Sometimes you win…

Sometimes you lose. And sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference when you’re in it.

We were scheduled to leave Hong Kong at 6:55pm on Sunday evening, arriving in London at 7:35am Monday morning, with a couple of hours in Abu Dhabi in the middle of the night.

To make sure we got there in plenty of time for check in, we arrived at the airport around 5pm and headed to the Etihad counter where we were approached by a friendly staff member who asked if we would like to spend an extra night in Hong Kong. They had overbooked the flight and so were looking for people to volunteer to stay another night, all expenses paid (including an open bar), if too many people checked in. We had accommodation booked in London, but thought we could possibly email them to move the booking to the following night and take Etihad up on their offer.

We were whisked through to the business class check in counter, where we were put on standby to see if we would get on the flight, and asked to come back in half an hour to check.

With all the decent places to eat on the restricted side of security, we grabbed some snack food, used the facilities, and loitered around the check in counters until it was time for the flight to close. At dead on 5:55pm (by my phone’s time anyway), a panicked-looking young woman rushed up to the counter with a trolley full of cases and was turned away. From the way she was waving her phone around, I’d guess her time said she had made it too.

As this conversation was going on, the original staff member came up and told us that luckily we would be able to make it onto our flight after all, as there had been the exact right number of passengers arrive and the plane would be completely full.

There went our daydreams of kicking back in luxury, and instead we were forced to rush through security to the other end of the airport. Still no time to eat, and by the time we made it to the gate they were on the final boarding call.

Starving, we boarded the plane. Oh well. Sometimes you lose, right?!

Boarding gate, Hong Kong airport

But wait, there’s more.

We found our seats and prepared for take off. The safety video played and everyone moved all their stuff to the overhead lockers or under the seat in front. The flight map on the screen showed that we had moved exactly 0m from our starting position, but somehow were inexplicably 10m above the ground. (Yes, I know the sensor won’t be on the wheels).

And there we stayed. There would be a brief delay, they said. We’ll be on our way soon, they said. Ten to fifteen minutes, they said.

After an hour, they decided it would be for the best if we all disembarked, as the engines weren’t running and the cabin was getting a bit warm. We anticipate it will be 30-60 minutes before we leave, they said.

As we got off the plane, we were told the airline would give us HK$90 to buy something to eat as a result of the delay. But they didn’t tell us when to come back to find out about the flights, so we went off in search of dinner and just as we neared the front of the queue for a table, an airline representative was heard flitting around to groups of people advising them to order takeaway and eat it at the gate. She didn’t speak to us though, so we scoffed down our meal in the restaurant.

Around 9:15pm we returned to the gate, to find out that our flight had been cancelled and we were going to be booked into a hotel for the night. If we would just wait to this side, someone would help us, they said.

Hong Kong airport, queue for cancellation hotels

“This” side included a sign saying Marriott, so we assumed that’s where we would be staying, and began to think that maybe our loss might still be a bit of a win.

Holding the sign was a staff member named Alice, who I have to say, was a bit of a hero for the evening. After waiting for about 30 people to be ready to go to the Marriott, she gallantly tried to shepherd us through the airport, up and down escalators, through staff lifts that left without her on them, onto a train back to the main terminal and through immigration to collect our bags.

Transit from Hong Kong airport to Marriott Hotel

None of these processes were streamlined for our group. We just mixed with all the other passengers in the airport, and I’m sure that we lost a few members of our group along the way.

Once we arrived at immigration, Alice told us to present the ticket we had received on our arrival and tell them our flight had been cancelled.

Dutifully, we stood in line and, once we reached the front, did accordingly.

No, we were told. You have to fill in another arrivals card because you are coming back into the country.

So off we went, grumbling, to the back of the queue to fill in our forms and wait again.

This time, we ended up in the world’s slowest queue, so Wade and I skipped across to another, shorter one, while Darcy held our spot in the original line, in case it miraculously sped up.

It did, and he passed through immigration just as Wade was explaining himself to the immigration officer in charge of our line.

Having made it through, Darcy gestured that he would go find our bags and we waved him off.

A few seconds later, Wade was declined entry and we were told that we would have to go to the end of the counters and wait with all of the other people from our group. We tried to explain that we had been separated from our friend, but it didn’t make any difference.

