A Haphazard Birthday

by Ant Stone on August 4, 2009

in Australia,New Zealand,Visas

Heart thumping. Eyes sweating. Palms clenched. Girlfriend weeping. People staring. Lady smiling. Jaw gripped. Foot shuffling. Mind racing. We were checking in one hour before our scheduled departure, and the lady at the check-in desk was telling us we weren’t getting on the flight. Lady smiling. Palms clenched.

We’d run the gauntlet up until now, phone call after phone call destined to dash our journey to New Zealand. I’d managed to secure my own working holiday visa for New Zealand just 24 hours before our departure date, but my high was swiftly soured by the incredible news that Reb’s vital medical certificate had been misplaced in transit.

We considered it a fluke when we were told that as Brit’s, we could obtain a 3-month visitor visa on arrival in Wellington. It was a warm and welcome relief. We’d paid out well over a A$1000 each in flights, medicals and visas – not to mention the cost of an enforced 6-week layover in plain and wintry Perth.

Sexy Stubbornness

To celebrate the green light, I had 4-inches chopped off my barnet by an Iraqi barber. I now looked less scarecrow, more Pee-wee Herman. Meanwhile, Reb stamped her feet and sharpened her scowl to secure a duplicate set of medical certificates. The following morning a Kurdish cabbie dropped Reb and I at Perth airport, and we braced ourselves for the connecting flight to Brisbane.

I was the first to check in, therefore the first to feel the wrath of Virgin Blue’s sexy stubbornness. The check-in lady, Natalie stood defiantly, insisting I needed an onward flight to enter New Zealand. My argument – that it was unreasonable (and likely impossible) for me to book an onward flight to follow a 23-month visa – fell on deaf ears.

Reb stepped forward, knowing she didn’t have either. It didn’t take long before Natalie broke it to Reb; she couldn’t even board the plane without a valid visa, and the onward flight. In fifty minutes the plane was due to soar into the Perth sky, and disappear without us.

Waive us Bye?

REB! Take my laptop, go through security, find a Wifi connection and ring our case manager at NZ Immigration and explain the situation. I’ll put the bags in the locker then we’ll book onward flights. Don’t panic. All good. Deep breath.” Reb flew like the wind in one direction, I blustered to the lockers. Slightly dazed I subconsciously reread my e-visa.

“Outward passage waived.”

“Outward passage waived?”

“Outward passage waived!

I grabbed the nearest Virgin Blue staffer and asked his opinion. He clearly struggled with the definition of ‘waived’, so referred me to a leggy blonde who umm’d and ahh’d. Inside my chest, the Countdown to Disaster ticked on. I skillfully prised the visa from her gawp and ran back to Natalie, who promptly disappeared for what seemed a lifetime.

Black & White Romance

“You’re clear. And…” she paused, adopting the role of a game show hostess “… there’s a clause that might allow Reb to fly”.

I was off again, yanking my belt off as I stumbled through security and tripped up the escalators, desperate to find Reb and drag her back to the check-in desk. As if rehearsing for a black and white romance she was twirling, startled at the top of the escalators.

COME ON!” I whisked her down the stairs, burst back into the terminal and bounded back to the check-in desk. Once again, Natalie disappeared to her secret place with Reb’s passport. I stroked Reb’s arm. Her back. Her hair. My arm. I offered her a massage. I kissed her head and squeezed my hand.

Party of Emotions

“You’re clear!” announced a relieved Natalie. Suspense was bowled over by relief. Emotions partied on through our veins. “Quick, just twenty minutes to take off! Fetch your bags and we’ll get you checked in”.

We ran the 100 metres back to the electronic storage lockers, entered the PIN and listened for the whir and click. It whirred. It whirred some more. “Try the PIN again, Ant!” Reb clawed at me. More whirring. More whirring. Whir whir, whir.

Wounded by stress I hurtled back into the terminal. Natalie was busy smiling at a more fortunate guest (as Virgin Blue describe their passengers). I eye-balled her colleague, grasped her desk and let loose, “we were told we couldn’t fly but then we were told we could fly and we really want to fly but we can’t fly until we get our bags back from the locker and Reb doesn’t need a visa and I don’t need an onward flight and that doesn’t matter because THE LOCKERS BROKEN!

Cancerous Hobgoblin

This lady was as compassionate as a cancerous hobgoblin, she silently nodded to indicate the terminal payphone. I dashed over, dialled the locker company, spilled my guts and went to meet her. Seconds turned to minutes before she arrived, and we could drag our hostage bags out. Natalie was outside by now, brimming with adrenalin and soothing charm, we dragged the bags through check-in, forced our way politely through security and joined a nonchalant queue of clueless people.

The reality sunk in. “That should never have happened” I gasped to my disbelieving girlfriend. We’d been thrown into blind panic, for nothing more than an untrained staff member, though we suspect we gained in the end with Reb’s waiver.

First & Last

You’d think that was it. But this was my birthday, so upon landing in Brisbane we hit the airport bar to celebrate, and managed – for the first time in my life – to get the infamous “last call” for the onward flight to Wellington (not helped by the predictable delays I now accrue at every security point since having my stolen passport replaced in Jakarta). Thankfully we had a belly full of steak and beer, and an armful of duty free cigarettes to ward off the knowing looks of fellow guests.

It was eleven thirty at night when we landed in Wellington, one more final forty minute struggle at the Immigration desk and we were through. I could finally introduce Reb to my awaiting quasi-Kiwi sister, Rachael and the following morning to my brother-in-law and young rascally niece and nephew.

New Zealand didn’t fail to honour the tradition of The Trail which has seen me not so much as glide over borders, much more stumble cluelessly over a knot of red tape. The upside is, it’s usually uphill from here.

Share your calamitous airport stories in the comment thread below. For those wondering where the posts on Australia’s west coast have gone, worry not. I’m working on the final two or three chapters so save your emails.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Nomadic Matt August 5, 2009 at 3:22 am

Why the change to NZ? I had no idea you had a g/f. is she british too? did you meet her in oz?

Reply

Ant August 5, 2009 at 6:29 am

The visa expired in Aus, plus the draw card of my niece and nephew. Matt, I’m disappointed.

My girlfriend, Reb is mentioned in every other post (at least) – yes, she’s British and I met her in China a few months after I left home in June ’07.

Reply

Akila August 8, 2009 at 3:54 am

It’s better to stumble on the way then when you land, right? With only a few exceptions, we have had difficulties flying from place to place, but then when we land, we have wonderful times. I’m looking forward to reading about your NZ adventures. We will be there in November or so.

Reply

Ant August 8, 2009 at 5:15 pm

Thanks for the comment Akla, you’re absolutely right. I hope I do NZ justice, so far it’s been a fantastic country to be in and I’m looking forward to uncovering some amazing places. Keep looking in on The Trail from time to time for the latest, and good luck with your forthcoming journey

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