Maldives Night Flight Plight

Maldives Night Flight Plight

Flying on the World’s Finest

One reason Singapore Airlines is the best in the world.

Air travel, no pun intended, “has its ups and downs”. There was a time when it was a classy thing to do. You dressed for the occasion. You got excellent food, and “First Class” service meant something. It’s not much like that anymore, between airlines trying to run everything the cheapest way, and the myriad hassles introduced in the name of security. More flights get delayed or cancelled, adding to the passenger inconvenience. I don’t know anyone that actually enjoys flying any more. Except maybe Singapore Airlines (“SQ”) passengers.

Our Night Flight Plight

After two weeks in blissful paradise on Filitheyo, we had an unpleasant set of connections to get us to Singapore, our next destination. Our best case scenario for this travel day wasn’t that great: we had a mid-day flight from Male’ to Colombo; pick up the luggage we’d left at Colombo Airport Left Luggage (who needs jackets and long johns in the Maldives?) then spend nine hours hanging out in the not-air-conditioned Colombo airport until our 1:30am Singapore Airlines (frequent flyer) flight to Singapore, arriving 7:30am. But this already undesirable travel day quickly turned into something far worse:

  • We arrived early to the airport — around 11:00am — for a 1:30pm flight, Sri Lankan Airlines 502 from Male’ to Colombo. About two hours flying time.
  • When we arrived, the departure time had already changed to 5:30pm — a four hour delay. We could not check in [image: Resize%20of%20IMG_5303.jpg]¬†yet, “would we please have a seat”. No big deal, we thought — we’ll spend a few more hours here before spending a few less in Colombo. At least it was air-conditioned.
  • Perhaps thirty minutes later they came by and told us our flight had been cancelled. Our theory is there weren’t enough passengers on the flight to make it worthwhile. To Srilankan Airlines’ credit, they quickly rebooked us on the next available Colombo flight (which was late in the evening), and sent the 15 westerners on the flight to a local (budget) island resort, room & (terrible) meals included. Still it was more than they had to do, and more than the Asians on the flight were offered (tacky, that). Most people were booked on the midnite Sri Lankan flight to Colombo, but because we had a 1:35am connection, they put us on an earlier Malaysian Air flight. We spent the afternoon at our budget resort in relative comfort (it was better than Colombo airport). However..
  • We returned to the airport at 8:30pm. The replacement flight had been delayed! We would have to wait four more hours in the airport for our flight, and we would no longer make our connection to Singapore. We would get into Colombo airport at 3am, and have to clear customs, find a hotel, etc.

The Plot Thickens

We had no burning desire to return to, or through, Colombo — except for the fact that we’d left a bag of stuff at the airport’s “Left Luggage”, so we wouldn’t have to carry it through the Maldives and back. Because of this complication, we ended up in the SriLankan Airlines (“UL”) Operations office to try to sort out our ticketing/flight conundrum.

We’d come from Colombo (“originated” in airline parlance) and our tickets reflected a round-trip to Colombo-Male’-Colombo. As far as UL was concerned, their sole responsibility was to get us back to Colombo and to accommodate us until they did. That we held additional tickets onward — not their problem. This is a hard-line view — but it is the legal limit of their responsibility — part of what airlines call “Conditions of Carriage”. They really didn’t care that we had an onward flight to Singapore. Sri Lankan just wanted the problem to go away. They weren’t rude, quite the opposite — they were just at the limit of their flexibility. Fortunately, Singapore Airlines did care, and went out of its way to delight a customer. I’ve seen this repeatedly over my years flying with them.

SQ to the Rescue (ReSQue?)

While I was getting nowhere with Sri Lankan Airlines, Kathy went over to the Singapore Airlines Ops office, about a fifteen-second walk from SriLankan’s. Her initial concern was to find out if Singapore Airlines would be willing to honor our ticket the following day – we’d been told the tickets were totally non-changeable. She wandered into the SQ office unanncounced, and blurted out her problem to the half-dozen people working there – the cancelled flight, missed connection, the non-revenue ticket. Immediately, the Duty Manager, Mohamed Shahid, took the tickets and started looking for a way to address the problem. The following two hours were like a magical fairy tale where everything works out perfectly. He said it would be no problem rebooking the flight for the following day. But perhaps, he suggested, he could just change the tickets to fly Male’ to Singapore non-stop on Singapore Airlines – without bothering flying to Colombo. (We hadn’t booked this itinerary due to FF ticket restrictions) It was a wonderful option – but there was the small issue of the left luggage in Colombo Airport that needed to be fetched. So Mohamed set out to address this problem as well – remember, none of this was SQ’s fault, and we were flying on a free ticket.

It wasn’t an easy task to accomplish — one needed the receipt to collect the bag; the storage fees had to be paid; it had to be checked by customs; it was locked; and it had to meet up with us sometime in the future.

Any of these would seem a possible “show-stopper”. Here’s what Mr. Shahid did:

  • Called a colleague in Colombo and got him to find out what it would take to release the bag
  • Wrote a letter in Scott’s name, authorizing release of the bag to SQ
  • Faxed the letter, along with the combination-lock code, the Left Luggage receipt, and inspection authorization, to a colleague at Colombo airport
  • Accepted payment from us for the bag in Sri Lankan currency (remember, we’re in the Maldives at this point)
  • Arranged for the bag to be sent as air-freight to Singapore that same night – it actually arrived there before we did.

Each step along the way, Mr. Shahid would come out of the office and give us an update. We never got that “I wonder what’s going on” feeling which is all too common when events like this happen. Within 90 minutes, all our problems were solved – we’d be heading directly to Singapore the following evening, and would meet up with our bag on arrival. He even tried to get us the same seat assignments, and apologized when they weren’t available.

All that remained was a place to spend the night – Mr. Shahid came through again, scoring for us the last room at the onsite airport hotel (and the only place outside of resort hotels that is allowed to serve liquor), and prepared a “distressed traveller” voucher for us (which gave us a lower rate). He then called the hotel for a shuttle, and took us to the shuttle pick-up location. We had potent, and well deserved, drinks at the hotel bar, to cap off an amazing day.

Amazing.

Think of your recent airline experiences. Can you even imagine something like this happening? Too bad SQ doesn’t have US domestic flights. But they’ll be our choice to Asia from now on.

Epilog

We spent the entire day at the hotel — following our usual resort routine — sleep, eat, drink, swim… until 9pm once again rolled around. Got to the airport in plenty of time. Mr. Shahid was in the check-in area, smiling. Our flight was on time and the treatment on-board was excellent — it always is. Shahid came on the plane, wished us well and saw us off. We hope to see him again.

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