In-Flight (Almost No-Flight) Entertainment
by Fiona Crawford - September 14th, 2010
This blog comes to you a little late and from halfway around the world. I’m in South America, despite the, er, best efforts of the Brazilian Consulate-General. It appears that the BCG has a policy of not acknowledging whether they’ve received your visa application and passport, not telling you where your visa application is at, and not telling you if or when they post it. Seriously.
I’d spent the Friday morning on the phone to both my travel agent and travel insurers establishing that although it wasn’t my fault the visa hadn’t arrived in time, I wasn’t covered for such an issue and would be required to cough up some serious moolah to change my flights. The BCG then called at 1pm to say they had a visa for me but couldn’t post it as, clearly, it wouldn’t arrive before my Sunday morning departure. Oh, and they couldn’t give me the media visa that I needed but had issued something temporary that explicitly said ‘not for work’ and that appeared to cost the same amount as a media visa.
Suffice to say that, having been trying to contact them for over a week by phone and email without receiving anything except automated we-won’t-tell-you-anything messages, I said something along the lines of ‘What good is it calling me at 1pm from an entirely different city on the last business day before I leave?’ With perhaps a couple of not-so-polite words thrown in.
Their response was a presumptuous, snooty, ‘Don’t you know anyone in Sydney who can drive in to the middle of the city at a moment’s notice to collect a visa and passport?’ And yes, the irony that they wouldn’t tell me anything over the phone or email about my application’s status, but were more than willing to hand my passport and visa over to a random stranger wasn’t lost on me.
Fortunately, through the incredible power of friends and Facebook, I managed to contact a friend who was driving back to Sydney from Canberra and who had a half-hour window to collect them. I then found another friend who was in Sydney at a conference and couriered the passport and visa to him as he was flying back to Brisbane on the last flight out of Sydney on the Saturday night. Receiving them at 10.30pm on the Saturday night for a 9am departure on Sunday was undoubtedly going to be cutting it fine, but my only other option was to fly to Sydney myself to collect them, and as I had other commitments not even in Brisbane right up until I left, I didn’t have time.
Of course, the story wouldn’t be replete without a final twist. There was a loud bang on my friend’s plane that resulted in it being turned back to Sydney. The airline had to find another plane, unload and reload baggage, and ignore the Sydney flying curfew to arrive in Brisbane after midnight. Cold sweat? Heck yes. But the relief when I got that little book and its accompanying piece of paper? Priceless.
The reason I tell this story is that it’s times like this, when you’re thwarted by bureaucracy and bizarreness, that there’s nothing quite like the salvation of retreating into the world of a good book. The urge to turn off the phone and intermanet, pull the covers up, and crack the spine of one of the many, many books piled up on my mantle was enormous. In fact, what kept me together and even laughing for most of the ordeal was the knowledge that once I got onto the plane, I had nothing but about 15 hours of uninterrupted reading time.
My book of choice was something I’d agonised over almost as much as the visa—I’d had to pare back my pile of books to take overseas from 31 to just two. I’d then had to nominate one to take on board and one to stow in my luggage, which required almost as much effort again. In the end for in-flight reading I opted for the tale of the USA presidential candidate, Race of a Lifetime: How Obama Won the White House. It’s by the esteemed John Heilemann and Mark Halperin of New York magazine and Time respectively, two journalists who could hardly be more experienced or better placed to capture and interpret the events of the past few years.
My stow-away book was Ian Brown’s The Boy In The Moon, which I’ve discussed previously on this blog. The reason that finally swayed me towards Race of a Lifetime over The Boy in the Moon was simply because I think the latter is going to make me cry and no one wants to sob in public for 15 hours straight. I’m over halfway through the Obama book and can safely say it’s fabulous and was a fabulous choice for in-flight entertainment. Full review soon to follow.