Snafu’s, Illegal events and other odd situations

No matter how careful I am, or how much planning, checking and re-checking I do…I always run into some sort of travel snafu.  I have even been known to run into some illegal situations and try my best to smile and work my way out of them.  As these situations tend to have funny stories that I love to look back on and laugh at, I have to capture them when they happen.  So here goes…

1. Taipei, Taiwan Airport Baggage check in counter  – June 15th (yes, the 2nd day of my trip).  First ILLEGAL event.

  • I landed at 6:30pm the night before and had a 14 hour layover before my next flight.  Since I really wanted to visit my friends Steph and Joe Welsh (who have been living in Taipei for 8 months), they graciously offered for me to come out to their apartment for dinner and spend the night and this sounded wonderful. When I left the airport in San Francisco, the United check in lady said it was no problem to check my bag the entire way through (which was great as I had 3 flights before finally arriving in Vientiane, Laos).   The check in lady had to check my layover time as if it was over 13 hours, she would have to make me a hand written baggage ticket, but assured me this was very normal and they do this all the time.  I kinda wondered if I would see my bag again, but figured it was big enough and well marked with my email and would turn up eventually and I had 2 days worth of clothes in my carry on.  I also had 4 days in Vientiane so I wasn’t worried to see it again.   So she made the claim ticket and told me to clear customs in Taipei and go out for the night.  Then when I arrived back at the airport in the morning, I would just need to go to the check in counter to get my new boarding passes and show them my baggage claim ticket she wrote out.  Seemed easy enough…
  • When I arrived at the Thai Airlines check in counter (at 5:45am), the check in girl (who spoke very good English) looked at my documents and I could tell was very concerned that I didn’t have a checked bag with me.  I said I had a claim ticket as my bag was checked all the way to Laos.  She excused herself to talk to a supervisor and they spoke and spoke and then came back to me.  She said it was ILLEGAL to leave my bag overnight at the airport with a connecting flight.  She again told me it was against the Taiwan law to do this and was a big problem.  I think she used the work Illegal at least 5 times (so yes…I got it).  I apologized and said I had no idea as the United check in lady told me this was ok and done all the time.  She and her supervisor smiled and said ok…but never ever do this again when I return to Taiwan, which I promised I never would.  So lesson learned (and passing along to others).  Don’t even check your bag all the way through if you are connecting and staying overnight in Taiwan as this is illegal and could have gotten me into deep trouble.

2. Taipei, Taiwan Security Screening – June 15th – Odd Security Check point event

  • I have to say…the security check area of Taiwan is not the most secure and I was quite surprised by this.  The girl behind me went through the metal detector and started beeping.  In every other airport I have been through she would have been sent back to take off whatever she was wearing that made her beep and go back through.  In this case, she just lifted her shirt and showed her metal studded belt to the security checker (the belt itself was a major fashion don’t and I can only say I think we all wore something that ugly back in the 1980’s when we thought it was in fashion).  You would think the checker would tell her to take it off and go back through.  But instead…she takes a metal detecting wand and barely swipes it over her stomach (not even over the belt to make it beep).   So I was thinking…wow if you were carrying something you shouldn’t just put it in your shoes, then wear a studded belt and point to it and you could get through security.  I’m just hoping the security checker thought this girl wasn’t that scary looking and let her go…but come on!  What sort of security check was that?

3. Snafu #1 – VIP Van from Vientiane to Vang Vieng, Laos

  • The two ways to get from Vientiane to Vang Vieng is by either a 15 person mini van or a large 50 person bus. We quickly decided the mini van was our preferred option as we are too old for the big bus and from what we read the mini van is really a comfortable air conditioned option. It’s faster and really not much more money, so we were surprised not everyone did this. We booked our tickets and were waiting to be picked up to be taken to the mini van pick up location. When we arrived, the others on our tuk tuk hurried to the van and we walked over. When we got to the van, we were told it was full and we had to go on the big bus. This made no sense as we purchased tickets on the minivan so we figured there had to be a mistake, but try arguing with a local in Laos when you don’t speak their language, they already have your money and all of a sudden they don’t speak any English (but they sure spoke English earlier when they were taking our money and getting us all set up for the trip). It’s a really annoying game of take advantage of the tourist
  • Of course, this was not acceptable and we did everything in our power to fix this problem as there was a HUGE difference in the mini van and big bus. We debated the bus as it was there and we wanted to go, but finally we decided to go back to our hotel and sort it out and worst case, we would have them call for a taxi as we knew the price. It was 8 times the price of our two mini van tickets combined, but given our choices, it was preferred – neither of us wanted to go on that large, nasty and filthy (let alone slow large bus)
  • When we got back to the hotel, our lovely hotel lady said the tour company was sending another mini van to get us and they were sorry for the mix up (I doubt they said that, I think our hotel lady added the niceties). We asked if they could come get us at the hotel since we already came back and they said they would. We were told it would be 15 minutes until the new van came. This sounded good to Vanessa and me, and we figured maybe it would be a private van since they screwed up. After 30 minutes and then 45 minutes went by, a van finally came. I looked out the window and saw a lot of luggage and realized it was the same mini van from before. We found out they essentially got two other people to give up their seats (for a free ride on the big bus) and now there were two seats for us.   There was no new van coming. We later learned the two people that “gave up” their seats were the last two people to book and should never have been able to book as they should have been told the mini van was full when they tried to book, but in a third world country, they just want your money and someone else will deal with the problem. Crazy how things work (or don’t work) in this country.
  • What was also funny to watch…the driver was so rude to us at the pick up stop when he told us the van was full and didn’t want to deal with us, but then when he picked us up and came into our hotel, he was so nice, apologetic and friendly. Obviously we didn’t do anything wrong and we booked correctly. Somewhere there was an overbooking and they hoped someone wouldn’t mind changing buses, but Vanessa and I were not those people.

