Greetings from 'down under'. I'm writing to you from Melbourne, Australia. This is my second visit to Australia. In January of 2002 I spent two weeks in Canberra. Melbourne is a lot bigger and more cosmopolitan than Canberra. There looks to be lots more to do as well.
Almost didn't make it here, though. My original itinerary had me leaving Washington on Friday evening and arriving in Melbourne on Sunday morning. Friday, however, the Washington area was feeling the effects of Hurricane Ivan (I think - there've been so many this season) - rain, high winds, etc. As I was sitting in the first class lounge waiting to board my flight for San Francisco, I heard an announcement that there would be delays due to a tornado warning.
Now, normally, I scoff at such warnings. We get them all the time (the Washington area seems to be prone to "weather hysteria") and I've NEVER even SEEN a tornado. Well, not no more! Out the windows of the lounge, we could see funnels forming around the airport. It was hard to tell how far away they were, but they were unmistakenly real-live tornadoes. (Later, I learned that the twisters had torn the roofs off of homes in Chantilly and Centreville, two towns adjacent to the airport.)
So, I go to the gate where I am supposed to board my flight and United announced that the big silver bird that was going to take me to San Fran had been diverted to Harrisburg. United offered to put me on another flight to San Francisco, however, instead of first class they were going to put me in coach. Now, losing my first class seat is a pretty big blow, but I was more concerned that I keep my first class seat on the flight from San Fran to Sydney. So I boarded the other flight, only to find that I wasn't even in Economy Plus. I was in full-fledged cattle class - in THE VERY BACK ROW to add insult to injury! I mean here I am with an $11,000 ticket and they put me in the rear with the gear? And, not even an offer of an upgrade coupon, drink coupons. Nothing.
Needless to say, yours truly is not very happy about this turn of events. However, now that I've boarded the new flight, the captain announces that we will be delayed pushing back from the gate. Our new arrival time is forecast to be 11:30 pm. Well, folks, my connection to Sydney was due to depart at 10:45. So, I called the flight attendant, explained my situation and asked if United could call ahead and have them hold the plane. Negative. Well, then will United put me up in a hotel in San Fran? Negative. The cause of the delay was weather-related. Hence, beyond United's control and not their responsibility. So, let me get this straight. I'm going to sit for five hours in coach, to miss my connection and then have to shell out for a hotel? No thanks.
So, I told the flight attendant that I wanted to de-plane. She called a customer service guy, who proceeded to try and brow beat me into staying on the plane. Now, I have two strategies in a situation like this. The first would be to get nasty as hell and bite back. The second (less often employed) is to put a big smile on my face, be bend-over-backwards polite and firmly stand my ground. Something told me Mr. Windbag would not respond to my default mode, so I just smiled as broadly as I could and insisted he let me off the plane.
I returned to the check in counter in the departure area of Dulles where a very nice woman re-booked me for the following day. The flight from San Francisco to Sydney was great. I slept most of the way. We landed around 6:30 am in Sydney. Connected for an hour flight to Melbourne. Arrived in around 9:30 am. Grabbed a cab to our hotel (a really nice Sheraton), showered, grabbed a quick bite to eat and made it in to the consulate just after lunch. No harm, no foul.
More on Melbourne itself tomorrow.