, but back in the right section of the airport. We found a restaurant that appeared to be serving local cuisine and ordered a late lunch. We were sipping on fresh mango juice waiting for our meal when a rank odor reached our nostrils. We turned around to identify the source of the smell when the cook caught our eye and pointed at the two bowls on the counter. Aaron got up to retrieve our lunch and brought the unpleasant smell back with him. It turned out that we had both ordered the same dish, and whatever was in it did not have the most appetizing aroma.
Not wanting to offend anyone, we hesitantly took a few bites. From what we could tell, the bowl contained noodles, some sort of fermented fish, and a plethora of fiery hot peppers. It was a stretch too far for our Western taste palates.
Lesson Three of the Day: When ordering meals in a foreign country, especially when you can’t read the menu, make sure you each order a different dish in case one does not suit your taste buds.
We did finally arrive in Bali despite the chaos of our travel day. In hindsight, all of these troubles could have been avoided. The fact that all of them happened on the same day…Well, it makes for one heck of a story!
Tell us about some of your travel day woes…
-Annie, Your Friend at Orange Backpack Travel