Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Major Fail: Sitting Together on the Airplane

Do you prefer to sit with your kids on flights? Except for that one time when I ditched everyone and grabbed hubby's business class upgrade, I will do almost anything to get all of us together. That's why I didn't like the news as we checked in at Regional Express airline on Kangaroo Island. The kids weren't sitting with us. In fact, THE KIDS DID NOT HAVE SEATS ON OUR FLIGHT.


My youngest one is 7 years old. The oldest one is taller than me. We are way past Lap Baby stage. Of course, I had bought them seats!

I double checked the date and time to make sure I had not goofed up. "Look here!" I said as I showed them the printout of our confirmation email. There were the names of all three kids, and it clearly showed that they were supposed to be on the flight. When we changed our itinerary a few weeks earlier, hubby and I were put under one booking number, and the kids were mysteriously changed to a different one. I suppose that's when our troubles must have begun.

The agent clicked around on her computer some more. Nope, not on the flight. No parties of three either, so it wasn't a name mix-up. Unfortunately, the teeny, tiny, 36-passenger plane was completely full. 

It was the opposite of Unaccompanied Minors on airplanes. Instead, the adults had the tickets to get on and wave bye-bye to the kiddos staying behind at the airport. How much extra do you suppose airlines should charge for that?

Could we wait until the next day to fly out? No, then we'd miss our once-a-day international flight out of Adelaide back to Malaysia. Plus, Kangaroo Island doesn't exactly strike me as a place where you can drive around hoping to find last minute lodging. We'd have better luck convincing the pleasant airline counter staff to let us sleep in their homes. They were so nice and helpful that we probably could have guilt tripped them into it.

Our only real option was to take the SeaLink ferry back to the mainland and get on a bus to take us to Adelaide. Instead of a 30-minute flight, we were now looking at a 45-minute ferry ride plus more than 2 hours on the bus. And spending an unexpected $330, too! The last boat of the day departed in an hour. The drive to the wharf in Penneshaw takes 40 minutes. We didn't have time to standby at the airport and hope that 3 people would be No Shows so that our entire family could get on the flight that we had already paid for.

While hubby worked out the details of the ferry and bus with the airline staff, I ran over to the Hertz car hire counter to see if we could get back the SUV we had just returned. It was already reserved for someone else, but we could use another identical SUV for the short drive. Whatever. Fine. She'd add it on our original contract. The extra partial hour rolled it over from a 3-day to a 4-day rental. Normally, I'd be mad about the extra day, but it actually made the total cheaper.

Then came the weird part. (Yes, weirder than the fact that renting a car for 4 days costs less than for 3.) Whenever I've returned a hired car in the past, they usually hand me a printed map with the Car Return clearly marked.  Not on Kangaroo Island. The lady whipped out her iPhone and showed me a picture of a pizza joint. "Drive past the ferry building and then up the hill. You'll see Isola Pizza in a blue building on the left."

Isola Pizza -- Photo by Home Hound

I'm thinking, "I'm in a hurry. Why is she showing me a restaurant?"

She continues, "Walk down the alleyway on the left side of the building. There's a Hertz office at the back, but it will be closed. Drop your keys in the unmarked mailbox by the door."

Then, she showed me a picturesque dead-end street lined with tall trees. "This is where you leave the car. There's no sign. When you're at the pizza place, turn to the left and you'll see it. Just park it on the side of the road."

I flashed back to my kids' Dora the Explorer days. Pizza parlor! Mystery mailbox! Pretty street! Why use a map when you can simply show people picture clues on how to return a vehicle?

We loaded everything into the car, buckled in the booster seat, and set off for our new destination. Surprisingly, we got there without any problems despite our lack of GPS or iPhone coverage for Maps apps. When packing, I had taken an uncharacteristically Luddite approach to the whole navigation thing and decided to rock printed maps. How 19th century of me.

The car hire lady's picture clues turned out to be perfect, and we were able to return the car without a problem. I'm sure the credit card charge for an unreturned vehicle would be quite sizeable and not easily overlooked.

