by Nancy Bestor
Bob and I arrived at the Bangkok airport calm, cool and collected almost exactly two hours before our Thai Airways flight to Melbourne was scheduled to depart. We were headed from Thailand to New Zealand, via a short overnight in Australia, for a two and a half week trip to the South Island. We had plenty of time. We were set to eat a leisurely breakfast in the airport, and life was good.
We handed our passports to the ticket agent at the Thai Airways desk. “And can I please have your Australian visas?” she asked. “Ummm…..what?????” was the best answer we could come up with. “You need visas to enter Australia, for your flight that departs in two hours,” she calmly told us.
This is when I started to sweat. Neither Bob nor I had ever thought to check if we needed visas for Australia, because in our minds, Australia was not on our itinerary. (I know what you’re thinking…..we are travel “professionals”…..we own a travel store…..right? Apparently not so much.) Our flight was scheduled to arrive in Melbourne at 10:30pm, and we were to depart in the morning for Christchurch at 11am. Yes, we would leave the airport to sleep at a nearby hotel, but we weren’t really “going” to Australia. Apparently the Australian immigration authorities felt differently.
When we asked our calm and friendly Thai Airways ticket agent what we should do, she pulled out her phone and gave us a private company’s visa service website.
“You might be able to get an Australian visa quickly through this website,” she told us. Bob pulled out his laptop right at the counter. “But can you please move away from the counter to take care of this?” she asked. Note: By this time our flight was leaving in 1 hour and 45 minutes, but she did not seem worried for us.
So we quickly moved to nearby seats and immediately began bickering. Could Bob type the information into the website any slower? Could I please find the credit card we would need to use to pay for these visas? And could I remove any more garments? Because now I was sweating profusely. And we were down to one hour and 30 minutes until flight time.
When filling out the visa information, we tried to choose the same day that we were applying for the visa as our day of travel, but the website did not allow for that. Apparently we were required to apply at least 24 hours in advance of arrival. So based on the advice of the same calm ticket agent (who still didn’t appear worried on our behalf), we chose the following day as our arrival date. Now we were both really sweating. And there may have been some swearing going on as well. We paid the fee of $39 each, for a 30-day tourist visa, and then waited for the email that would confirm our visas had been approved. Now we had one hour and 15 minutes to go.
Bob started surfing the internet. I asked him to stay on his Gmail page and keep hitting refresh. The bickering continued. And our flight was now leaving in one hour and 10 minutes.
Our ticket agent came over to check on us. “Any news?” she asked with a beatific smile. We told her we had filled out the online forms and were waiting for email confirmation. She calmly nodded and walked away. And our flight was leaving in one hour and five minutes.
With just under an hour to go, our ticket agent came back to let us know that our visas had been approved and we were set for travel that day. Strangely, she received this information before we did and already had our boarding passes in hand. She handed them over and sent us on our way. We hustled through security and gulped a quick cup of coffee. My sweaty blouse even had time to dry before we boarded. Crisis averted, marriage saved. And life was good once again.