Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Travel Tips for those getting home from extreme Weather Affected Regions

The first and most important tip is don't expect anything to go your way. If you expect the worst, then you probably won't be disappointed and will manage difficult situations better.

The second tip is don't let your frustrations get the better of you. Getting angry only really wears you down more, and people are more likely to be responsive and helpful if you are calm and polite.

The third tip is try to laugh and keep your spirits high. It is easy to get stressed and upset, though the situation is really out of your control so not your fault. High stress levels are a serious health hazard and will also affect one's judgement, thought processes and energy levels, all of which will be needed in good supply during these types of extreme situations.

Extreme Queensland Floods: This is already becoming an iconic image of this year's disaster, courtesy of 7news

Case Study:

Travelling Virgin Australia from Gold Coast, Queensland to Melbourne, Victoria while Tropical Cyclone Oswald makes its way down the length of Queensland.

I was due to fly back from Gold Coast, Coolangatta Airport on Sunday 27th January, but a major cyclone blew into the region in the south east of Queensland sometime on Friday and by Sunday there was plenty of rain affecting the whole area. We'd seen and heard on the news of flooding to the north, where the cyclone was coming from and were on edge as to whether we would be able to fly home that day. However, it was still a bit disappointing when the call finally came to us from Virgin Australia that our flight had been cancelled (when I say we, there were a lot of families in the group I was with and many worked together to try and help each other out).

At this point contingency plans start to be looked at. So, was it possible to transfer to the bigger neighbouring airport at Brisbane, or was it possible to hire a car and drive, or would it be necessary to sit tight in a hotel and wait for the storm to pass? As the drive home involved 2 full days of driving, and no one wanted to stay any longer than necessary, the plan was to transfer the booking to Brisbane. A phone call from one of our group to her son in Melbourne had him waiting on the line to the Virgin call centre (no doubt everybody else affected had the same idea, as he was on hold for the best part of an hour) and eventually he managed to get a big group of us booked on to a flight leaving Brisbane on the 27th at 7pm. We were told we would have to make our own way to Brisbane, though in fact we later found out that buses were shuttling passengers from Coolangatta to Brisbane and we could have done this. Instead we all jumped on train and paid out for the 1 hour 45 minute journey to Brisbane Airport.

The train journey took us through flood ravaged areas, and didn't inspire hope of getting away. At Brisbane Airport, we were greeted with high winds, lashing rains and long queues. We waited for about 2 and a half hours for a flight which was delayed from 7pm to 8pm. We were boarded sometime near 9pm though it still seemed unbelievable that we would take off. The plane was rocking in the high winds while stationary so I personally was somewhat worried about how the plane would fare during take off. Then came some particularly poor customer service actions by Virgin Australia staff.

1. Pilot informs us that he has flown too many hours and will need to be replaced. This causes us to wait another half hour on the plane.
2. New pilot introduces himself and complains that he was dragged away from the TV where he was watching the Australian Open Tennis Final. He also informs us that the cabin supervisor changed flights and we have to wait for another cabin supervisor.
3. Another 20 minutes passes before we're told that the flight we're sat on has been cancelled as no more staff can be found. No apology offered, but we are told to pick up our bags, go home and call the Virgin helpline to get a new flight!
4. Staff back in the airport just repeat the message already told to us, and offer no further advice.

So we have no choice but to stay another night in Queensland, though we are told that Virgin will recompense us for our hotel bills (we will see!). Thank heavens for 21st Century technology, as smart phones, tablets and laptops were all immediately put to use to find a place to stay and we all managed to get in the same hotel (14 of us). By this time we were tired and despondent and it didn't really help the nerves when the hotel's electricity cut out soon after we arrived. I think it was a difficult night's sleep for many in the group who were worrying about how the following day would go, but I managed to sleep ok for maybe 6 hours. The next morning it was back to the phones, though my plan was to go straight to Brisbane Airport to try to sort things out at the Virgin service desk. This is eventually what I did, though others in the group had managed to reschedule flights, though they decided to leave Brisbane early and fly home via Sydney. En route to the airport, more signs of devastation became apparent with trees blown down and major flooding. At this point I think most of us had to admit our frustration the night before at being stranded in Brisbane had been wrong, and perhaps we were lucky that the plane hadn't tried to take off in the terrible conditions.

The scene outside my hotel after a night stranded in Brisbane
Back at Brisbane Airport, at the service desk I was able to smile and act friendly and I was soon placed on a flight direct to Melbourne at 4.55pm. I dropped off my bag, got my boarding pass and went through the security to the departure lounge for the long wait for my flight. At this point all of the group were splitting up. Half were off to Sydney, while half of us were going on later flights direct to Melbourne. We started to laugh about our situation and likened things to the TV show, The Amazing Race. (Today, I received an email looking at our situation from exactly this perspective. It's pretty funny, but especially for those who were there). All our flights were delayed, as were most of the flights that day, but we all managed to get off and all of us got back to Melbourne that evening.There were some doubts going through my mind until the plane was actually speeding down the runway and I'm sure that the others had the same doubts.

Due to the chaos of the day, my bag had been left in Brisbane, while another family had their luggage left in Sydney but they were all luckily returned to us today. It has been a nightmare travel experience for all of us but the worst we had to endure was some discomfort, some stress and disappointment and an extra night away from home. The real sufferers are those who are having to live through the floods in areas of Queensland and New South Wales and my heart goes out to those people affected by it. The images shown on the news have been truly frightening, and even that which I witnessed personally were pretty scary.

I'll leave you with a before and during image. Last Tuesday, I'd been walking around the Gold Coast having a beautiful day out. Just a few days later the storm came in, completely changing the surroundings.

Burleigh Heads beach on a typical summer's day (22nd January 2013)

The same beach on 28th January 2013, as reported on 7news

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