It was summer of 2009 and I’d been invited to South Korea. Two friends (a couple) were teaching English over there for the year and had invited me to come and stay for a week. At this stage of life the only time I’d ever been on a plane was at a ‘plane museum’ we went to for a school trip. My colleague had previously advised taking a short trip to Europe before doing long-haul, but of course I knew better.
I was expecting this trip to be a nice week away, a chance to see friends, and an exciting opportunity to see a new part of the world. I didn’t realize that it would also be a turning point in my life.
Before going to Korea, I wore glasses. I was horribly short sighted and had been wearing thick (and therefore expensive) glasses since I was about 7 years old. I hated them, I hated that I was so blind without them, and I’m not going to lie, I hate that glasses became a fashion accessory just after I got rid of the fucking things.
I’d decided to bite the bullet and get laser eye surgery. I am very squeamish about anything going near my eyes, so this was a big step for me. I’m not going to go into the details but I got it done a couple of weeks before my trip to Korea, which is coincidentally when I booked the flights and other transport to the airport.
For roughly a week after my surgery, my eyesight was returning in bits. I started out having my long-distance vision resolved literally the morning after the surgery, but my short-distance vision took a week to come back in.
A couple of weeks later I was leaving work to go on my trip.
“See you next week!” said my supervisor as I checked out at the end of the day.
“You mean week after next,” I corrected him.
“No, you only booked until next Tuesday off,” he corrected back.
“Oh shit! My mistake, can you move that to the Tuesday after next?”
I mean, I’d already booked everything so there was no way he could say no.
“Wouldn’t it be funny if I’d booked everything else with the wrong dates?!”
Oh, how we laughed, and how I chuckled to myself on the 90 minute drive home. I was still chuckling about it when I went to my room, checked all the details and discovered that yes, I had booked everything with the wrong dates. Flights. Buses. All of it. Fuck.
To this day I blame my wonky vision, but the more pressing issue at the time was that my flight was the next day and my return details were all wrong.
The bus was the easiest to fix. The flights had been booked with Emirates through Expedia, so I knew I’d have to talk to Expedia to fix it. I called them up and explained the issue. They were very understanding, and told me that it was going to cost £800 to change the flight. That seemed reasonable as the original flights were £500 and this was a very last minute change, until they said that the £800 was on top of what I’d already paid.
Expedia were very apologetic, telling me that this was Emirates setting the charges, not them.
“Hang on a minute,” I said, “How much would a return flight be if I booked it right now?”
“But it’ll cost me a total of £1300 if I change my existing flight?”
“So what’s to stop me cancelling my flights completely, and rebooking the correct dates with you right now?”
“Nothing, we can do that for you.”
-Insert rolling eyes emoji here-
So, that’s what we did. Cancelled the flight, re-booked, good to go. My bus to get to Heathrow was very early in the AM, so it was with a sleepy confidence that I strolled into the terminal and discovered that I was not booked on the flight anymore.
Queue a hurried trip to the Emirates Customer Support Desk, where all they could tell me was that I had been booked on the flight, but no longer was. I explained the situation, and they told me that if I’d called them directly they would have changed my return flight for free. Fuck you Expedia …
Furthermore, Expedia’s customer support line wasn’t even open until 9am, so I had to stand around in the airport until my flight had departed before I could get hold of someone.
I explained the whole situation to them and they calmly explained that there was never any way I’d have gotten on that flight, as once Expedia’s taken your booking, they don’t guarantee that the seat is booked until 24 hours after.
So why, I demanded to know, did they take my booking less than 24 hours before the flight was due to depart?!
It’s hard to convey a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ down the telephone, but that’s basically what they did. As well as offering a refund, of course. By this time I’d been refunded twice but the money hadn’t actually hit my account, which means I was flat broke and therefore couldn’t book any other flights.
A quick call to my parents and an emergency loan from my Dad fixed that, and I booked directly through Emirates for the following day. But now I was many miles from home, what was I going to do?
Luckily I was much closer to where I worked because of the stupid commute, so I ended up crashing on a friends’ couch for the night and they kindly drove me to the airport in the morning.
I ended up chatting with my seat mate on the first leg (Heathrow to Dubai), who turned out to be an Aussie midwife who now lived and worked in Yemen. She was traveling to Korea via London for a wedding, and listened to my ridiculous tale of woe with rapt attention.
When we got to the bit about where I’d crashed the previous night she stopped me.
“So how do you have friends near Heathrow if you live in Wales?” (She’d previously lived for 5 years in London so knew the geography.)
“Oh,” I replied casually, “That’s where I work.”
“So let me get this straight, you live in Wales but you work in Hampshire.”
“And you drive there and back every single day.”
“How long have you done this for?”
“Ooh, probably .. a year and a half now?”
She fixed me with a stare and said fourteen words that will live with me forever.
“No offense mate, and I don’t know you from Adam, but you’re an idiot.”
Her point was: WHY?! Why would somebody do that to themselves? I didn’t have an answer.
When I got back from Korea, her words were still fresh in my brain. I’d just had a cultural awakening in Asia and my first time away from work and the commute in a long time, and I was ready for a change. I immediately started looking for a place to live.
Back at work, my colleague asked me for a second opinion on a scanner issue he was having trouble solving for someone, so we trekked over to the customer’s building. Our customer was a sassy woman who instantly seemed like a fun person to be around. Whilst trying to fix the scanning issues we got to chatting, I explained my Korea trip and desire to look for a place to live, and she told us that she was in a house share with someone else on site, and that they were looking for a third housemate.
I went to meet the landlord / other housemate a few days later. He was also in IT, but for the government-run part of the operation where we worked (I was working for HP as a private contractor). Naturally, we got on like a house on fire and by early September I was moving out on my own, for the first time as an adult.
Alright, you’re thinking. What the hell has any of this got to do with your career?
Fair question. I’ll admit, this post has been heavy on the exposition and light on the anything else. However without that fucked up flight I’d never have been called out on my ridiculous commuting habits. I maybe wouldn’t have thought about moving, or I would have but without the same sense of urgency, and I wouldn’t have moved into that house.
Because dear reader, the man in that house would set me on a life changing path.