CP14 Recce D1

I should explain the title –

CP14 is Camino Portuguese 2014.

Recce is a reconnaissance. My wife Jennifer and I are doing a recce in preparation for the start of our tour in a week. This will be our third and final recce.

D1 is Day 1 of the recce.

We arrived in Santiago late yesterday, after one hell of a trip. I travel a lot, and this last trip would have to go down as the worst.

The plan was to fly Etihad from Sydney to Paris then connect with a Vuelig flight to Santiago. We would have a two and a half hour layover at Charles de Gaulle airport before the flight to SCQ – plenty of time to collect our bags (we couldn’t check them all the way through) then make our way over to the other terminal where the Vuelig flight would leave.

I’ve done this quite a few times before, not a problem.

(I should note here that we in the travel industry shorten Santiago de Compostela to SCQ. And Paris Charles de Gaulle is CDG. I will bedazzle you in the coming weeks with my use of travel jargon.)

I’ve flown Etihad before, and they’re recognised by business travellers as one of the top airlines in the world. And our flight from Sydney to Abu Dhabi could not have been more pleasant.

But when we got to the transit lounge at AUH, (that’s Abu Dhabi to we travel insiders), I noticed on the Departures board that the connecting flight to CDG had been delayed two hours.

Two hours.

Two hours would mean we’d miss our onward flight to Santiago. Ooooops, I mean SCQ.

On the next sector (that too is travel lingo), I spoke to the Cabin Manager who told me that the delay had not been caused because of a malfunction with the aircraft – Etihad had decided to wait two hours to pick up a tour group of 35 passengers connecting on a late flight from Vietnam.

In other words, this two hour delay was totally discretionary on Etihad’s part. Presumably they were doing it to save money, so they didn’t have to put these people up in a hotel.

But by the end of my travel day, this delay would cost me more than $1000.

The Cabin Manager was very nice, particularly after I’d given him one of my newly minted business cards stating that I was a tour operator. He assured me that we would be met by one of his senior Ground Staff Guest Services agents, and everything would be ok.

I couldn’t see how everything would be ok. The estimated arrival time had been put back to 9:15am, and our flight to Santiago was due to depart at 9:25am. We’d have to collect our bags then go from Terminal 2 to Terminal 3 and check in our bags on the new flight.

It wasn’t humanly possible to catch that flight.

The Etihad flight landed at 9:15am as predicted. And standing outside the aircraft, when we disembarked, was Etihad’s Guest Services Manager. He was a tall imposing Arabian man holding a clipboard imperiously, and I immediately thought of a palace guard with a scimitar. I suspected he was probably a eunuch too.

He was not a Guest Services Manager. Nor was he a de-balled Palace Guard.

He was an Etihad Troll.

His job was to deflect everything, deny all responsibility, and to make those who had just flown (and waited) more than twenty six hours as belittled and as powerless as possible.

And he did his job magnificently.

He Immediately told me that because the Vuelig flight was not a co-share with Etihad, (co-share being another travel term that I throw in here casually, as if I use this language all the time…) there was nothing the airline could do. That’s it.

I argued, talked about the airline’s responsibility, about it’s discretionary delay, I gave him my newly minted business card, but none of it worked. He raised his scimitar, I mean his clipboard, in a final act of dismissal, and I knew I would never get any joy from this man.

I wished him well, hoped he would sire many children, and we made our way to Terminal Three. By the time we got there it was 10:20am – almost an hour after the flight had gone.

The next flight to Santiago was same time next day. If we wanted to get that flight, we’d have to overnight in Paris. It would throw our recce schedule out the window. Plus we’d be up for accommodation in Paris, which I’m sure Etihad would not pick up.

I asked the lady on Information at T3 (here’s some more travel lingo for you) if there were any other flights to northern Spain – A Coruna for instance, only a short distance from Santiago. But there was nothing. The only flight that went anywhere near Santiago was an Eazy Jet flight to Porto, leaving in 2 hours. And that left from T2.

It had taken us twenty minutes to get from T2 to T3, so we went back to T2. We went to the Eazy Jet desk and yes, there were two seats remaining on the flight to Portugal. The last two seats. And they were €240 each.

The original Vuelig flights had cost €79 each.

I bought the tickets and we waited at the gate. We’d been told when we bought the tickets that Eazy Jet has a strict policy of only one item of hand baggage, and it has to fit into one of those bins that they put at the gates to show you how big your bag is allowed to be.

And sure enough, there was another troll at check in, making sure that everyone had only one piece of carryon, and that it fitted in the bin.

Jennifer and I had flown from Sydney with a couple of pieces of carryon – she with a handbag and a wheelie Samsonite. Me with a wheelie Samsonite too, and a Camino bag holding my knee brace, a jacket and iPad.