The ferry started loading a few minutes after we arrived. We boarded and staked out a claim on comfy seats with a view out the front window. I gazed longingly at the beach beside us, a known Penguin Rookery, in hopes of catching a glimpse of a wild penguin. As with many other things that day... denied!

SeaLink Ferry with Cape Jervis in the distance.

The ferry turned out to be a nice way to travel with its cushy lounge, cafe, and meat pies. The SeaLink bus picked us up right outside the Cape Jervis wharf. Even though I was now very tired, I enjoyed peering out the window to see the Australian suburbs whizzing past. We'd been on the continent for 2 weeks, but most of our time was in cities or vacation areas, so I didn't have any idea where regular folks lived. It reminded me of home (the Texas one, not the Malaysian one) with its tidy expanse of family homes, chain restaurants, grocery stores and large retailers. The kids liked that Burger King is called Hungry Jack. Thank goodness the bus driver dropped us off at our hotel! That was a touch of convenience I wasn't expecting.

After I returned to Malaysia, I contacted Regional Express through their handy online feedback form. Interestingly, "Need a Refund" was one of the choices on the pull-down menus. How often do they get that query? After a few weeks, they replied that it was a system error and that the specifics had been forwarded to their IT department. They refunded the cost of the unused flights for our entire family, even the ones for hubby and I that we voluntarily gave up figuring that they'd prefer for us to not leave our kids behind at the airport. I didn't even have to throw a fit to get what I requested. So yeah, it was a major screw up, but Regional Express did everything to remedy the situation short of kicking others off the flight and thus igniting those people's fury.

Related Post:
YouTube: Kangaroo Island Highlights
Kangaroo Island's Koala Walk
It's the Great Penguin, Charlie Brown (Hanson Bay)

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday on Budget Travelers Sandbox and Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet Mom? Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.


  1. Nerve-wracking, but an interesting experience in hindsight, no? I usually don't care for these situations when I'm in the middle of them, but those are the ones I remember. Glad you made it :)

  2. That was a nice feel good story. Sometimes inconvenient things can turn out well. Good on regional express for refunding without a hassle. How weird that the car cost less for 4 days!

  3. What a story - and oh so lucky there was another way to get back to the mainland. You got a great blog out of a bad situation and good to see an airline refunding without a fight.

  4. Oh no! That sounds like a nightmare.... glad everything worked out in the end though.

  5. Since starting our blog, I have a new attitude toward situations like this. . .I think to myself, "It will make for a good blog post!" And your story certainly proved me right on that one. Great story - well told and loved your photos.

  6. I think I would have cried. My kids are teenagers and it would really freak me out to leave them behind as I boarded a plane. I would worry the entire time that something would happen and they wouldn't get on the flight, or it would cancel. I was so relieved to read that you were able to work out alternative arrangements. And kudos to the airline for making it right. Let's pray they get that gliche in the system corrected.

  7. How lucky were you ( or the airline!) that there was an alternative way of getting back to Adelaide. Great to hear that they refunded your flights. Not the best way to finish a trip to Australia but it did give you a great blog post!

  8. What a nightmare but I hope you were able to smile about it, later. Much later and as Jenny said, it gave you a great post!

  9. oh that suckss=.... glad you still got to go though :)

  10. What an nightmare that must have been! So frustrating. Glad it all worked out in the end. Sometimes taking other methods of transit are much more relaxing and enjoyable.

  11. How nice to not have to fight for a refund! It sounds like it worked out as well as you could hope for given the circumstances, plus now you have a great adventure story to tell. Thanks for sharing.

  12. I'm so glad things worked out for all of you. That whole returning the car experience will certainly be unforgettable and so interesting. :) How refreshing to be able to get a refund painlessly. I'm not sure it would have been that easy here in the US.

  13. Refreshing to an airline that is willing to refund without a fight. Nice ground staff is definitely a bonus!

  14. Frustration! This type of stuff should not happen with modern technology!


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