4. Snafu #2 – Trying to land in Ko Samui and two failed landings (with one touch down and bounce on the runway) before the pilot finally decided to abort our planned landing and fly back to our original airport in Phuket.  More details can be found at my description in Thailand To Land in Ko Samui or Not…that was the Question (or flight scare) today!

5. Snafu #3 – Painful Travel Journey to China – Where are the Airplane Passenger Bill of Rights?

I thought it would be easy to get from Hanoi, Vietnam to Chengdu, China as there used to be a direct flight, but of course, nothing is that easy anymore and the only non-stop flight was discontinued a few months back. So I had to connect and this started my nightmare of a travel day…

Here is the short sad story as I don’t care to rehash, but wanted to document what I went through to travel only 675 miles – and this should have been a 2 hour flight and not a 16 hour ordeal!

  • Left my Hanoi hotel at 5:30am
  • Flew Hanoi (HAN) to Guangzhou (CAN) airport (773 miles)
  • Layover was 1 hour and 30 minutes
  • I had to clear customs which was fairly strait forward as I had my visa already
    • I learned I had to get my bag and recheck my bag. So this is where I had a problem…the bag recheck line was not long, but the workers to recheck the bags were not working and those that were working, were not efficient.
    • While I was only 5 people back in line (behind a group), when I got to the front of the line (of transfer passengers to recheck my bag ON THE SAME AIRLINE), I was told I could not check my bag as the flight was closed. I was told it was 7 minutes too late and “so sorry”. I was furious as I was in line and did everything right and had plenty of time to get on the flight. There were 6 workers behind the counter, but only 2 were working and I wasn’t the only one that was upset and missed this so called cut off. But in the end, I was denied my flight that was scheduled for 12:45 (to arrive at 3:05pm) , was denied a boarding pass and it sucked. What was more of a burn, they said they would put me on a later flight (departing at 2:00 and arriving at 4:30pm), but it was too early to check me in for that flight…so I had to just wait till that flight opened up. It was crazy and completely inefficient and I was very upset as I had no way to contact Mark who was waiting for me at the Chendgu airport, but hopefully I would be able to find wifi and tell him I was only a later flight.
  • On top of this, I couldn’t get money from any of the ATMs (as three were broken and one was out of money), I couldn’t use my credit card and none of the airport places took US cash.  So I couldn’t get anything to eat or drink which was really annoying.  I finally found a souvenir stand that took credit cards with a $10 minimum purchase, so I got some M&M’s, water (that was lunch) and other dumb stuff to meet the minimum.
  • I finally got to my gate to board my flight and when I got there, there were no passengers and no crew at the gate.  I finally saw the gate was moved…to clear across the airport, so I RAN to the gate. When I got to the new gate, it appeared that we were delayed, but no one said anything and no delayed note was up…so I just had to keep watching. Oh and very few people speak English in this airport…
  • We finally boarded a bus for the plane and hour later at 3:00pm but at least we were on our way. When we got on the plane and pushed back from the gate I was relieved to be on our way…so I thought.
  • We sat on the tarmac for 30 minutes before an announcement came that there were weather issues and we were going to have to wait, but no time was given.
  • It was an hour at this time. I finally asked the flight attendant and she had no idea and asked the captain and he didn’t know. I think we sat on the tarmac for 4 hours before we took off (about 7:00 pm) and all I could think about was if I was in the USA, they would have deplaned us, but I was in China and this doesn’t happen.
  • To make matters worse, I had a horrible 8 year old kid sitting next to me, that thought it was old to jump around, stand on his seat, jump almost on me, touch my computer, touch my phone, try to sit in my lap and help me play my computer game and his mom was sitting right there and really didn’t do anything to stop this. Twice, and only twice did she try to stop him and did she say sorry (and this was only after I gave her a death look).  I like kids, but geeze – this kid was driving me up the wall!

I finally got to Chengdu at 9:30pm and was exhausted. I should have been there at 3:00. I was hoping that Mark left the airport (and was glad I didn’t see him waiting for me).

