Lessons from the Airport

18 November 2012. Filed under category Nomad.

Stand-By Visa Issues

Stand-By Me

Stand-By Me

“You do not need an Australian visa if you are transferring flights.”

That is what my airline patron said. That is what the airline agent who booked my ticket told me. That is what the Australian Government website said.

My gut said differently. My gut said, “Double check this, and then triple check it.” And there, hidden deep in the basement of the Australian Border Guard’s website, as a footnote of the fine print, it said that stand-by travellers did need a VISA.

Lesson 1: Always double-check the VISA requirements of any country you are going to or travelling through. Do not assume that you can transfer through a country without a visa. And don’t take anybody’s word for the visa requirements. Check the country’s government sites!

Lesson 2: If you fly stand-by, you need to triple check that there aren’t special rules for you!

Express Visas

Don't let despair stand in your way!

Don’t let despair stand in your way!

My plane was leaving in 18 hours. To get a transfer visa I had to print out a form, fill it out, send it to the embassy, wait for acceptance via snail mail and then I was ready to go!

I despaired. I was not going to be able to take my flight. I had only a few more days left on my US visa. Where was I going to go? Damn it, damn it and damn it again!

I told myself that I could cry about spilled milk later. Right now, I had to get creative. Was there really no way to get this transfer visa quicker?

No, there wasn’t. But an ordinary Australian tourist visa for Swedish travellers is a quick electronic form, and is auto approved unless you’ve been to Afghan training camps or had similar past times.

Lesson 3: Don’t give up! Despair can quickly dull your mind and stop you from finding your way to a solution.

The Ambassador of Narnia

Forest critter or the Narnian ambassador?

Forest critter or the Narnian ambassador? (I know, long shot…)

“No sir, your bags can’t be checked through to New Zealand. You travel stand-by, and you may not make the second flight. So you will have to go through customs in Australia, pick up your bag, check it back in and then go through security.”

Two hours. I had to do all of that in two tiny little hours! Well, with a massive amount of luck, I might make it.

The line to customs was so long that it spilled out into the corridor leading into the customs hall. I estimated it to take at least two hours to get through.

I pushed back the despair (learn from your lessons!) and looked for another option. I saw the customs line for diplomats. It was empty. “Fuck it,” I thought to myself and ran up to the desk. “I’m about to miss my flight,” I said. “I can’t wait in that line.”

The passport controller nodded, stamped my passport and let me through. That was it! I didn’t even have to use my “I’m the ambassador of Narnia” gag.

Lesson 4: Be brazen and see what you can get away with. Often the worst that can happen is that you are turned down, which is nothing to fear.

Abandon Your Baggage

If in a hurry, abandon your baggage!

If in a hurry, abandon your baggage!

The clock was ticking and my bag just wasn’t showing up. I had to get it in time to check it in and get through security, all in time to find my gate on get on my flight.

Tick tock. Tick tock. Tickety-tockety.

It was clear that I was going to miss my flight, unless… Time for another unconventional move on my jagged journey to New Zealand. So, on the advice of a member of airport staff, I abandoned my bags, walked up to the ambassador customs gate, talked my way back into the secure zone (!) and caught my flight.

Before leaving the New Zealand airport, I filed a missing bag report. The next day, the bags were delivered to my door.

Lesson 5: If in trouble, ask a member of staff. They know the system better than you do!

Lesson 6: Always make sure that you have enough stuff in your carry-on to keep you going for a couple of days. You never know when you might lose your bags.

Lesson 7: Seriously, grow some brass balls (or ovaries) and never give up!

Stand By Me

All images in this post come from Stand By Me, one of those defining movies of my childhood. Four boys set out on a quest to find a dead body. This post was about perseverance through hardships, and the movie has a similar theme, as well as being a really good coming-of-age movie. Warmly recommended!

Travel Updates

I’ve lived in Auckland for two weeks with my dear friends Mike, Bex and their two kids, Ben (5 years) and  Charlie (16 months). I’ve mostly been catching up with work, something that was sorely needed after Hawaii.


What is your most hard-earned airport lesson?

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  1. PDragon says:

    Awesome post and a story definitely worthy of a modern nomad.

