Prescription for Disaster

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

When life gives you lemons, fly to Korea

When life gives you lemons, fly to Korea

My mother started a fun game on facebook the other day with her sisters called “where in the world is Candace” and took bets on which currency they would need to send bail money to.

Surprisingly, I’m not a drugged out 19 year old backpacker but a professional, 31 year old married mother of two 2 year olds. And I still get myself into this type of crap.

Out of the blue on a Tuesday, a key business meeting opportunity arises in China that I should attend, flights are booked and we leave on Friday. Calls are made to the Chinese embassy in London, favors are called in and my Chinese visa has been arranged for a miraculous one-day service. I make my way down there, everything is submitted and everything seems good – but it’s rejected. My Canadian passport expires in 4 months, not the required minimum of 6 months for any visa to any country, including many countries in which I don’t require a visa, but can’t get into without those precious 6 months of remaining passport validity. (Like Taiwan, I soon discovered the hard way).

Defeated, I return to the office and tell my boss that I can’t make it. He’s not having it. More calls are made. Bigger favors are called in and the embassy has agreed to “view my case outside of the rules for this particular occasion”.  I returned the next day to the embassy, hand over my passport and again return to the office. We get a call at 10am. There’s been a political dogfight in the embassy and somebody pulled the plug on my visa. We were due to leave tomorrow.

My boss still wasn’t having it.

More calls were made, old friends were contacted and it was determined that if I could somehow land in a particular airport in a particular city in China as my first point of entry, I would be given a visa. It’s the getting there that would be the problem, as airlines won’t let you fly to China without a visa. Apparently if they do, you get deported (and to where, exactly?) and they get a massive fine.

So we figured we’d risk it.

Or more so, I’d risk it, and he’d fly directly from London to Shanghai. If I could, the plan was to meet him there by Monday morning. Somehow.

My initial flight was cancelled (British Airways direct from London to Shanghai – it sounded heavenly) and I booked a one way flight from London, through Paris to Seoul, South Korea. There’s something rather intimidating about booking a one way flight to a country in Asia that you’ve never been to and have no intention of staying in for more than a couple of hours with nothing to get you onward or backward but an envelope of cash, a reasonably valid passport and your Iphone. But that’s how we roll around here. A further one way flight was booked for me from Seoul to China, but I’d worry about that if and when I got that far.

My problems started in London when they didn’t want to let me check in. My passport was okay, they didn’t bother counting up the remaining months, but they could see that I had a further flight booked to China and I was lacking in said visa. They didn’t want to let me through. I explained that I just had to get to the airport in China and that a visa would be arranged for me. They wanted to see paperwork explaining that, but of course, I had none. I couldn’t even give them a named contact that was arranging this because well, this type of thing isn’t normally done. Korean Air finally agreed to let me on to the Paris flight, but I would have to pick up my bags there and talk to them again about the next leg.

Once in Paris, the same song and dance ensued.

“You don’t have a visa for China”
“Yes, you need a visa for China.”
“Oh yes, that. It’s all been arranged.”
“If it were all arranged, it would be in your passport.”
“Excellent point. How about you just check me in to Seoul, then.”
“But what will you do when you get to Seoul?”
“Not sure, but I’ve got an 11 hour flight to think about it.”

He was French, what did he care if some pathetic Canadienne got herself stuck in Korea and deported?

So I thanked him and went on my way.

Once I got to Korea things really got interesting.

I was not allowed to check in for the Shenyang flight, because I did not have a Chinese visa. They did not buy my spiel of it being pre-arranged without any evidence of such. My word did not seem to count for very much. However, a loophole was discovered – they would transport me to Shenyang without a visa if I was transiting through Shenyang directly onto an international flight out of China within 24 hours of landing there and without leaving the airport. Good enough for me, and off I scrambled to find a travel agency in the airport that could/would sell me a ticket that met such conditions.

After an hour I found a travel agency that could A: sell tickets internal to China and B: understand that I didn’t need a ticket from Seoul to China, just from China out and that it had to be within 24 hours of landing. And couldn’t be back to Korea. That left my only options as Taiwan or Hong Kong, but as the flight to Taiwan was leaving exactly 23.5 hours after my arrival in Shenyang and met the strict conditions of the transit visa for the purposes of Korean Air, I bought it. A non-refundable one way ticket to Taiwan that I had no intention of using. Fantastic.

Full of pride at “screwing the system” I triumphantly marched back to the Korean Air desk and checked in, explaining that I didn’t need a visa because I was just transiting through, look, here’s proof! My proof was accepted and I was nearly there when – crap – she noticed that my passport was only valid for 4 months and not the required 6 to get into Taiwan.

Son of a bitch. They got me.

I tried explaining that I wasn’t actually going to Taiwan, that this was just a ruse to get into China. (honestly is apparently not always the best policy) and a manager was called. Fantastic.

I was told that no, they would not take me to China because I couldn’t then get into Taiwan. However, they agreed to call the manager of the Shenyang airport to see if they would accept me on this type of transit visa, but it would probably take a lot of time because they are all very busy and I will probably miss my flight anyway, and to go sit down.

That's when I pulled out my final card, and made a call to my boss.

About 10 minutes later he calls me back, tells me what's going on and has me go back to the Korean Air manager. She sees me and says that she's tried, but the line is busy and she hasn't been able to get a hold of anyone there yet. I tell her not to worry, the manager of the airport is going to call her. 

She was visibly surprised by this, as were her other two fellow managers and the two check in clerks gathered around them. I returned to my seat in the waiting area and picked up my book again - a couple of minutes later I hear their heels briskly clacking on the floor toward me and look up to see brand new expressions on their faces- they are so very sorry for delaying me, this man is here to take my bags and these two ladies are here to help me check in. Unfortunately, the flight doesn't have a first class area but they have arranged for me to have 3 seats to myself so that I am as comfortable as possible, and would I like a complimentary lounge pass?

I'm sure they googled me after I left to see who the hell I was that I had this much pull in China.

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