Australia – How it all went terribly wrong

In our quest to travel to every corner of the globe, the hubby and I have long been eyeing Australia as our next potential destination. But the distance and cost involved meant Australia was always bumped lower and lower on our priority list.

That is until September 2016. After 3 odd years of contemplating a visit there, we finally took the leap and applied for an Australian visit visa.

Visas. Visas. Visas.

We applied through VFS in Abu Dhabi and paid a whopping AED 600/- per person for a 1 year multiple entry visa. In contrast, our 10-year, multiple entry US visa only cost us a little over AED 500/-. The process however, was relatively fast and we had no issues getting a next-day appointment and submitting our documents at VFS.

Eventually, thanks to some follow-up due to our fast approaching travel date we managed to get our visa after only 5 working days. We were amazed at the speed with which the visa was processed seeing as we are used to VFS taking anywhere between 2-3 weeks for visa processing to some European countries that it services. With visa in hand we were ready to start planning our 2 week trip to Australia.

The Gory Details

Those of you who follow me on Instagram (And if you don’t, what are you waiting for?) may remember this post.

As promised, here are the details of the rocky start to our Great Australian Adventure. I warn you this is going to be a long post. But I did want to put this out there so that it might save at least one other person from all the hassle that we went through.

We managed to find tickets from Dubai to Melbourne with a 12h35m stop in Manila for only around AED 2,600. This was a great deal considering that most other flights for our travel dates were in the 4K+ range.

Granted, most people would think you have to be absolutely nuts to opt for a flight with a 12 hour layover. But we are not most people. The Philippines has always been on my radar as a great travel destination and we welcomed the opportunity to spend a few precious hours in yet another country on our travel wish list. The icing on the cake was that we would land in Manila on the morning of our anniversary. I was beyond excited about this and planned a day-trip from Manila airport as a surprise for the hubby. I did all my research about the place (including where we would have lunch and snacks!) and arranged a tour guide to meet us at the airport so we could get started on our mini trip as soon as we landed.

adventure

With everything in place, all we had to do was show up at the airport and catch our flight. Or so we thought.

Time is money

Now, those who know us personally will laugh out loud when I mention that the hubby and I are not exactly known for our promptness. I cannot lie. We have, in the past, missed flights (yes, multiple flights) due to our tardiness. And this was a flight from Dubai on the cusp of the Eid holidays, one of the busiest travel periods in the UAE calendar. I was determined that nothing would destroy my anniversary surprise. So we made sure to leave for Dubai International Airport extra early. In fact, we were at the airport well before the counter for our Philippine Airlines flight even opened! A definite first for our little family.

The problems begin

After waiting for a while, we finally got to the counter and the agent at the desk started to check our passports, visas and flight details. Hubster’s check was completed promptly and he was cleared, but when they started to look into my paperwork they hit some sort of a snag. We were soon told that I was not given an “OK to board” message from the Australian immigration. We brushed it off as “must be a system error” and asked them to check again. But after multiple tries, we were told that I was simply not getting the OK to Board message and that a boarding pass could not be issued for me. To make matters worse, Hubby who until that point had no issue, was also now not getting the elusive OK to Board. Mystery, much?

why
PC : Pixaby

The staff were utterly flummoxed by this turn of events and even the Airport Manager for Philippine Airlines could not seem to fix the issue. They confirmed that there was absolutely no issue with our visas and yet for some unfathomable reason we were being denied boarding. We were most unhelpfully told to approach the embassy to enquire what the issue was. Mind you this was at 7pm in a country where most embassies close at 3pm – On the eve of a 9 day holiday no less!

We were then asked to move to another counter. Once again attempts were made from multiple check-in terminals but with no positive results. We were then told to step aside and that our issue would be revisited once the other passengers had been cleared. By this time we had started to get really worried. We were getting closer and closer to the gate closing time. All around us passengers were breezing through check-in while we were left languishing on the sidelines with the very real possibility of us missing our flight. We waited patiently until the crowds thinned and once again approached the counters for help.

We tried and tried

Multiple attempts were again made by the staff, but no matter what they tried nothing seemed to work.

They tried entering our names in the system differently – No luck.

We asked to be allowed to travel to Manila. The reasoning being that since it was supposedly an Australian immigration issue we could perhaps salvage our holiday by spending it in Manila instead. Or maybe we could even sort out the immigration issue once we landed in Manila. But even this was not possible.

We asked if we could book any other one way flight and use the return leg of our existing booking. Again, this was a resounding NO.

To rub salt in the wound, we were told that our case would be treated as a No-Show (after showing up at the airport more than 3 hours before the flight!) and that we would not be entitled for any refunds on our unused tickets as they were non-refundable bookings.

