This morning we awoke at 5:17AM in beautiful Maui. We vacated our airbnb condo at 6:15AM. Our flight for Christchurch, New Zealand via Brisbane, Australia was to depart at 8:15AM.
The journey to Christchurch would be long. A quick hop from Maui to Honolulu then a 10-hour flight to Brisbane, a 15-hour layover in which we had already made plans to utilize free showers and wifi before sleeping in the airport, then up for a 7:00AM, 3 hours 25 minute flight to Christchurch, New Zealand.
Arrival into New Zealand is fairly simple. No visa is required for a stay of 3 months or less, a booked outbound flight is required, and proof is required that you have $1000 per person either via bank account or credit card.
We returned our rental car without a hitch and caught the shuttle to the Hawaiian Airlines terminal.
I began self-checking us in…
Credit card swipe for identity – check
Reservation found – check
All 6 Purdys listed – check
Seat Assignments – check
Passport swipe – check….waiting…waiting…waiting
For some reason we’re not being allowed to check-in. The self check-in machine spits out a single piece of paper resembling a boarding pass that says ‘DO NOT ALLOW BOARDING’. This shouldn’t be a problem.
I asked a Hawaiian Airlines employee what I needed to do. His response ‘cash transaction line’. Although I have no clue what he’s talking about. ‘Excuse me sir, where do I need to go’ and he points to a line labeled ‘cash transaction’. OK, you have my interest. Cash transaction.
I was so proud of the cheap tickets that I had found for our journey to New Zealand. Because we went to Maui first (for $33 no less), I was able to find 6 seats to Christchurch for under $3000. $500 per person to go to New Zealand. Do you know how far New Zealand is? Right now, google map it.
Was something wrong? Was I being charged a fee that skyscanner.com didn’t make me aware of or possibly didn’t know about? Crap! My tickets were too good to be true! These were the immediate thoughts that flooded my brain.
I then meet Vicki. Vicki, a modern day superhero, works for Hawaiian Airlines. As she perplexingly scoured through my reservation she asked ‘you’re going to Christchurch, correct?’ She continues to look a bit confused and she’s not saying much. Now, a little bit of panic sets in. It’s 7:30AM. Our flight leaves the gate at 8:15AM.
‘Sir, you are connecting through Brisbane, correct? The system won’t let me check you in because a visa is required.’ Slam the brakes! What?! New Zealand doesn’t require a visa. But Australia does! For a layover?
Yup! Any layover greater than 8 hours in Australia requires a freaking visa. 7:45AM.
Vicki offers to process a visa request on our behalf but it costs $50 per person. That’s $300 we didn’t plan to spend. She tells me that I can apply online for a cheaper price. No way we’re making this flight. Our layover in Honolulu is 1 hour. Hawaiian Airlines has 1 flight to Brisbane. Our flight! At 10:00AM.
travel.state.gov here I come! I frantically get on the state department website on my iPhone. This is too tedious on a small device. Hotspot on. Computer connected. Filling out the 1st of 6 applications. Almost done with application #1. Connection lost. Can’t connect. Can’t connect. 8:00AM.
Back to the iPhone. Small or not we’re in dire need to get these visas ASAP. I could talk you through the next frustrating 45 minutes but I won’t. The 8:15AM flight to Honolulu has left. Maybe we’ll have time to board the 9:00AM flight. It’s a quick 30 minute depart, up, down, arrive to Honolulu. Maybe we’ll make our flight. We have all 6 visas applied for, granted, and paid for – $120.
9:00AM flight gone. Vicki gone. 2 Hawaiian Airlines employees feel our plight and try their best to make it happen but too much time has passed. There’s no way we make our 10:00AM flight to Brisbane.
We’re informed that we can be put on standby for the 10:58AM flight to Honolulu. We’ll have to spend an unplanned night in Honolulu. There’s worse places to spend your evening but the extra expense is unplanned.
We walk to gate 13 for our 10:58AM standby flight. We see Vicki again. After checking a few things for us, she tells us we may have to plan 2 nights in Honolulu. Hawaiian Airlines doesn’t fly to Brisbane on Tuesdays. Today is Monday. Next flight is Wednesday.
Vicki spends an hour trying to help us figure out how we’re going to get to Brisbane. She calls Virgin Australia on our behalf hoping they’ll have mercy of our didn’t-know-we-needed-visas-for-layovers-over-8-hours ignorance. Virgin is unable to help. We tell Vicki about our RTW plans and how we were counseled that there would be times like this; times where we’d just have to roll with it, be flexible, don’t lose heart.
I can’t write enough words in this post to tell how AWESOME Vicki is and how LONG and HARD she worked to help us solve our problem. OUR problem, not her problem. In this day and age of horrific customer service, Vicki excelled and made Hawaiian Airlines look like a hero.
‘I think I can get you to Auckland’, Vicki tells me. ‘The problem is getting you to Christchurch…Virgin is going to charge you for that or you’ll have to buy a new ticket on Air New Zealand…’ Auckland! That’s New Zealand! Different island, same country, 15 hour drive. Vicki spends another 30-45 minutes trying to help us get to New Zealand. On the phone, off the phone, on the walkie talkie, on the computer…tap tap tap.
Vicki changed our plans. Thank you Vicki. Auckland, we didn’t know if we’d meet you but here we come.
Our plans were for a Christchurch arrival and most of our 1 month stay in New Zealand would be spent on the South Island. But remarkably we’d had problems over the last week securing affordable lodging and car rental. We didn’t panic. We were attempting to roll with it. And it worked out.
Our path is different that what we had planned. That’s the journey.
Thank you Hawaiian Airlines. New Zealand the Purdy Party is about to arrive.
Thank you Vicki!