This troll was unforgiving. Just like the previous troll with his clipboard like a scimitar, this troll was using his bin like the Pits of Hell. If your bag didn’t fit into that bin, then you were hurled into the Pits of Hell.

Eazy Jet’s version of hurling you into the Pits of Hell was to charge you €55 for an additional piece of hand baggage. Already I’d paid in Australian dollars nearly $700 for these fares. And do you think the troll would cut us any slack? Nope.

Jennifer stood her ground. She made a fuss. She kicked up a stink.

Jennifer is the sweetest gentlest kindest person I know, but when she gets her back up, watch out. It takes a lot to get her back up, but this troll managed to do it. And she went him like a ferocious dog.

I stood back and averted my gaze. And pretended I wasn’t travelling with her…

A young dark haired woman standing a bit apart in the line caught her eye, and gestured to her that she had plenty of room in her bag, and that she could put her handbag in her carryon.

This seemed like an elegant non-confrontational solution, even though I suspected that Jennifer was spoiling for a fight with the troll. So she put her handbag, containing her purse with all her credit cards, cash, drivers license – everything – into this woman’s bag.

As we went through check in we were told by the airline staff that the plane was now full of carryon – there was no more space – and so they would have to check our wheelie Samsonites in as freight.

Again we complained, but of course to no avail. By this time we’d been travelling more than forty hours. We were exhausted.

We boarded the flight, and then we realised what we’d done.

We’d given Jennifer’s handbag to a complete stranger. Someone standing near the line – not actually IN the line, had ingested that handbag into her bag.

We looked through the plane. The woman was not to be found. We looked at each late arriving passenger. The dark haired woman was not amongst them.

I walked over to where Jennifer was sitting. One of the last indignities of this flight was that because we were the last two seats to be sold, we were not sitting together. And no-one would move for us.

Jennifer went through everything that was in the bag. Everything was replaceable, except the credit and debit cards would have to be cancelled and reissued. And this at the start of our journey. Her credit/debit cards were linked to mine, which would mean we’d have no cards to withdraw cash or pay for our rental car or hotels.

Was this a scam, I began to wonder? An elaborate scam perpetrated at these check in gates? Taking advantage of a traveller’s exhaustion, desperation, the chaos and flurry of check in – an apparent act of kindness that could reap the thief rich rewards?

The flight was ready to depart. Still no sign of the women. Just as the airline staff went to close the doors she slipped in, walked quickly down the aisle and gave Jennifer her bag. They both laughed, and Jennifer gave her a hug.

Was it possible that our day could be any more stressful?

Yes, it was.

The rental car.

I’d pre-paid my rental car to get a good rate. Problem was, the pick-up was at Santiago airport, Spain. Not Porto airport, Portugal.

The Hertz lady, a very pleasant young woman, tried her hardest to make the computer bend to her will. She did genuinely want to help me. I think she felt sorry for me. But her computer was resolute. The voucher I’d purchased could not be switched over. Even though I hadn’t picked up the car in Santiago. Even though I hadn’t driven it. Even though I hadn’t even sat in it.

I’d pre-paid for pick up at Santiago airport, to return to Santiago city depot a week later – cost: $360. And that was that. She swiped my card – issued me new papers, and we took possession of a small Citroen.

We then had to drive 200kms to Santiago. And it was raining. No it wasn’t raining, it was deluging. It was Noah’s Ark raining.

I immediately thought of Steve and his reluctance – nay his abhorrence – of walking in the rain. I felt like taking a shot with my iPhone of the torrents of water streaming down the front windshield, and emailing it to him with the message – I bring the sunshine with me Steve. NOT. 

But I had one last issue to contend with. I’d forgotten to bring the bracket for my Garmin GPS. I was going to take the bracket off my car and put it in my carryon, but in all the hoo-ha leaving Sydney, I’d forgotten.

So Jennifer had to sit for two hours holding the Garmin up to the front windshield to get satellite reception, while I drove through pouring rain 200kms to get to Santiago.

We arrived just on dark, and do you think we could get a park?

Santiago late on a Sunday, for some reason, was packed. Was it Mother’s Day? Was there a special service on at the Cathedral? I didn’t know. But I finally found a spot about half a kilometre away from the hotel, and we trudged our luggage in the rain through the old cobblestone lanes until we arrived here, at this beautiful place.

San Bieito Hotel

Finally, after nearly 48 hours of traveling, we’d got to Santiago.

We had a quick shower and went straight to the Cathedral. I was surprised to see that the square was all but empty. I’d never seen it empty before. But it felt good to be here. Good in my bones.

Cathedral Square

Etihad’s discretionary delay had cost me probably $1200. I might get that back on travel insurance. I don’t know. But I’m just glad to be here, in this glorious city. About to start a wonderful adventure…

Cathedral Side door