Have You Ever Been to Kahlua Airport?
It’s 15 minutes into my debut of solo travelling and I’ve successfully sweated through a slimily thick layer of Men’s Sports 48-hour deodorant. I’m crouched in the corner next to the Student Flights booth with my head stuffed between my knees, I’m hyperventilating like a broken fan, and my vision’s sparked out into a swamp of black.
Nobody is looking at me.
Everyone yanks their suitcases past me with eyes intensely averted, regarding me as embarrassing traffic accident or, perhaps, a very naked child throwing a tantrum. From the trenches of my curled up body, I am locked in by sour-smelling armpits, red sparks from kneecaps pressing deep into eyeballs, and a piercing, circular ringing. Each shitty, short gasp of air I belch in and out is like a prick into a party balloon; after a few minutes, I’ve both deflated and blacked out into a place of malfunctioning calm.
The attendant at Student Flights looks over and asks if I’m ‘settled’ enough to talk to her. With a face glistening with sweat, snot, and tears, I don’t believe I could look more settled if I tried.
The problem is pretty straightforward; I’m a fucking idiot. The type that doesn’t get a visa or checked baggage before a flight to Vietnam; a 550-dollar-and-a-missed-flight-type-of-problem.
The Italian family standing next to me, all gold necklaces and dangerously thin lips, shake their heads at the cost Student Flights quotes me.
“Oh honey, don’t worry. We just lost a lot more.”
There is something infuriatingly disrespectful about a middle-aged man with a platinum credit card telling this to me. But as I’ve decided to play the freewheeling-21-year-old-female-goes-global, I do nothing but bark a short laugh and roll my eyes. Money! Who needs it! Did you just lose a quarter of your savings too? What a hoot!
What’s worse is that this is not even the end of the world. I can’t just lie on the goddamn floor and ask security to wheel me to the dumpsters. The rules of the game for being an independent adult pretty clearly state that I will need to fix this situation on my own in under 40 minutes with my own money, logic, and internal time-bomb of anxiety; i.e mum’s not coming to get me.
Naturally, my next mental step is to enter some sort of internal game-show involving me being eliminated from my own holiday and bank account. Not having much money or smarts, it seems my only equipment is hyperventilation, aggressive tears, lying, and persuasive ignorance.
The fluorescent floodlights are on, my inappropriately eager imagination is reeling, and I’m ready to fuck someone over and win the big prize that is getting on this plane with a ticket I’ve already paid for.
Audience, eagerly begin to chew your duty-free popcorn; you’ve all got three hours to kill in the Melbourne International Terminal with convenient visas burning holes in your pockets.
I line up next to the other contestants at the Air Asia Service Desk. It’s clear we all have very aggressive and urgent holidays to take; everyone is furiously stationary with a glint in their eyes that says they absolutely fucking must get on this plane.
One manager tells me to use an online website to get a visa pumped like hotcakes through the Vietnamese embassy. I do this in under three minutes with fingertips so sweaty my phone forgets I’m a person, and the website wins a hundred of my dollars.
The next manager tells me that was a silly idea and am I sure it’s not a scam website? I answer with a belch of snotty tears and half-hearted nods. She gives me a boarding pass to Kuala Lumpar, the Malaysian capital I’ve always had trouble spelling (Kahlua?), and says that’s as far as she’s allowed to let me go. As she hands it to me, she says good luck.
This increases my feeling that I’m on the season finale of Survivor.
Half-running, half-waddling through security, I’m stopped by the Random Explosives Checker. My first elimination challenge.
“Explosives check please, over this way and bags on the table – don’t look so sad, miss, what’s getting you down?”
With my arms spread-eagled (perspiration spreading like wildfire down my top) waiting for him to interrogate my person, I explain that I didn’t get a visa and I didn’t check my baggage and I’m a fucking idio-
“Don’t let this get you down, miss! Everything happens for a reason. Go straight through to x-rays.”
He doesn’t even check me. Perhaps my blatantly honest body odour says enough.
A hundred metres down the T1 International Terminal racetrack is an obstacle in the form of a middle-aged balding man and his young child.
