Cairns is a topical paradise. Or at least that is what I've been told. So far it has been nothing but a nightmare.
It started at Sydney Airport. I arrived with loads of time before my flight, and oh boy was it needed.
The queue for Jetstar stretched far beyond the roped off area. It extended far past the waiting area. In fact it was so long that it bisected every other queue in the terminal and then started to snake back again.
Managing this queue were two employees frantically speaking into walkie-talkies and then shouting out various flights that were about to close.
They have an absolutely insane system, as they want you to check -in online or using your mobile, and then to drop your bags off at the bag drop - thereby saving time. So far so normal. Its a good system. One thing it requires is a bag drop, and they didn't have one at Sydney. So absolutely no time was saved at all as everyone still had to queue to get to the check-in desks whether they were checked in or not.
I finally dropped my bag off 10 minutes before the gate closed, breezing through security and getting to the gate just before the flight was called.
Little did I know that would be the last time I'd see my bag for the next 48 hours.
I'll tell you a secret. In order to save a fresh set of clothes for later, I was travelling in the clothes I'd worn the day before. Flying usually makes me feel a little scummy and so its my preference to get to where I'm going and then get fresh clothes on. I was looking forward to this even more in Cairns as I'd not shaved in a couple of days and just was in general need of a good scrub.
So as I stood with around 10-15 other people watching a baggage carousel going around and around 20 minutes after everyone else had collected their luggage, my heart started to sink.
Nervous glances were shared. No words exchanged. We all knew exactly what each other was thinking.
Jetstar to their credit were excellent. Really proactive, and great communication.
Sorry, I meant Jetstar were bloody useless. Not an apology, not an explanation and certainly not in a hurry to fix things. After 12 hours I phoned them and spoke to a man that was probably a little too honest to be working in the customer service industry.
He told me that Sydney weren't answering the phone, so they hadn't even begun to find the luggage. I said that it sounded exceptionally implausible that an airline was unable to raise anybody in the largest airport in the region, to which he replied that "it is the truth". My response was that they must have an escalation procedure in place when they aren't getting responses; so what is it? "We wait 24 hours and try again. If they don't answer we tell a manager".
Now shocked as well as annoyed, I said "you're telling me that your policy when chasing lost luggage for passengers that are stranded without clothes and other essentials is to wait a day and then call back"? At least he had the grace to sound bloody embarrassed when he said "that is the Jetstar policy".
At this point I thought sod it, I'm sticking the knife in and asked at what point were they planning on giving an update to us, the passengers? His answer was straightforward - never. As far as he saw it, there is no news to give, so no point in calling. My reply to that one was that the point in calling was to reassure the customer that they had not been forgotten about, and that whilst they as a company had not yet sorted the issue, they were working on it. Its moments like this that determine whether customers will use the business again. Particularly those that have had no positive experiences to balance against the issue. It is damage limitation time for the company and keeping the customer in the loop is a big part of that.
Jetstar staggered me with their attitude. Mistakes happen, its how they are dealt with that matter. If they'd apologised at the airport, told me that they would get it sorted ASAP and then called later to say something along the lines of them having trouble locating the bag, but they are continuing to search and will give me an update on progress the following moment. Perhaps even taking the 10 seconds to ask if the inconvenienced customer was OK - then I'd come away thinking much better of them.
They don't even need to be doing any of that. They can give me the bullshit at that time, simply because that is what I as the customer want to hear. Telling me that they haven't even spoken to anyone at either airport after 12 hours, and they wouldn't attempt again for another 24 just tells me that they plainly couldn't give a shit about their customers.
Don't forget this wasn't just my bag they misplaced. There were at least 10 other peoples bags they'd lost.
So now someone like me will write down exactly what happened. I don't have many readers, but I have some. I have some that are likely to travel to Australia soon. Perhaps when they are looking for a flight, they'll recall this little tale and think twice about booking with Jetstar (for the record, Virgin Australia were excellent on my flight from Adelaide to Melbourne - even gave me free beer). This is on the net now, and maybe someone will come across this on Google read it, and they'll think twice about using them.
To balance it out, let me tell you about some good service. Here in Cairns I'm staying at the Hides Hotel. Its clean and comfortable, and for Australia pretty reasonably priced. We had a small issue when I checked in. The site I use had wi-fi listed as included in the room charge on one page, and as a surcharge on the other. Guess which page I'd seen when I made the booking. The manager was great about it and give me a few 2-hour passes so that I could get online. He also offered to lend me clothes until my luggage arrived. An offer I appreciated but politely turned down on account of being a fat bastard and him being unlikely to want to cut up his tent.
The big problem with not having my bag was the next day. Months ago I'd booked to go out to the reef on a snorkelling day cruise.
I still went, and I ended up sat with a pleasant family from Sydney who were up here on their holidays. This was a big family and the gran was a proper matriarch, who when finding out that I was here alone announced to the family that they had to give me "proper Aussie hospitality".
She's recently read and loved "The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel society", or as I'm coming to think of it - 'that bloody book'. So when she found out I was from Guernsey she was determined to pump me for information.
They were a great family, but I couldn't help but want to hide under the table. I'd washed of course, but I was wearing now three day old clothes, a week of stubble and becoming really paranoid that I looked and smelt a mess.
The kids didn't seem to mind though and I was bombarded with questions about home, and then they started drawing pictures of sharks and other fish.
It is damn difficult to be a realist when I small kid is holding up a picture drawn in highlighter and asking if you like it. Like it? I didn't even know what it was.
"What the bloody hell is that?" is what I didn't ask. I didn't need to, for those words were spoken aloud by Gran.
"It's a squiggle" announced little Sophie with glee.
As squiggles go, it wasn't a bad one.
As fun as the family were, we were here to snorkel the reef and that was what I couldn't do. No bathers, no towel. Both of course resided in my bag. I'd also need a spare t-shirt as the sun is something fierce here. Of course I could have swam in the clothes I was wearing, and if it was fresh water I may well have. In the salt water, in this humidity? A) I'd never dry, B) they'd be horrible to wear afterwards. As it turned out, its lucky I didn't as I still didn't have any clothes to get changed into when I go back to the hotel.
The boat did have small glass bottomed tender, and I did get to go out in that for a short while so I can at least say that I got to see some of the marine life below the surface.
After the first dive, Sophie came bounding up to me and announced she'd seen a shark. No-one else had seen it, but she was adamant. 10 minutes later her brother came running up and showed me his underwater camera. He'd seen the shark as well and he'd got a picture of it.
There was a shark out there and I was on the bloody boat.
My barrier reef trip turned into one huge reading session. I started and finished two books whilst I was out on the water. If you aren't in the water, there really isn't much to see or do.
I spent every minute of the trip back cursing Jetstars existence with every tale of a shark, barracuda or just plain old 'Nemo' and 'Dory' and accompanying photo.
My bag eventually turned up the following morning, around 44 hours after I'd landed.
I've had a shower and a shave. I'm clean and smell a lot nicer then I have been. I've got everything back but one thing.
I've totally lost my mojo baby.