    And for once you aren’t using sexual favours!? LOL

    I guess that is lesson 8? 😀

  2. Craig Brown says:

    Ah, yes, few lessons better learned than through a bit of pain.

    Dear Gustav’s Readers,
    When I proposed that I may be able to help get him to New Zealand, where my airline doesn’t fly, I told him I would also be traveling in uncharted territory myself. This could be tricky. With his usualy gratitude (and no sexual favors required Mr. PDragon!), he did ask me my best guess if the plan could actually work. I told him that we would know for sure when he touched down in Auckland. He seemed to like that answer. Right. Things always seem easier when igornant of the trials before you.
    I have to give Gustav great credit. On the day when he experienced the heinous troubles with his VISA, I was home and he knew it. He could have called, as most of my travelers would. Instead, he wrestled with the problem himself and never troubled my quiet mind until it was resolved. Good job.

    Of course, I learned things here too, as I knew I would. There were some boring things about the kind of ticket he flew on. But the major lesson for me was about the VISA. Luckily for Gustav, it’s even better for traveling to be a Swede than an American. Americans have ruffled a few feathers.

    Lessons 5 and 6 are vital lessons for all travelers everywhere. Apply them!
    Lesson 3 just applies to your life. Any life.
    Lesson 4…ahem…Gustav, just don’t get me into trouble!! Supposedly, I’m responsible for you while flying :-o. As in the “buck stops here.” If worse comes to worse, just melt them with your smile, as only you can do.

    Not to play one upsmanship, but I do have one story more harrowing which I’ll share on my own blog. Hint: it involves firearms, an xray machine, police, and ME. I almost never would have met Gustav or any of you.

    1. Rich says:

      I had a thought while re-telling this blog post story to someone, that I’m just gonna put out there for comment…

      Gustav – in most places I’ve travelled, that “Ambassadors” line is “diplomatic staff, and crew”. I’m assuming that was the case here.

      Craig – from how you and Gustav have described the tickets he flies on, it shows to anyone paying brief attention to the ticket as a crew ticket, as opposed to “someone travelling in special circumstances because they happen to know someone in the crew”. I’m assuming that this is true too…

      Give both of those assumptions, it may have looked to the passport check person that Gustav was actually entitled to use that queue. If I’m right here, this is a new trick for you G! 🙂

      1. Craig Brown says:

        Alas, no, Rich. I am only entitled to use the “crew/diplomatic” line when I am working. When I, the employee himself, travels internationally for leisure, I’m just one of the pack. I usually don’t even have a ticket to show the immigration officer. I has a kind of “presumed” itinerary printed out to show if they ask, just to be sure. New Zealand was a different class of ticket and something more substantial. I have no idea if he used it. Why use it when he can just flash that smile?! ;-))

        1. Rich says:

          Heh, fair enough, was worth a thought 🙂

      2. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

        You know what, the queue probably did say ‘diplomats’ rather than ‘ambassadors’. Thanks for the correction!

  3. DM says:

    Chancing your arm can really pay off. Good for you Gustav!

  4. brother Henrik says:

    Ive learnd to never trust our father instead double check what he saids about departur time how long time it will take to the airport and so on 😉

  5. Ameressence says:

    We are Candice and Fede, a French writer and an Argentinian photographer. We are getting in touch with you because we are working on a very interesting project called Ameressence.

    Ameressence is an artistic project that combines short stories and photographs to depict the cultural diversity on the American continent and to create a bond between its people. Human beings often tend to differentiate themselves from the ”other” (based on criteria like race, religion, culture, language or social class) and they forget how similar and close we actually are from each other. But are the concerns, aspirations and dreams of a Chilean or Ecuadorian really that different from the ones of a Canadian or Alaskan?

    We are running the project in Kickstarter: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/380391897/ameressence-sketches-of-the-american-continent



  6. I also fly standby courtesy of my daughter, who would be aghast at lesson #4. If I did ANYTHING even close to brazen, I fear my G2 parental flying rights would be quickly rescinded, no questions asked. By my flight attendant daughter.

What is your most hard-earned airport lesson?

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