Friday, October 2, 2009


It's simple right? You get on a train and pay your hundred bucks and you're conveyed to Cootamundra in Central Western NSW. Then when you want to come home you go to the railway station and buy your ticket back to Melbourne and you come home.
Well that's not quite how it worked. I got there OK, had a great couple of days seeing the new owner settled into his new aircraft and then I tried to come home and that's where it went pear shaped.
No train seats out of town for the next 3 days. Righto we'll drive to Canberra and get a flight out of there - barely any seats and all at around four hundred bucks. OK scrap that and drive to Sydney and get a flight from there. Same story, only worse.
This is getting desperate. I know, I'll go to Yass and get the bus from there. That's only $61. But oh no they go via Narrandera and take about 14 or 15 hours. Stuff that for a joke and anyway there aren't any seats are there?
This is getting surreal - I want to be home in time for the weekend but I can't see it happening. What about Wagga? I hit the web and find the last available seat out of Wagga. 2 hours from now and I book it online. But when the booking confirmation finally shows it hasn't given me the flight I had booked but one 4 hours later. Time's getting pretty short for the flight in 2 hours and I want that flight. I ring customer service and yes they acknowledge it might have been their fault but if I want to go on the flight I booked on it will cost me an extra $66 to "change" my booking. Do I blow a valve at this attitude or do I get that 1 last seat? Get the seat, grit your teeth and get the seat. But more on this airline down the track.
I've got the seat, an email arrives on my phone confirming I have the seat but I now don't have time to drive there. OK fire up a mate's Archer and let's go. A lovely day for a fly anyway. The country's looking pretty green and a trough has brought moist hazy air but very little instability so all in all a nice trip at 2,500'.
As we approached Wagga it's obvious there's a bit of traffic. A couple of light twins doing circuits, a military CT4 preparing to depart, an RPT Saab 340 taxiing, and two IFR Royal Flying Doctor aircraft - a King Air and a PC12.
We were approaching on the reciprocal of the active so we moved to the downwind active side of the circuit and in response to a call from the Saab we confirmed that we were displaced from runway centreline. Ahead of us a 310 was joining crosswind so we slotted in downwind behind it. The CT4 had meanwhile cleared out but the King Air called straight in 10 miles and the PC12 straight in 6 miles as we headed downwind. We kept close to the 310 but as we turned final the PC12 said "Ah I'm too close to you guys I'm going round". This was the outcome we'd been working to avoid. Yes we had the right of way but it's nice to oblige!
On the ground I checked in with a cheerful guy and sat to wait boarding. That's where the airline struck again. You know those companies that are small minded and expect you to be a problematic customer? Well that's what this airline is like. The check in guy had checked out my knapsack and said "no worries". When I got to the aircraft the flight attendant aggressively demanded that I relinquish it as "there's no show it'll fit". I wasn't the least concerned about the prospect but she decided that I was going to be concerned and became increasingly aggressive without pausing to think that I was actually holding my knapsack out for her to take - as she had requested.
The first officer looked stressed and refused to make eye contact with anyone. This was a company that thought it's customers were going to be troublesome and probably reaped what they sowed.
A short flight and then we had to suffer the same negative treatment at the hands of the airline's contract security screeners. Every single computer cable had to be unpacked from my road warrior kit. Never in 20 years of travel had this happened before but this closed faced mob hadn't the faith in their own skills to read the X-Ray image. Instead each passenger in turn found their hand baggage screened 2, 3 or in my case 4 times...meanwhile the queue grew.
Finally I was spat out by the airline like a bitter pip. I think both the airline and I were pleased to see the back of each other.
This is where the good part of the journey began. The driver of the Skybus was a one-man customer service champion. He worked to shorten the queue, he kept everyone informed on the progress, helped them understand why it was so busy, coached people about the challenges they might face on a return journey later in the weekend and how to avoid holdups. Well done bus driver.
So "escape" from Cootamundra was achieved, even though it is a great little town, I wanted to be home for the weekend.

Footnote: The TAIC has finally released the accident report that I have blogged about. I'll get some time to read it in full this weekend and then I'll let you have my review ;-)

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