Virgin, JetStar, no airline was flying to Perth until next week at the earliest.

My ticket was with Air Asia on Flt. QZ548 — only the second flight scheduled to fly to Perth during the past 72 hours. I got that seat after waiting in line at the airport for three hours the day before, with the belief I’d never be in it. I sincerely didn’t expect QZ548 to happen. I was sure it would be grounded because of the volcano and I’d likely back at the airport again and again for days on end, trying to get off the island.

My loyal Balinese driver, Kat, showed up at my (new) hotel near the airport at 5:30 AM and delivered me to the terminal. He had watched the news that morning and told me the winds had shifted enough that I may have a small window to fly. He dropped me at the curb, I gave him a hug, and headed inside with my bags.

I got in line behind several hundred passengers and slowly made my way to the baggage drop/check-in counter, still expecting that by the time I got there, the flight would be cancelled.

I was handed my boarding pass and a baggage claim ticket and headed for immigration and security.

The next hour and half was spent wondering what I should if the jet actually took off. I’d spent most of the day before unwinding my accommodations in Perth, begging for a refund from Orbitz for my pre-paid online booking and investigating flight options with American Airlines. I felt Perth was off the table and I should just focus on getting to Melbourne, even if it was a day earlier.

I’d used my frequent flyer miles to book the flight to Melbourne from Perth on their partner, Qantas.
I certainly didn’t want to forfeit the points by changing the flight.

As I was walking up the steps to flt. QZ548 — no jetway, really? — I realized I might actually land in Perth with no place to go. But I didn’t worry because I’d likely be walking back down these steps in an hour or so once the flight was cancelled. I mean, the haze over the airport was thick. This wasn’t going to happen.

Then a miracle. The engines wound up to a whine, the door closed, and we pulled away from the terminal.
Within a few minutes, I was looking out over the Indian Ocean.

We landed in Perth around 1:00 PM. Immigration, customs and baggage claim ate up about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, I’d called the number in my phone log for Fraser Suites reservations, the same number I had called the day before to cancel my booking. I actually talked to the same agent. And, yes, she could get me into a room for two nights…and at the same rate I had before.

The Perth skyline.

The Perth skyline.

Grabbed a cab. Checked in. Dropped my bags in my room and hit the streets, exploring a wonderfully civilized, clean, modern city that is similar to Tampa in many ways. And also a blueprint for what Tampa could be.

Given the short time I have here, I decided to forego my excursion to Rottnest Island. I’m grabbing a ferry to Fremantle and will explore this historic waterfront town, then ferrying back around five.

I then fly to Melbourne Sunday morning.