The not-so-grand finale

Imagine our utter dismay when the Airport Manager finally told us it was impossible to let us board. As we stood there in disbelief, he picked up his walkie-talkie and radioed ahead that all passengers had been cleared and that the gate could be closed! I cannot even begin to describe what went through our minds and hearts at that moment. Visions of our crumbling vacation plans flashed through my mind. My special anniversary surprise was now in utter shambles. Not to mention the umpteen bookings for domestic flights and hotels that we had made in Australia. The worst part was not having any clue as to why this had happened. We were absolutely powerless to change the course of events and had no idea who was to be held responsible for this nightmare.

heartbroken
PC : Pixaby

We mournfully walked around the airport wondering what to do next. Can you even imagine what it felt like lugging our suitcases around an airport when we knew we weren’t going on that planned vacation? Because yes, at one point we considered cancelling the entire trip altogether. But with all the non-refundable bookings we had already made in Australia, this was simply not an option. We had no choice but to simply book another ticket and risk facing the same issue again. We were advised to contact Emirates airlines who might be able to check the immigration status for us before we purchased the next ticket.

A ray of hope

We approached the Emirates staff who took one look at our passports and immediately identified the problem. The reason for being denied boarding was also confirmed by the Emirates staff with a quick phone call to the immigration authorities.

hope
PC : Pixaby

And here, my lovely readers, is where I come to the crux of this long-winded rant. Apparently older Indian passports list a person’s entire name on one line under the field Given Name. However our Australian visa applications had our First, Middle and Last names under separate fields. So naturally the Immigration system flags this name mismatch, automatically assumes the worst and does not give the passenger an OK to Board message.

Root cause analysis

There was a dreadful lack of clarity and knowledge on both the Immigration side as well as from the airline. We were told that this is an issue that repeatedly crops up with passports where Given/Last names in the visas and passports do not match and that the Immigration outright denies boarding without any explanation whatsoever.

problems solutions.jpg
PC : Pixaby

Is it too much to ask for a brief message in the Immigration “system” that boarding is being denied due to a mismatched name? The airline would then know what the problem was and could take the necessary steps to correct/verify this. But instead passengers are left at the mercy of clueless airline staff and are made to endure unnecessary heartache and expense.

Which brings me to my second bone of contention. Unlike Philippine Airlines, Emirates Airlines knew exactly what needed to be done to resolve our issue. With direct flights to Australia, I can only assume they have come across this problem numerous times and knew that all it would take was a two minute phone call to sort it out. It is the airline’s responsibility to be aware of potential issues at their destinations and to be prepared for this. If the Philippine Airlines staff had been more knowledgeable or had at least attempted to contact their office in Manila for clarification, we would have been on that plane and would not have spent our anniversary eve wallowing in an airport for over 8 hours.

What we were forced to do

We eventually wound up booking new return flights to Melbourne on Qatar Airways for the following evening, this time from Maktoum airport. Needless to say we had to spend way more on tickets than we originally budgeted for. That’s kinda what happens when you book flights to Australia on the day of the flight!

We had to spend the day in Dubai (a melancholy anniversary indeed) and make our way to the airport, once again before the counter opened. Qatar Airways also faced the same issue with getting us an OK to Board message but after a few phone calls this was resolved and finally we were on our way to start our Australian Adventure.

The outcome

We are currently in the process of coordinating with Tripsta to get a full refund for our tickets. At the date of publishing this post, we are yet to receive any money. No mention has been made of compensating us for our lost time, the ruined anniversary plans, our extra night stay in Dubai and all the shuttling back and forth we had to do – not to mention the sheer anguish of seeing your best laid travel plans being blown to smithereens. Thank you Philippine Airlines. Thank you.

What is the point

My primary intention in writing this post is to spread awareness about this issue so that no one else has to endure what we went through. Had we had known beforehand, perhaps we could have relayed this information to the airline staff and we could have caught our flight after all. If you have friends who are planning a trip to Australia, I urge you to spread this information to them so that they are aware just in case things go wrong. After all, forewarned is forearmed, right?

Knowledge is power.jpg
PC : Pixaby

All said and done, we lost the first couple of days of our trip but the rest of our stay in Australia went pretty much as planned. Stay tuned for future posts about our Great Australian Adventure.

Until next time…

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50 thoughts on “Australia – How it all went terribly wrong

  1. I can’t believe they would say right in front of you that all the passengers were cleared, you’d think they would do their best to help you 😦 At least you’re making sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else and I hope you guys get your money back!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tell me about it. To this day when I think of that moment my heart sinks. The good news is we did get a full refund and we eventually did go on the trip. So all is well 🙂 Thank you so much for your kind words and your compassion 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Arghh! Sounds like a nightmare, Diya! I’ve always dreaded visa issues. You guys seemed to be pretty cool while handling all of it. I would have found it hard to stay calm. Haha! Glad to hear the rest of your trip went great! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It really was an absolute nightmare. I think a part of me was so calm because it just wouldn’t sink in that this was happening. I kept feeling like it was all a biiiiig misunderstanding and would get cleared up in no time.

