The Travel Gods Are Angry

Ogata Korin, Japanese Wind God

Ogata Korin, a Japanese wind god

Clearly I’ve done something to anger the gods of travel, somehow. Or just been unlucky.

Specifically, it was probably some sort of wind god—maybe Njord, or perhaps Aeolus—because it was so windy in Sydney on Monday that the airport was only using one runway. The Qantas pilot did a wonderful job giving us a smooth landing despite some pretty fierce cross-winds. I’ve experienced a few average landings in my time, and this was one of the better ones.

However, because the plane was delayed leaving MEL (because it was probably delayed landing at SYD earlier in the day) we landed 16 minutes late. This was apparently enough to make be late to check-in (again) to my United flight to San Francisco. I ended up spending a night in Sydney at a hotel, so hooray for travel insurance, because airlines don’t cover this sort of thing if the delay is caused by weather. Invest in travel insurance, people!

Incredibly Poor Service

Qantas were actually a bit surprised that they’d need to give me a delay letter for insurance (it’s a standard thing, apparently) for a delay as small as 16 minutes. So am I.

Because what happened was that I got straight off the plane, caught the first transfer bus from Domestic to International, and went straight to the counter. We landed at 10:46, and I got to the counter at 11:10. Apparently check-in closed at 11:00am for a 12:00pm, i.e. midday, flight.

Now, that may well be airline procedure, but the way the situation was handled by the desk attendants at SYD United was abysmal. I was treated with something bordering on hostility for daring to be a little bit late due to circumstances entirely outside my control. All manner of excuses were offered as to why the United staff didn’t need to lift a finger to help me in any way whatever. It was all blamed on Qantas because they were delayed.

In contrast, every single Qantas person — from the check-in people who checked with others about what I might be able to do (even though it wasn’t really their job), the customer service desk people, to the baggage services staff — all of them were excellent. I didn’t get on my flight, but I was able to locate my bag and figure out what to do next, even the option of rebooking on another flight (which would have cost too much money to do). They helped me sort out a bad situation, and I like Qantas just that much more now.

The desk people at United had a prime opportunity to live up to their brand slogan of “Fly the Friendly Skies”, or the “We’re Glad You’re Here” message of recent years. That they failed so utterly points to something seriously wrong with the systems and procedures at United Sydney International. I don’t blame the front-line staff; maybe they’d had a really awful morning because of the wind thing and were just exhausted. No, I blame their management, because it’s their job to ensure that staff can be positive and refreshed. It’s their job to lead their people and train them to be graceful under pressure. How to deal with difficult customers in trying circumstances with aplomb. You know, like the way the Qantas staff behaved.

I found the skies quite friendly, but United’s ground experience leaves much to be desired.

Happy Ending

The winds gods have settled down now, and I was able to get to San Fransisco easily. I cleared immigration is record time, and I’m now pleasantly ensconced in the lobby of the hotel (Westin at SFO, which seems nice) while they get a room ready for me.

With a bit of luck, I’ll be able to get cleaned up in time to meet up with some friends for lunch.

In fact, the hotel just told me my room is ready, so I’ll sign off here. Onwards, to #DFD1!

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