When I got to the hotel at 10:00pm and saw him waiting for me at the lobby bar – he was a welcome sight and he was quick to get me a cocktail which was heaven. All I could say was these Panda Bears better be worth it tomorrow!

6. Snafu #4 – Philippines travel – The Journey from Bohol to Boracay across 4 islands when it all went wrong!

  • Teresa and I left our hotel in Bohol at 10:15am, and this timing will be important later in the story. As we are in another country, we don’t have cell phone service or a data plan to have unlimited email anywhere…we only get it where we have wifi.
  • We knew this day was going to be a long travel day. The goal was to take a taxi from the Bohol hotel to the ferry, then a 2 hour ferry to Cebu Island (departing at 11:30am and arriving at 1:30pm), then a 20 minute taxi to the Cebu airport, then hour flight (departing at 3:20 and arriving at 4:30pm) to the closer airport to Boracay (Caticlan Airport), then a quick taxi to the Boracay ferry and finally a shuttle to the Boracay hotel. We figured we would arrive at our Boracay hotel by 5:30 or 6:00pm at the latest. Sadly…this wasn’t the case.
  • We should have known it was going to be a rough day as when we left the Bohol hotel, it was pouring rain, and our driver (that took us around on the day trip previously and we really liked), was driving like Speed Racer. I didn’t really feel safe, but was hoping he was. We got on the ferry and everything was on time. We were one of the first off the ferry and kept our bags with us so we could hustle to get in a taxi and off to the airport. We had an hour to get off the ferry and to the airport before our hour check in window. We knew it was going to be a tight connection , but it should be a 20 minute taxi ride so even if there was traffic, we still had a cushion and we should have made it even with some traffic issues.
  • What we didn’t expect was the taxi car itself. It was not in the best condition and the driver kept stalling while in route. He didn’t stall because of a manual engine; he stalled when he was stopped at a light. I think he had to restart the car 3 times and at times, I was worried the car wouldn’t make it. The taxi wasn’t going very fast (as it wasn’t capable of any speed), there was a lot of traffic and I think Teresa and I were both worried we may get to the airport too late. At this point, there wasn’t anything we could do…but hope to get there in time.
  • We didn’t expect what happened next….the taxi literally broke down on the freeway! I couldn’t believe it and Teresa and I were freaking out. We were close to the airport and at this moment…Teresa and I jumped out of the taxi, she was able to quickly flag down another empty taxi and I grabbed both of our bags, paid the broken down driver for the fare driven so far and we ran to the new taxi. I was thinking…if I was on the show Amazing Race…this could have cost us a million dollars!
  • As we pull into the airport in a few minutes, as we were only about 5 minutes away when we broke down, we were exactly 1 hour before departure time. We hustle our way through the door security as you had to show ID and tickets to even enter the ticketing/check in area and we didn’t really make many friends as we pushed to the front apologizing for being late for our flight.
  • As soon as we got to the check in counter to check in our bags, we saw a sign that said our flight was cancelled. My heart dropped and I was shocked as I thought – how could our flight just be cancelled and we weren’t informed. When we spoke to the check in girl, she said the airline contacted me to alert me and I said. “no…no one contacted me”. I was really hoping they didn’t try to call me as I always had to enter a fake phone number when I booked tickets (and entered all 1’s since I didn’t have a phone number while traveling and it should look like an invalid number). They said they sent me an email to notify me. As there was finally wifi at the airport, I checked my email and there was an email sent at 10:20am (exactly 5 minutes after we left our wifi area in Bohol) and we didn’t have wifi for the next 4 hours.
  • While we were upset and annoyed, there wasn’t anything we could do. So we asked what our options were, and we choose what we thought was best. There are two airports to take people t Boracay island. One airport is close to the ferry dock (5 minutes) and the other we were told was 1 hour away. I had thought this further airport was closer to 2 hours away as when we booked flights, I didn’t want to fly to the one that was further away (and thought the 2 hour transfer would be annoying after the other travel of the day). But when the airport check in person told us it’s only 1 hour and they would provide a shuttle to get us back to the original airport…we figured they know the transit time and area well and maybe I misread something (as I was reading a lot of travel logistics for all the islands). In the end…I was right and the airline was wrong.
  • The two options we were given was we could either stay overnight in a hotel in Cebu and take the flight to the closer airport (Caticlan Airport) in the morning (getting us to the hotel around 1pm) or we could take a flight in 3 hours to the airport that was further away (Kalibo International Airport). We figured if we took the 6pm flight, arriving at 7pm, and then the shuttle we would be at the Boracay hotel by 8 or 9pm at the latest. After a long travel day (and a ton of rain while flying and in the shuttle and ferry)… we finally got to our hotel at 11pm and were exhausted.   It’s always hard when your expectations are one thing and the reality is another.

At this point, all I could say is, “it is what it is…let’s move on and put this day behind us and wake up tomorrow to a great new island”.

Luckily…we woke up to a glorious sunny beach right outside our hotel.

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