Saturday, 1 February 2014

Queenstown and the flying bicycles.

Turning up to an airline check-in counter with a couple of bicycles is one of those experiences which seemed like a good idea when we planned it, but really fell apart in the execution - what a hassle!

Maybe it wouldn't have been so bad if we hadn't had far too much luggage to begin with, but David is incapable of travelling light. We once went half way round the world with a kiddies ride-on-tractor, complete with separate trailer section, purchased on a whim from a roadside stall in Holland for our then 3 year old son. He would ride it up to airline check-in counters much to the amusement of other travellers.


We did not fly our bikes to New Zealand on a whim.  We had done our homework. We arranged extra baggage allowances with the airline, purchased a bike bag carrier for one bike and an airline bike box for the other (we couldn't get a second bag). We had even driven out to the airport the day before our flight, partially dismantled and packed up the bikes and stored them at the left luggage counter. Between the cost of the baggage allowance, petrol, road tolls, airport parking and left luggage fees the whole exercise cost us a small fortune but we felt prepared for any contingency.

With the help of our- 'he still lives at home and we love him for it' - son, we arrived at the airport early, collected the bikes and moved our small mountain of luggage to the check-in queue.  Navigating the queue was a challenge. When our turn at the counter came we breathed a sigh of relief.  Sandy, the check-in girl, was a saint. She knew there was trouble but she didn't blink an eyelid.  (Just a heads-up here guys - we think Virgin Australia is just great - friendliness and helpfulness are their middle names but we are unlucky to the point of it being just weird when we fly with them. If you see us on the same flight as you - panic! - you can be sure something will go wrong.)

The plane was overloaded - something to do with having to use the short runway at Queenstown. No more passengers would be allowed to check-in without the Captain giving the go-ahead. I think Sandy rang her supervisor before we even reached the counter.  Perhaps she realised that to be off-loaded from the flight with two large suitcases, two bikes and a car bike carrier would have just been too much to bear.  She couldn't check us in but at least we were first in the stand-by queue.  We offered to leave the bikes behind - they could come on a later flight - we were staying five minutes from the airport and could come back and pick them up tomorrow - flying with bikes was a really stupid idea in the first place! It turns out airlines don't like separating passengers and luggage - well not deliberately anyway. It was us and the bikes or nothing.

"Please wait over there" - Sandy said.

"Over there - I can't" -  David had gone off to investigate alternative flights and I couldn't move two bikes, two large bags, a backpack, two laptops and a car bike carrier by myself - some things are just not possible.

'Sandy the Saint' was still unfazed - "It's fine - move over there when you can - I'll keep you informed"- and she did. Not only did she get us on the flight but she helped us move the bikes to the oversize luggage counter.  Thank you Sandy.

Our travails were far from over. We arrived in Queenstown to discover that despite as many as twenty bikes an hour coming through the airport the barriers lining the quarantine queue to which all sporting equipment is directed are too narrow for a bike box - let alone two.  And it was raining - hard. It took three frantic phone calls to the rental car company before they finally appeared with our shuttle to their depot - but with only one exception everyone we met on our journey was helpful, friendly and pleasant - what more can a traveller ask for.

Will we fly with our bikes again? Reluctantly - yes - we have already booked to take them to Nth America later in the year. Queenstown was a trial run. Wish us luck!


Our bikes in Queenstown - finally!

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