Sunday, April 3, 2011

At the Last Minute. (Or Three.)

Back in January, Juleigh and I decided to plan a trip to Fiji. We anticipated needing a break from school, the feeling of living in a fishbowl, and giant yams, and so we organized a trip that would happen during our one week school break in April. (Well, technically, it’s only my one week school break. Juleigh’s school, 10 days before break, decided to delay it by two weeks, but, as she had already made travel arrangements, she passed off her lesson plans to a teacher and left anyway.)

We booked tickets on the first flight of the morning from Ha’apai to Tongatapu, knowing that, in Tonga, there is a high probability of things going wrong, and this would give us some room to work with before our afternoon flight to Fiji.

Saturday night, we were printing off our tickets, when we realized the inter-island airline didn’t issue a ticket or confirmation to me. Juleigh had one, but I didn’t. Oh, no.

Juleigh had purchased both tickets in separate transactions, with separate credit cards, back in March, and she emailed one confirmation to herself and one to my email. Since I don’t check my email more than once every few weeks, we didn’t realize that I hadn’t received a confirmation email until 48 hours before the flight. Even better, this was a weekend, when no one is working. “Well,” we thought, “we’ll just take my bank statement to prove I got charged for the ticket, and that’s all we can do.”

We woke up before the sun on Monday and went to the airport, where the only workers were baggage handlers lying on tables listening to island remixes of Akon. So we waited.

When finally the woman who wheels and deals in the airport arrived, we explained the situation, but she said we would have to wait until the Tongatapu office opened at 8:30 for them to approve our situation. Unfortunately, the plane was leaving at 7:50, and it turned out that there wasn’t another plane that arrived to Tongatapu before our Fiji flight left. We needed to get on this 7:50 plane.

The flight was booked – all 8 seats, and only one seat for the two of us. We decided our only chance was to convince someone to take the later flight. The people traveling that morning were: 5 Mormon missionaries just going to the capital for a day for a meeting, a palangi making a connecting flight, and one of us. But there was another passenger. Where was he?

Eventually we realized he was outside. The airport woman approached him, explained the situation, while Juleigh and I looked pitiful. I attempted to build camaraderie by speaking to him in Tongan, to which he replied in a perfect New Zealand accent, “Yeah, maybe I can just call in sick today.” We gave him 50 pa’anga ($30 USD) in thanks and took his boarding pass.

Three minutes before the flight was supposed to leave, we both had our tickets we had booked weeks in advance.

Upon arriving at the airport in Tongatapu, we worked to see what happened in the first place and also confirm our tickets back to Ha’apai. Though we can’t know for sure, this is what we suspect happened:

Juleigh bought her ticket on her dad’s credit card, but the bank saw the transaction and thought it might be fraud, so they didn’t approve it right away. The bank called Juleigh’s dad within minutes and got the transaction approved.

Five minutes after booking her own, Juleigh booked my ticket with my credit card. My credit card did approve the transaction (but I also got an email saying the bank suspects fraud…), but with some fowl-up with the airline’s computer system, my booking confirmation (that always begins with the passenger’s last name) was given to Juleigh, and none was issued for me.

We’re at the airport in Tongatapu now, waiting for the flight to Fiji. With things like the problem this morning happening all the time, we keep telling each other we won’t get excited until we’re taking off for Fiji, lest we get our hopes up only to have some freak cyclone come by. Or the airport workers strike. Or there’s no more fuel in Tonga. Or there’s a funeral on the tarmac. Or a wing falls off the airplane.

They say, in Tonga, things get done, but only at the last minute. Thankfully, it did work out, but why, this morning, did we have to wait until the last three minutes?

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