Once we got down to the end, we discovered other people in the same boat. One guy from North America had been directly behind his girlfriend, who made it through, and then he was told he couldn’t enter.

After a few minutes we tracked down Alice and she didn’t know why Darcy had been allowed through and we hadn’t. In fact, she didn’t really seem all that clear on what was going on at all. People were starting to get angry with her, and she seemed to be under a lot of pressure.

We re-assured her it would be fine and returned to waiting.

A different immigration officer arrived a bit later and told us that everything had been cleared up. We just needed to go through the immigration queue again.

Sigh. Third time’s a charm.

When we got to the baggage carousel we found Darcy pulling random backpacks off and checking the names, as he had forgotten what mine looked like.

Eventually everyone had found their bags, and the elderly man who had decided to yell at Alice in front of everyone had calmed down, we headed out to the bus depot to wait for our transfer to the hotel.

Except the bus wasn’t big enough, so they had to call for another one, which took another 20 minutes or so.

Eventually a bus arrived, and we thanked Alice for her help as we got on board.

By the time we made it to the hotel it was nearly midnight. But never mind. Hotel rooms, with comfy beds, some room service, maybe a couple of drinks and a good night’s sleep awaited.

Marriott Hotel, Hong Kong

Well, a couple of rooms with comfy beds awaited.

Upon checking in we were told that the airline had authorised rooms only, so no breakfast or dinner would be provided to us.

Deciding to take that up with Etihad at a later point, we headed upstairs.

The boys decided to go to the bar for a couple of drinks anyway, and I opted for a shower and bed. By the time I made it there, it was nearly 1am.

At 7:30am, our phone rang for a complimentary wake up call we hadn’t ordered. At 8am the real alarm went off, and by 8:40am we had met up with Darcy and caught a shuttle to the airport to check in for our 11am rescheduled flight.

By 12:30pm, we were almost at the check in counter (having queued at two different sets of counters after the airport evicted Etihad from one set as it had been booked by Royal Brunei).

Breakfast had consisted of a Starbucks that Wade went to get, because the rest of the time we were standing in line, and, of course, all the decent places to eat are past security anyway.

My parents had been on the phone to our insurance company, trying to see if they could get us to London any faster (by this stage it was beginning to feel like we could have swum there ourselves faster), and there were other people in the queue who were worrying that they would miss family members’ graduation ceremonies because of the delays.

At some point, a letter circulated through the queue saying that Etihad would be cancelling our flight and compensating us all with 5,000 Etihad airpoints miles, but how or when that would happen was never made clear. Nor was it clear whether they were cancelling our replacement flight or referring to the flight from the night before.

When we finally made it to the check in counter, we were told that our plane would be boarding immediately, so we would have to rush through security to the gate, and that the quickest way to London would involve a 12 hour layover in Abu Dhabi followed by a flight to Manchester and then on to Heathrow on a British Airways flight.

As we left to go to the gate, I went to drop one of our Starbucks cups into the rubbish bin, instead of leaving it in the baggage trolley.

An excitable young man from the airport decided that would be an opportune moment for him to remind us again of the impending departure of our aircraft, pointing out that “you need to go straight to the gate ma’am. No shopping”.

Let’s just say it’s lucky for him that I decided a strongly worded complaint letter would be likely to get a better result than releasing the torrential outpouring of indignation and frustration that was bubbling very close to the surface.

As I write this, I’m sitting on the plane on the way to Abu Dhabi. In the past 25 hours, I’ve wolfed down an airport meal while thinking my flight was about to leave, drunk a Starbucks Frappuccino in a four hour long check in line, and been served a decidedly bland airplane meal about four hours ago. One of the air hostesses just told Darcy it will be “some time” before our snack is served. I’m hungry. I’ve boarded two flights under time pressure, despite arriving at the airport well before the flight closed. The second time, I really needed to pee (not shop). I’ve still got probably 24 more hours of travel time before I reach London. The boys have already been napping.

Sometimes you win, but today is not one of those days.

2 thoughts on “Sometimes you win…”

  1. My oh my! What a horrible day! As I was reading through this post, I thought you were talking about a similar incident which happened to the same airline but that was in Abu Dhabi not in Hong Kong. I hope you get compensated for this extremely horrible experience. :-/


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