      Once they confirmed we wouldn’t be boarded, our next focus was on finding a solution. So no, we really didn’t have time to give in to histronics 🙂 I think we just chose to focus on the way out rather than give in to our emotions (and trust me there were a lot of them! :D)

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Lana dear. It was definitely not one of our best travel experiences. But thankfully everything worked out well in the long run 🙂 How are you doing? And how is your little one? Good to see you back on the blogosphere 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh my! What a nightmare! So sorry you had to go through that. Especially since it could have been avoided had the original airline been up to date with possible mishaps. So glad you were able to get on with your vacation and had a wonderful time. I am keeping my fingers crossed that you are reimbursed for all of your lost flights, time and money.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you my dear Ginny. I just hope that our experience will prevent someone else from having to go through the same thing.

      And as an update, since this post we have been reimbursed for the tickets. #PhilippineAirlines has not offered any other compensation for all our lost time and effort.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks bunches dear Vanny! 🙂 It was a really disappointing day but thankfully everything went smoothly after that 🙂 I’m so glad we didn’t give up and made it a point to go. The rest of the holiday was lovely 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Airlines are airlines, and this sort of airport problem is so typical. I can never understand why countries make it so difficult for genuine TOURISTS to come into their country and spend money. But the lack of knowledge of the Philippine Airlines ground staff is inexcusable. They should be paying a lot of compensation for their ignorance in this matter. As is so often the case, it is the INNOCENT tourist who suffers.
    Hope that the rest of the trip goes well.

    Jerry

    jeritilley.wordpress.com

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lol… what an apt horror story for Halloween 😉 Thank you hon… the rest of the holiday went pretty much as planned and there were no more unpleasant surprises 🙂 *hugs back at ya*

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    1. Thank you hon. I’m happy we finally managed to make it there too. And truth be told a part of me is glad we didn’t attempt Australia earlier. Had this happened earlier on, it might have put us off travelling altogether 😉 But the country is really beautiful and I can’t wait to pen down my thoughts about our time there 🙂 Trust you and baby are keeping well. Sending prayers your way for a healthy, happy baby 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Honestly the tears wouldn’t come because my mind simply couldn’t process what was happening. Even as we were asked to step aside, all I could think of was that this was a silly mix-up, we would be boarded and probably upgraded to Business Class for our pain (the flight was overbooked so it seemed perfectly likely). Haha… imagine going from dreaming of Business Class seats to being told that even our Economy fare would not be refunded because we would be No-Shows! Hilarious! 😀

      There were some tears the following day when Qatar Airways also faced the same issue with immigration. But several of their staff rallied around us and made sure they cleared everything and let us board in time. For me, more than the money and time we lost it was the disappointment that hubby’s anniversary surprise didn’t materialize. I had poured so much of thought and effort into making it happen so that was the real bummer. O well… someday we will get to Manila and make it happen 🙂 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. What a horrible nightmare to go through, Diya! I cannot imagine the stress and restlessness you guys experienced for no reason 😦 This is an important information that you provided and I am going to check my Nepalese passport if it follows the same convention. I am glad that you were finally able to go despite facing such unexpected drama! I really hope that you’ll get compensated for this whole mess-up.
    Pooja @lostinprettyeurope

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Pooja 🙂 It was quite an experience. I’m glad if reading this helps someone else. At least there will have been some meaning to us going through that situation 🙂 And yes, please do check your passport and let me know. I’m curious to see if other countries also have a similar issue.

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      1. Hi Diya. I have checked my passport and it has a field “Given names” where my first name is mentioned and a “Surname” field for my surname. So this should be fine I guess 🙂 It is indeed a little odd that the entire name is listed under one field in Indian passports.. Were you reimbursed for the flights? I am looking forward to reading about your Australia trip on the blog 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thanks for updating me Pooja! I’ll definitely be trying for the same next time my passport renewal comes around 🙂 I think newer Indian passports don’t have this problem. Mine was issued back in the nineties :0

          And yes, we did get our flights reimbursed 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Jacqui! It really was frustrating especially seeing as it all happened through no fault of our own. I HAD to write about it so that some good may come out of our experience and save someone else the trouble.

      And the Blog-O-Ween sounds like so much fun! Will definitely stop by soon 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. When I read the title of the post, I thought something terrible had happened while you were in Australia. Can’t say that the reality of what the title refers to is much less upsetting, but it’s good that your actual holiday (once you got here) was fine. Looking forward to reading your posts about your time in Australia, and hope you get the refunds you’re owed!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks hon. I’m sorry if the title was misleading but at the time it really seemed like such a terrible thing to happen 😦 We’ve never had any such troubles in the 20-odd countries that we’ve visited spanning 5 continents so this was really a bummer for us. I think the anniversary and my special secret plans being cancelled just made things much worse. But all’s well that ends well 🙂 Will definitely be writing more about our experiences there 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Lindy. It was a rough start but we finally made it 🙂 And I’m happy to report that the country more than made up for the hassle we went through 🙂

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