Pam and I had just walked up to the Virgin Australia check in counter at LAX. We were feeling pretty smug, as we were able to use the priority line instead of the one for schleppers, the one we normally use on our infrequent flights. Pam handed the Virgin Australia representative our ticket information and our passports. The representative then said, “May I see your visas?” Confused, Pam and I just looked at each other.
When it comes to travel, Pam is super organized. I am useless. When checking in, 99% of the time Pam responds with, “I have the information right here.” This time she said, “We are only going to Australia for two weeks. Do we need visas?”
The representative responded, “Yes.” Pam and I looked at each other again, this time with a sinking feeling in our guts.
Our daughter, Kimberly, has been living and working in Australia for almost seven months. She had visited the country twice before moving there, and we were en route to Australia to visit her. Pam and Kim had planned the entire trip. Throughout the process, Kimberly had never mentioned that we needed a visa just to visit the country. They had discussed Kimberly’s issues getting an extended work visa at length, though. Later we found out that Kimberly had applied for a travel visa before she went to Australia the first time. Of course, she neglected to tell us about that. Pam, and especially I, would discover that this would turn out to be the first of many of Kimberly’s omissions over the course of our trip.
After a brief moment of panic fueled by the fact that our plane was leaving in an hour, we asked, “How do we get them?”
The Virgin representative said that we could purchase them on-line for $20 each. She went on to say that if we chose to do that we would have to leave the check in area, apply for the visa, and then get back in line once we had them. She ended by saying, “I can do it for you if you want to pay $40 each.” Obviously, we opted to pay double.
While we waited for her to finish our transactions, we noted with some morbid satisfaction that we were not alone. Other travelers were purchasing visas, too.
We completed the check in process and headed off to our gate. While we were walking, I was wondering about the other words uttered by the Virgin representative when telling us our gate number. She had said, “It is a virtual gate.”
Pam did not hear her say that. I did, but I am a clueless traveler, so I had no idea what she meant. I would find out soon enough.
We had checked into terminal 3 at LAX, but our flight was leaving from the Bradley terminal. We walked to Bradley, went through security then walked and walked to our gate. Once there we found seats and waited. Our flight was leaving at 11:00 PM. on a Wednesday night It takes 14 hours to fly to Sydney, but we would not be landing in Sydney until Friday morning at 11:00 AM, after taking the 19 hour time change into account.
When we got to the gate we were happy to note that we had priority boarding. I was still wondering what the Virgin representative meant by a virtual gate, as it looked normal to me. We found out right after we started boarding. Instead of going out the terminal, walking down a jetway and boarding a plane, we went out the door and were herded onto a bus configured like a tram. I wondered how we were going to drive to Australia. Then it dawned on me that any value we had from the priority boarding was gone, as many, many people were crammed onto the bus and it was unlikely order would be reestablished when we got off.
The Vrgin representative supervising the loading made very sure that the entire bus was filled to capacity. It was so crowded that the last woman to board was not even all the way into the bus as the doors began to close with her backpack about to be caught between them. I was standing near the door, mainly so Pam and I could exit in a heartbeat when we stopped. The woman was unaware that her backpack was hanging out until I gently tugged it (and her) completely into the bus.
We were driven quite a long way across the airport, finally stopping at a building in the middle of nowhere. We disembarked from the bus and walked up a long ramp, only to stop near the top. We stayed there for about 15 minutes, wondering if we were in the right place and if we would ever board the plane. Pam handles these situations better than me. I was starting to get grumpy. I was tired of standing and my backpack was digging into my shoulders. Eventually, the line moved and we boarded the 777 to take us to Sydney.
We opted to fly Premium Economy, as we felt that Economy, aka Coach, would be too cramped and Business Class too expensive. As we settled into our seats, which provided only a modicum more space that Economy, I was beginning to wonder if the upgrade was worth it. About 5 minutes later, just after our dedicated flight attendant, Alexandra, asked us if we would like a drink, I knew it was.
The flight was long, but very pleasant. We landed in Sydney and met Kimberly, who had flown into Sydney from Brisbane, where she works. From there it was a taxi ride into Sydney so we could begin our vacation in earnest.