“My son and I would like to know if we can help you?”
His son, probably not even four, has no idea what is going on but is staring intently at me. I’m red-faced and red-eyed and glistening with a home-brew mixture of mucuses and I respond rudely no, no, I’m fine and I have to go. As I try to push past, he reaches out and grabs my hand instinctively. This small act throws me off – the curious, caring eyes of the small boy, the genuine care in this stranger, and the soft warmth of a hand against my own with no purpose but to comfort without words.
I’ve forgotten the last time I had my hand held. This is no time to get sentimental.
A few episodes later (have you seen our latest 365-Day-Retirement-Cruise-Deal? Or maybe our 2-For-1-Return-Flights-to-the-Exotic-Island-with-a-Pool-Bigger-Than-the-Sea-You’ll-Never-Swim-in?) and I’ve arrived in Kuala Lumpur Airport, extremely confused if I’m allowed to be here or where my bags are or how I managed to cop three screaming babies singing in harmony for seven hours.
The rules of the game are as follows.
- Hypothetical flight to Hanoi leaves at 12:05pm.
- Check in is at 9:05am.
- Gates close at 11:05am.
- You still have no visa
I receive an email from the Vietnamese Consulate agency alerting me (all in capital letters) that YOUR VISA WILL BE READY AT 11:00 WHERE IS YOUR PASSPORT PHOTO PLEASE PRESENT THE FLIGHT TICKET !
To my amusement they even call me – the office doesn’t open until 8am on a Monday and there’s a time difference and she hasn’t even started work yet and WHERE IS YOUR PASSPORT PHOTO?
I send the passport photo twice in three different formats and respond all in capitals to feel like we are on the same harmonious level of flight-terror.
My visa is sent at 11:03am.
I fucking neck it to the check in desk.
At 11:04 they tell me they can’t find my flight booking.
At 11:04 and 30 seconds they tell me to move aside and that the Air Asia Regional Manager will be with me shortly.
- 3:04pm; you still have no visa.
After four hours I am still moved aside with the idea that the Air Asia Regional Manager will be with me shortly. I think this is perhaps the climax of the show, the joke being, my flight left four hours ago and I’ve been sitting on my bag for six hours and the regional manager probably doesn’t even exist.
I’m also seeing my hypothetical would-be-holiday in Vietnam play out through half of my vision while the other half stares deeply into the International Departures gate. Round about now I think I’m eating Banh Mi on a retirement cruise ship having the time of my life. As I’m imagining how the sweet, salty, sea breeze feels on my unwashed face, a stranger approaches with a bottle of water.
Apparently the sweet, salty, taste is actually tears drying in little salt mines on my cheeks and I haven’t moved from my bag in four hours and he wants to know if I’d like some water or food.
His name is Ahmed and he is the saviour of this show. He has also missed his connecting flight and has been stranded till further notice. There should’ve been spotlights beaming down on him as he walked on the scene, but this is a budget flight and Air Asia couldn’t afford to give more than my own cheap imagination.
He listens to my story of stupidity and poor planning, gripping my shoulder tightly as I start to blubber around the halfway mark. My tears are extremely alarming to him; his immediate response being to pull out his iPhone and show me pictures of him with a GoPro on a raft in Hawaii. We scroll for about 10 minutes through a succession of incredibly awkwardly placed photos of him on gondolas until I stop crying out of confusion.
He points to the plastic poster of a beach across from us, selling cheap flights to a Malaysian beach resort. This one isn’t 2-for-1, so I’d wait for a better deal.
“You sit here and I’ll talk to the service desk. But enjoy the view! We’re on holiday!”
He takes my flight documents and queues up to leave me staring stupidly at the view of a white-dusted beach and sunsoaked waters. Glossy, photoshopped, and irrelevant.
I’m taking my holiday inside the photoshopped poster of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur Airport.
Postscript: Ahmed successfully convinced Air Asia to give the contestant a free hotel and a new free flight to Hanoi the following morning as she pleaded too stupid to realise how visas work. We are not sure, however, if Ahmed ever made it out of the airport himself.