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A veteran journalist's take on such diverse subjects as religion and religious violence, democracy, freedom of expression, sociology, journalism, criticism, travel, philosophy, Southeast Asia, politics,economics, and even parenthood, the supernatural, film criticism, and cooking. Please don't hesitate to participate by starting a comment thread if you have an interest in any of these subjects...or anything else, for that matter... p.write@gmail.com

Sittin’ on the dock of the bay…

Wastin’ time

One would think that with the technology and selection of communications methods we have available in the 21st Century, it would be a pretty straightforward transaction to book a ticket for someone elsewhere to fly to where you are. Perhaps it is with some carriers, but it sure as hell isn’t when you deal with Cathay Pacific Airlines.

Let me make it clear that I have long had a real affection for Cathay Pacific; as one of the best airlines that specialises in the areas to which I frequently travel and which serves a number of routes I fly regularly, I have always enjoyed their schedules, their efficiency, and their service. It was only my most recent experience with what should have been a straightforward transaction that has made me question their commitment to customer service.

My wife Yolanda needed a flight from Jakarta to Vancouver. For a number of reasons, I wanted to charge the flight to a particular credit card which I have here in Canada, but she doesn’t have with her.

No problem, right?

She goes directly to the Cathay Pacific office in downtown Jakarta, selects a flight, gets a break on the published price and books it with my credit card information. Within a day, they email her an e-ticket, a copy of which she forwards to me.

Very straightforward.

Except that the e-ticket forwarded to me showed a price that was about 15 hundred dollars more that the price quoted to Yolanda; moreover, the printed instructions included a note that no boarding pass would be issued to Yolanda in Jakarta unless she showed the local agent the actual credit card to which the bill was originally charged.

I spoke to a very helpful travel service agent who made few calls and got to the bottom of the confusion. It seemed that it would not, after all, require Yolanda to show the actual credit card that had already been billed. I could do that right here in Canada. That is, I could go to the Vancouver Cathay Pacific desk and just show them the card and the problem wouldbe solved. That of course is a simple solution if Vancouver International Airport (YVR) was Yolanda’s home, or at least ultimate destination. Unfortunately, that’s not where I live, and, as it happens, it’s not even close.

Oh, by Jakarta – Vancouver standards, even Jakarta – Hong Kong standards, Parksville, BC is pretty close to Vancouver. But to those who know Canada’s west coast, YVR itself isn’t anywhere near Vancouver. Hardcore Vancouver Islanders (among whom Parksville-dwellers are included) would argue that it isn’t even on the same continent. Be that as it may, Parksville is a small resort town 50 or more kilometres north of the thriving metropolis of Nanaimo. Nanaimo can reasonably be described as a thriving metropolis, in that is actually has a ferry terminal that connects it to mainland British Columbia; something of which Vancouver Island and the aforementioned towns are definitively not a part.

Now a ferry excursion between mainland BC and the Island is a fabulous journey. That’s assuming that one makes the journey to enjoy some of the world’s greatest scenery, the sights of bald eagles fighting over the herring churned up in the vessel’s wake, the occasional sighting of gray whales, and occasionally Orcas, dolphins chasing the bow wave….all that sort of touristy thing. It’s great! 

But, there is often a wait to get on the boat, the trip itself takes at least 90 minutes to 2 hours, assuming ideal maritime conditions, and at either end of the voyage there’s a traffic bottleneck that, while not coming close to challenging Jakarta’s daily commute, is nevertheless reminiscent thereof. That leaves the alternative of a float plane from Nanaimo Harbour to a small facility near YVR, then a shuttle to the main terminal, do the business, return by shuttle, and then return by float plane to Nanaimo, then drive back to Parksville.

So that’s what I did. Of course the float plane didn’t leave from Nanaimo immediately; it required that I pass a not unpleasant hour or so in a pub called The Lighthouse, overlooking the yacht basin and fishing docks while drinking beer from their own microbrewery.


The flight itself was as cramped as you can imagine but only took 20 minutes or so to get 5 people across the Georgia Strait. The shuttle was waiting, I found the Cathay Pacific desk with no difficulty (as I said, I’ve flown them very happily many times), and all I did was show the lovely woman my credit card. She glanced at it, typed a few keys and produced a receipt that indicated I had been charged the much lower price Yolanda had arranged in Jakarta and that Yolanda could now be issued a boarding pass at Soekarno Hatta simply by showing them her e-ticket. Don’t you need to scan my card or something? Oh no we have all the information…I just had to tell them I’d actually seen it!

Not wanting to wait 90 minutes for the next shuttle, I took a cab to the float plane facility where they had a very pleasant pub. Happy not to see our pilot occupying a barstool, and in the absence of their owning their own microbrewery, I passed a not entirely unpleasant 90 minutes or so reading and drinking Bushmill’s Irish whiskey. The crampedness(?) of the return flight was not as noticeable as the flight from Nanaimo and over just as quickly.

Back in Nanaimo, I took care of some business, visited the library, and then feeling full of energy and a new sobriety, drove back up-island to Parksville.

It wasn’t until I got home and was getting ready to retire that it suddenly occurred to me that I had spent an entire day, driven hundreds of kilometres, flown to the mainland and back, generally wasted a lot of time, and all so I could flash a credit card. Just as I was turning out the lights, I took a final look at the receipt. It was in order. You see, I had suddenly realised that I had shown the lady at the desk an entirely different piece of plastic from the one to which they had billed my wife’s ticket. Oh well.

See you soon, Yolanda! I miss you!

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