Lessons on Air Travel

Five and a half days after leaving the US, I am finally about to arrive in Vietnam. I’ve encountered a stupid amount of complications along the way. My Qatar airways flight from New York left four hours late, due to a thunderstorm, and everyone on board missed their connecting flights. I had to spend the night in the Doha airport, where every woman but me was wearing long black robes (called an abaya). Feeling extremely uncomfortable in my short sleeves, I bought a pair of giant baggy sweat pants and wrapped myself in an airplane blanket.

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Screen onboard a Qatar Airways flight
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A big yellow teddy bear (?) sculpture at the Doha airport

The next morning, my new flight took me to Bangkok, were I was scheduled another long layover. Unfortunately I had not realized that my phone clock set itself to an incorrect time zone. By the time I realized, I had missed my flight and my baggage was waiting on the other side of customs. The customs line took three hours, during which I was not allowed to look at my phone (I immediately got scolded by an airport security guard when I took it out).

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Cool-looking gift shop at the Bangkok airport

After customs, it took the airport staff another hour to locate my baggage. By that time it was nearly midnight, and all the airline counters were closed, with the exception of one travel agency counter. My airport Wi-Fi time was used up, and I was so tired I think my brain was eating itself. At this point it had been 51 hours since I’d left home, and I’d had maybe 5 hours of sleep.

I approached the travel agency counter and asked if they could book me a hotel for the night. I explained to the staff that I had missed my flight, and they offered to book me one for the next morning. I should have said no and done it myself when I had WiFi, especially seeing as I didn’t even know the exchange rate and had no way to double-check they were giving me a fair price. Lesson learned. They charged me $400 for a flight that cost $150 online. It also did not include any baggage, so I had to pay an additional $100 to check two bags. At least I had a bed to sleep on that night.

I got up at 3 AM the next morning, took the hotel van to one airport, then took an hour-long shuttle to the other airport. Upon attempting to check in, I was told by an Air Asia representative that she would not accept my Vietnamese visa. I argued that three other airports had looked at the visa, and it was fine. She said I’d have to go talk to the Air Asia staff at a different counter across the airport.

I was getting irritated. Not wanting to get overcharged again, I pulled up the Air Asia website on my phone to see if I could change my reservation. The website told me my reservation did not exist.

I went to the second Air Asia counter and asked the lady why I couldn’t find my reservation, and whether I could get a refund.

“This special ticket,” she said in an accent that was just barely intelligible. “Only at eh-poht. No refund. I book you new flight for 3,000 Baht.”

3,000 Baht is about US $100. They were trying to extort even more money off me, and I didn’t even know if this was a legitimate ticket to begin with. I sat down and started to cry. This had just been too much.

I used my remaining Wi-Fi minutes to book the first hostel I found on hostelworld.com, and spent the last three days recovering there. Now I am back in the airport and hoping that this time around things will be better.

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Monk dolls on sale at a gift shop

So here are the lessons I’ve learned. From now on I will always double-check that my phone is on the correct time zone. I will pack only one bag, not two, just in case. I will never book with a travel agent again, or fly with Air Asia. I will spend the extra amount to purchase direct, refundable flights. I will check to make sure my flight home goes across the Pacific, rather than all the way around the world in the wrong direction, and stay far away from the Middle East. I will make sure I have an emergency phone plan, in case some other dumb airport decides to withhold Wi-Fi from its customers.

Epilogue…

I did end up speaking with the manager of the travel agency and he was very kind and gave me a partial refund.

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