Monday, September 28, 2015
Months after Ebola epidemic was controlled in Africa, Australia was still scared of Ebola. At the Sydney airport, when asked about the frivolous Ebola-related paperwork people coming to Australia were being made to fill out, an immigration officer thought it were probably the over-printed forms that were being put to good use.
Saturday, September 26, 2015
Thursday, September 24, 2015
Keep our spoons, you Nadi people
At the Nadi airport we had to go through security check again before reaching the transit lounge for our connecting flight. We only had one checked in bag; everything else we were carrying ourselves. When our bags passed through the scanner at the security post at Nadi airport, a security woman excitedly rushed to one of the bags and grabbed it.
“Do you have any spoons in this bag?” she asked. Yes we had two spoons in that bag. We always keep a bowl and a couple of spoons so that we can have cereal in the morning.
The security woman fetched in the bag and got the spoons out.
“Sorry you cannot take these spoons.”
Why not? We asked with indignation.
We were then shown a list of all the prohibited items. Besides guns and knives and other sharp objects they also had spoons in the list.
“But how come we were allowed to fly with the spoons going through the LAX security?”
They did not know why. But they did know that they were entitled to confiscate our metal spoons—dangerous objects that can be used to hijack a plane.
What could be done? We quickly thought. We had plenty of time till our next flight. Killing our time in a fight appeared to be the best use of it. We decided to escalate the issue.
We told them we wanted to talk to their supervisor.
We were asked us to go to the Fiji Airways Lounge and talk to people there. So we went down and talked to one of the two women registering passengers for their stay in the lounge. She listened to us and then came with us all the way to the security check post where they were holding our spoons. The woman talked to the personnel at the scanner. All possibilities were explored. Can the spoons be given to the crew of our flight—and we get the spoons from the crew on landing at the Sydney airport? No, that was not possible. The only thing possible was to take the loss and leave the spoons there. We resigned to do that.
Later, we thought about another option we had. We were going to arrive Nadi over a month later in that trip. We should have asked the Nadi security people to keep our spoons till then?
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Sunday, September 20, 2015
Almost 10-hour flight from LAX to Nadi was definitely not as tough as the 17-hour flight from SFO to Dubai. The longer you keep me in a plane, the more inclined I become towards violence, or at least thoughts of it.
Nadi airport is small. There is not much space near the gates so passengers are asked to wait in the lounge and go to the gate only when boarding is announced. But even the waiting lounge is so small it gets quickly filled up and people roam around looking for any place to go to where they don’t run into tons of fellow travelers.
Friday, September 18, 2015
What are the mechanics of modern-day budget traveling? Everything starts with a rough plan: when will you leave, and when will you return. I have traveled before with only the date of departure fixed, but lately my travels have been hemmed in by two dates. [I like it when only the date of commencement of a tour is fixed, the other date is unknown. That kind of travel is very much like your life: you only know the date of your birth. Yes, you will die one day, but you don’t know the date, and you don’t care either. Life is too short to waste worrying about the death.] Once the dates are fixed you do a rough allocation of your time in the places you will visit and see if there are is any air ticket involved. If there are air tickets involved you do a quick Internet search to get a feel of the costs: you find the fare for today (whatever date you are checking the fares on), for next day, for a week later, for a month later, and for three months later—you also check the price difference between flying on weekdays and weekends. Once you have bought your airline tickets you work on other details, but many of these details are worked out once you have your boots on the ground. You always keep an eye on things e.g., train/ferry tickets, hotels at hot tourist attractions, etc. that will save you money when you book in advance.
In our Australia-New-Zealand-Fiji travels, our main ticket was with Fiji Airways, with a separate Sydney to Auckland ticket from LAN.
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Who says travel agents will go extinct
Yes, online travel companies—Orbitz, Expedia, Hotwire, Priceline, and hundreds of others—offer convenience to travelers: you can make reservations, buy tickets, and print boarding passes right at home. But are these Internet travel agents going to completely replace the physical, neighborhood travel agency with a glass storefront and glossy travel posters plastered on the walls? Not in the near future and especially not when your itinerary involves multiple stopovers and sophisticated decisions about economical days to fly and multiple airlines to use, for the best fare. At least that has been our experience. When it was decided that we will go Down Under during the summer, I called my friend Hanif Koya and asked him where he buys his ticket from when he needs to visit Fiji. He recommended Kamal of the Pathfinder Travel in Hayward (510-247-0670) for all our South Pacific travel needs. Kamal is a much sought-after travel agent—we later found out why. He took down our dates—while being constantly vexed by other callers—and promised to call us back. Can he beat the Internet prices? How can he beat super-smart computers that allegedly are the backbones of the online travel agencies? We kept checking Vayama and other web sites for the kind of multi-stopovers tickets we were interested in. By then we had developed a good understanding of the current fares. But when Kamal responded, we were genuinely surprised. He was giving us a very good deal. Was it for real? We had never done business with Pathfinder before. Should we trust them? The travel agency was a good friend’s recommendation, and we were going to use a credit card to purchase the tickets…it was not a huge risk. We made the plunge and bought the tickets from Kamal. And we are glad we did that. Kamal’s excellent service did not stop at giving us great value airline tickets. He went ahead and processed our Aussie visas, free of cost. [According to the Australian Immigration-- https://www.eta.immi.gov.au/ETAS3/etas--the visa is $20/person] How did Kamal do it without charging us anything? Do travel agents get this service free? For sure, we were not going to get this from the online travel companies. Kamal thought we will be charged $15/person when we leave New Zealand—but over a month later, on leaving Auckland, we did not even have to pay that amount. Next time when we go to another South Pacific destination—Samoa, Cook Islands, Bora Bora, Tahiti—we will definitely use Kamal’s help.
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
It was a challenge. Fifty-three days on the road. Fifty-three days! That appears to be a long time. But not long enough when you want to squeeze in Australia, New Zealand, and the Fiji Islands in that short period. All three stood in front of us asking for the maximum possible time we could give them. We arbitrarily made our decision. One month for you, Australia; you get eleven days, New Zealand; and you, Fiji, you get ten—a couple of days to be lost in flying.
Even when we reached the San Jose airport over two hours before our flight to Los Angeles, we managed to miss our plane. How? Three of the four, on reaching the gate, and with boarding passes in their hands decided they had plenty of time and they needed to check out other areas of the airport. By the time they got back the gate had closed. American Airlines put us on the next flight, almost an hour later. Were we going to miss our LAX to Nadi flight?