Sydney – By the Skin of my Teeth

I made the most last minute journey to Australia that I have ever made.  I booked my ticket at 7pm on the Sunday and left at 10am Monday morning. It was completely worth it as I got to see my girlfriend, Daisy.  The reason why I was making a trip at such short notice is a story for another time!

However, in true Dan style it was not a simple departure.  I arrived at the airport a little later than I had intended which only left me just over and hour before my connecting flight departed.  This would not normally be a problem as Nashville is a reasonably small airport and it never takes that long to check in and go through security.   I was connecting through Detroit to LA whereupon I was to fly to Sydney.  At least that was the plan.  The lady at the check in desk had other ideas.

I have lost count of how many times I have been to Australia.  Growing up with close family out there meant that I have been going regularly since I was 4 years old and I am well aware that you need a visa to enter the country.  I have even lived down under for a period of time.  You would think that I have the visa thing down…apparently not.

I initially started to worry when the nice lady, let’s call her Diana, who was checking me in, upon receiving my ID and booking number, looked at me with a puzzled expression on her face then proceeded to turn around and spend 10 minutes on the phone.  She then said the words that nobody wants to hear at the start of a transcontinental journey, “I’m sorry sir, I am afraid I cannot check you in for your flight today as you do not have the correct entry visa.”

It was at this moment that my life turned into a British romantic comedy movie.

I am pretty sure that the colour drained completely from my face as I tried to string a sentence together to question why that was the case.  I tried in vain to explain that I had to get to Australia…”Diana, please, I HAVE to get to Australia…I am in love with this girl…and I have to get there to win her back…If I don’t make it the consequences would not bear thinking about.” Etc, Etc  My pleas drew the attention of the lady on the adjacent desk who came over and looked equally as sympathetic as her colleague but there was nothing they could do.

“Here is the number of the Australian embassy in Chicago, you should call them for advice.  And by the way, there is 45 minutes until the flight closes.”

Cut to me scrambling for my computer on the floor at the side of the check in area desperately trying to get hold of somebody at the embassy but of course, nobody ever just picks up the phone especially when you actually them to.  After 10 minutes of pressing 1 for this department and 4 for that department I was on hold for somebody, anybody until after 5 minute of holding I was cut off.  The clock was ticking and I was running out of time.

I tried another angle.

I went online and did the research that I really should have done when I booked my ticket.  I had applied for an eVisitor pass which, in the past, I had received within a few hours.  I had been in such a rush to book my ticket the night before that I had failed to read the fine print.  Turns out that this time I was not that lucky and it could take up to a week to come through, clearly I could not wait this long.

I realised what I needed was and Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA).  20 bucks, effectively immediately, bingo, let’s go.  I went straight to the Australian immigration website only to find that although, as a UK citizen, I was entitled to an ETA, I could not apply through the official Aussie government website; my passport was not listed on the drop down menu in the application.

Back on the phone to the embassy.  This time after 10 minutes of pressing enough buttons to give me carpel tunnel syndrome I made it through to a very helpful man who sadly could not help me.

“I know you are entitled to an ETA, mate, ” he said in a thick Australian accent, “You should just be able to…wait a minute…you can’t do it on the website.”  Surprise, surprise.

“Look,” he said, “Just get to L.A.  You have 10 hours before your actual flight to Sydney.  We can work something out in the meantime and anyway,” he continued, “don’t tell anyone, but If you show up in Sydney without a visa, we are not going to turn you away, you can do it there.”  I thanked him for his somewhat unconventional help and ran back to the desk.

With good news, Diana was not forthcoming, “Sorry sir, if we check you in for one leg of your journey we have to check you in for the whole thing, thereby implicitly allowing you to enter Australia without a visa. But I can sell you a separate flight to L.A.”  Foiled again. Thanks Diana.

Oh and did I mention that this was also the last day I could apply for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act so, not only was I trying to Hugh Grant my way onto a flight to Australia I was halfway through the massive application which I had got up at 5.30 am to begin and which was the reason I was at the airport so late in the first place!

With time, my British charm and my patience rapidly running out, I hit the laptop again.  I remember reading that you could get an ETA through a third party like a travel agent.  I Googled ‘Australian ETA’ and sifted through the results until I found the one that looked the least like a scam but even then I was not confident.

The site looked like it had been made in Microsoft Front Page circa 2002; it did not inspire confidence but with minutes left on the clock I had no choice. I took a punt, entered my details and my credit card digits and waited.  I swear the few seconds it took to return a result felt like a week but return a result it did…I had an approval number.

I ran back to the desk and at Diana’s behest I jumped to the front of the queue where upon I explained what I had done.  She took to her keyboard like the pro I always knew she was, her fingers danced gracefully over the keys like a heard of gazelles bounding majestically across the plain.

“It looks like you have done it, Mr Cooper, your ETA is approved.”

If I had had the time to production manage this whole scenario this would be the point that the confetti cannon would go off, the marching band would start up and a pair of silver unicorns would be set loose from behind the nearby concession stand to gallop off across terminal A leaving in their wake a trail of rainbows.

On this occasion all I had time for was to give Diana a hug and run to the gate, my boarding pass gripped firmly in my hand like a modern day Charlie Bucket and his golden ticket.

“Go get her!” Yelled Diana I as tore round the corner and through security.

Luckily the x-ray gods were on my side and I made it through in minutes.  At this point I imagine I resembled Jim Carey in Dumb and Dumber as I ran through the terminal.  Fortunately there were no nuns in the way as I approached the jet bridge and handed over my boarding pass.

I made it to my seat and bucked my seatbelt just as they were shutting the doors.  I had done it.  I still had another 25 hours until I would be in Sydney but none of that mattered.  I was going to make it to Australia to see Daisy.

Now all I had to do was finish my health care application during my layovers; not fun and almost as stressful as my check in process.

Anyhow, I made it to Australia and had a lovely time.  Aside from seeing Daisy and her family  I got so see members of my own family that I had not seen in years and was able to hang out with some pretty cool people.  I took a walk from Lavender bay all the way round to Darling Harbour across the Harbour Bridge and through The Rocks.  I visited the fish markets and I managed to go to the beach among many other things all within a few days.  I am a lucky boy…in many ways.



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