We hope you’ve enjoyed your extended stay in Java, courtesy of Lion Air.
1:00pm. Febby and I leave Salatiga and are chauffeured to the airport in Semarang by our favorite exchange coordinators. The drive takes approximately one point five hours and includes a stop for snacks. Let’s hear it for snacks. Sufficiently stocked for the all-night plane ride to Papua, we are dropped by the curb at the airport. Tearful goodbyes behind us, we enter the airport. Inside security, we stand in the check-in line behind one unidentified traveler in a line marked Lion Air: Jakarta. Fifteen minutes later, someone who probably has a name but who we will here refer to as Man Number One, greets us at the counter. Me: hi, two for Papua, please. Man Number One: ooooh. About that…
3:00pm. Our flight is overbooked. We are given no options, cleverly disguised as three options. Number one: get a full refund (impractical. We actually do need to get to Papua). Number two: fly there at the same time the following day. Number three: have Lion Air put us on a different airline and go that evening, as scheduled (except, oops, everyone else is full too). After giving our choice of going the next day or not going ever some careful consideration, I agree to fly the next day. Febby and I speak with two different people in Salatiga. One says, come back and stay with us. The other says, who do they think they are? No, you’re going to Papua tonight, tell them whatever you have to tell them to get you on a plane.
Turn back to Man Number One: Just kidding about going tomorrow. I just got off the phone with my office, and I have a terribly important meeting in the morning. I absolutely have to be there. It would be helpful if I actually knew the words for “terribly” or “absolutely.” I could put something together along the lines of “life or death situation,” but I don’t have enough time to fully develop my story. If only I’d known to plan ahead, it could have been so good.
3:15pm. In the Lion Air office – a cramped, cold and smoky room filled mostly with a desk and a large couch. There is not enough room for my backpack which trips just about every person who walks in the door over the course of our stay. When asked about his plan for getting us to Papua in time for this incredibly important meeting, Man Number One explains what time each airline will be leaving for Jakarta, and that we have very little chance of getting on any of those flights. We are again instructed by our people to wait, and to be demanding. And if we don’t make it to this completely fictional meeting? Oh, we at Lion Air would be more than happy to write a letter of apology to your office. Oh really? I hope you do, I’d love to see that.
7:00pm. Clearly we are not getting on a plane anytime in the near future. We watch crowds come and go at each check-in counter. Man Number One disappears for up to an hour at a time. There’s now a Man Number Two, who carries our itinerary, walking briskly back and forth in front of the floor to ceiling windows we are facing. So now you’ll pay for our taxi to Salatiga so we can spend the night there. Then you’ll pay for a car to bring us back tomorrow. Oh, no ma’am. No, Salatiga is too far. We’ll put you up in a hotel here in Semarang. Only the best, of course. Semarang? No, no. I don’t think so. Oh, but that is where we are taking you now.
Men Numbers One and Two put us in a taxi, and follow, in the rain, on a motorcycle. They check us into a hotel, instruct us to bring them any receipts we have with us to the airport the following afternoon. In the room, we eat noodles, drink hot chocolate and watch Hitch – three things guaranteed to make you feel at least a little better in any frustrating travel situation.
7:00am. Text from Erika: On my way, be there in two hours. Erika is awarded one thousand friend points. Boston and Cornrad: negative one thousand points each for not coming to visit. Seto: negative two hundred points (friend points calculated based on mileage).
10:00am. Discover that the mystery door in our hotel room opens to an adjacent garage. What?
11:00am. Find a McDonald’s. I need a cheeseburger, and there aren’t any in Papua.
1:30pm. Return to airport. Successfully check in for flight number one. Receive boarding passes to Jakarta. Successfully get reimbursed for all costs incurred. Study German with Erika at Dunkin Donuts until boarding time.
5:00pm. Arrive in Jakarta. Travel time thus far: 28 hours. Still on Java.
Walk to transfers desk. Wait in line for forty-five minutes. Hand boarding passes to Man Number Three. Boarding passes have been ripped upon boarding plane in Semarang and now os, Anne is what he has to go from in looking up my information. Man Number Three sends us to a special line for people who need help. Everyone in line behind us is now crowded around us, pushing us against the counter. It’s as if they don’t understand that if they do that, I can’t move out of their way. One shoulder strap on my carry-on breaks off completely. I am tempted to punch an older woman in the face. Calm down, I don’t actually do it.
New line. Forty-five minutes of watching the chaos and disorganization behind the transfers desk. Pass the time thinking about how much better this airline would be if I was in charge. Man Number Four: do you have your itinerary? No, Man Number Two kept it last night. We had a problem in Semarang, didn’t they tell you? No, of course they didn’t.
6:30pm. Maybe we’re not meant to go to Papua?
6:45pm. Sit down to dinner at the Jakarta airport. Currently in possession of boarding passes to Makassar, which, for those of you keeping score at home, is not in Papua. Read about Mennonites and wait for our flight.
11:00pm. Arrive in Makassar. Go to the transfers desk. Second boarding passes also have no useful information on them, having been torn in half. Cannot check in for our flight. Explain there was a problem in Semarang. Sent downstairs. No one is at the check-in counter. Go to Lion Air office. Woman Number One looks up our information, gets on the phone. This can’t be a good sign. Sends us upstairs. We’ve already been upstairs. Just go upstairs. Upstairs we’re given boarding passes. The boarding time has been blacked out. The flight number has been crossed out and re-written. Check the departures boards. The next posted Lion Air flight to Papua leaves at 9:00am. We’re supposed to leave at 2:00am, but can’t say for sure, because our itinerary is with Man Number Two, in Semarang.
We wait. Monday turns into Tuesday. I reflect on lessons learned: don’t be the last people to check in for a flight. Carry two copies of your itinerary. Don’t fly on Lion Air.
2:30am. Our flight does exist. We get on it. I sleep for at least an hour. We know people on this flight. Our bags arrive at our destination at the same time that we do. I’m so happy, I almost forget that Man Number One never wrote me the apology letter he promised me.
8:00am. Arrive at home, sleep for two days straight.