It's time of the year again to wrap up the year as we welcome a new year, a new decade. Honestly, 2019 had been a challenging year, especially in the first half of the year. However, things have gotten much better over the last few months and I'm thankful for that. Anyway, here's a quick recap of our 2019:
This year's busy season got off to a rocky start and it was undoubtedly the worst busy season I've had since I started working. Losing team member at the end of last year meant we had to pick up 'leftover' new team members at the busiest time of the year, not ideal. On top of that, we had sh*t luck with the internal review process when the original reviewer resigned right at the beginning of busy season and was replaced by a another reviewer who lives in her own perfect world in the ivory tower. I also had to pick up more work this year so that didn't help either. And of course, our client had to make things complicated and gave us more work during busy season. I was working past midnight every night in Jan & Feb. Our sh*t luck continued with a manager resigning and we had to go through another review, which ended up dragging out our busy season for another 4 months. It was really the 'perfect storm'. I felt frustrated, overwhelmed, stressed out, and burnt out.
I know I know, self-pity won't get me anywhere or any empathy. Truth is nobody really cares about you apart from yourself when it comes to work. So it was up to me to fend for myself, stay positive and find the light at the end of the tunnel.
I found my silver lining when the firm was looking for individuals to join the COE team in April. Best part about this is that it's a completely remote role. Guess it was a blessing in disguise because I probably wouldn't have considered transferring to a different team if it wasn't for the crappy busy season. I've been able to work from home since September and have been enjoying it...a lot! =D On an unrelated note, I finally received my employer-sponsored green card in June. =)
With this new remote role, my work travels will certainly cut reduce but I still traveled to a few places for work this year:
March, April, May, October - Atlanta
April - Chicago
July - New York
August - Charlotte
December - Tampa
Travel + Family
All of our trips this year were focused on spending time with our families, so no new country for me this year. This was the first year I traveled to Malaysia twice within the same year. I traveled home for 2.5 weeks in June to spend more time with the family - see my twin niece and nephew who were born in January, help my dad who had a second stroke in April, and celebrate grandma's 90th birthday.
Hubby hadn't been back to Malaysia since 2016 so we wanted to travel back together this year and we planned our trip around my cousin's wedding. We also invited my MIL to join us on the trip since it has been 6 years since her last visit. We took a detour and spent a week in Taiwan and one night in Hong Kong enroute to Malaysia.
Apart from the soul-sucking work life in the first half of the year, life in general has been pretty good in 2019. I'm happy with our life as a couple and we've stayed healthy this year. We are content and thankful for what we have and where we are at this phase of life. Looking forward to a smooth 2020 with more successes (especially at work) and more adventures with hubby!!
11 years ago, I was extremely lucky to win an all-expense paid trip to Hawaii from a radio contest. That trip was my first time ever traveling alone and I spent all 5 days in Honolulu (Oahu island), more specifically around Waikiki beach. My impression of Honolulu (based on my personal experience) was that it is just another city. Therefore, when we were deciding on which island to visit on this trip, Honolulu was ruled out and we chose the Big Island, mainly due to hotel redemption availability.
Since my parents have never been to Hawaii, we figured this would be a good opportunity to invite them on the trip and travel with us. Unfortunately, my dad had another stroke earlier this year (after their flights were booked), which severely impacted his mobility. But after months of consideration, three of us siblings decided to make this trip happen for them and helped make all necessary arrangements for their travels. If you're expecting a typical Hawaii trip which involves laying on the beach, reading a book, and drinking pina coladas, I'm sorry to disappoint you. =P While this trip was not without its challenges and limitations, we were glad to be able to do a road trip around the whole island, spend time and make memories with my parents when we are able to. Nothing worthwhile is easy right?
Nov 29 (Fri): Huntsville - Big Island (Kona)
The flight that we booked originally was supposed to depart on Thursday (Thanksgiving Day), but thanks to a flight schedule change, we managed to cancel our flights with no fee and switched to a different airline with better schedule with shorter travel time. =)
Good thing about traveling to a tropical destination, we didn't need to pack a lot. While hubby was able to fit his stuffs easily into a backpack, I brought a larger luggage as I was packing for 3 people (packed extra clothes for my parents so that they could travel light).
Our flight from Huntsville was at 6.15am. We got to our gate early but almost boarded the wrong flight and missed our own flight. The boarding door was already shut but luckily the staff reopened it for us...whoopsie! Had a quick layover in Houston and was able to use the Priority Pass that I received recently with my Hilton Aspire credit card to get into the KLM Crown Lounge. =)
Our 2nd flight was from Houston to Honolulu. We had 3 seats in the exit row to ourselves so it was nice to have plenty of leg space for this 9-hour flight. After take off, I noticed that the row behind us was empty so I turned it into my economy 'lay-flat' seat. =P I was able to take a short nap and spent most of the flight time blogging while observing the chaos with 2 toddlers and their parents in the middle row. Btw, I'm pretty disappointed that United doesn't provide complimentary in-flight meal for such a long flight, and there was also no seatback inflight entertainment (had to use the app and own device). Oh well, after all it's a US domestic flight...I shouldn't be expecting anything...lol!
Finally made it to Honolulu at 2.30pm after traveling for almost 12 hours. Spotted an Airasia plane taxied next to our flight.
My parents' flight arrived 5 hours before ours so they had already been waiting in the airport for awhile. I called them as soon as we landed and met up with them at the baggage carousel area. This was probably the part of their trip that I was most worried about because I wasn't able to get in touch with them after boarding our flight in Houston and had no idea if they made it to Honolulu from Manila. I was relieved when we saw them and was glad to hear that their journey went well. =)
Instead of flying directly to Kona, hubby and I chose to fly to Honolulu and booked a separate ticket to Kona on Southwest so that we could help my parents with the inter-island flight. One lesson learnt on this flight was to make sure that we get to the gate much earlier when traveling with a disabled passenger because they needed time to tag the wheelchair and we had to board first since dad needed help to get to his seat.
After a quick 30 min flight, we finally landed at Kona airport! This was a small airport and the boarding gate is open air. It felt like we arrived into a resort...lol!
When we were in Honolulu, I received an email Hertz and saw that they had given us a Chevrolet Camaro for my 7-day rental. I'm not a car person but I noticed the car class 'Convertible'. My original reservation was for an Intermediate car so I knew that they had given me a complimentary upgrade for being a Hertz President's Circle member. After a quick google of how the car looks like, hubby and I quickly decided that we need to get a different car even though it would have been cool to drive around the island in a convertible. =P I tried calling the Kona airport Hertz office but couldn't reach anyone before our flight departed from Honolulu so we had to wait till we got to the Kona office to ask for a switch. The lady at the office told us that they were out of sedan, and they offered us other larger vehicles which we didn't want (including a Jeep =.=). Fortunately, they were super nice and managed to find a small SUV (Buick Encore) for us. The SUV was quite small and we could barely fit our luggages and a wheelchair, but we made it work.
We stopped at Big Island Grill for dinner (thanks to the Hertz owner's recommendation) before checking into our hotel. It was nice to finally relax a lil' after a long travel day.
Nov 30 (Sat): Kona - Polulu Valley - Westin Hapuna
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Kailua-Kona for the first night since it was closer to the airport (20 min). We hotel-hopped for the next 2 nights and returned to this hotel for the last 4 nights. I used my IHG points to redeem 5 nights in this hotel so we paid only $50 ($10/day for parking). I liked this hotel because it is conveniently located in Kona town, there is no resort fees and they offer free breakfast. =)
After a good night's rest and breakfast, we started our drive to the North part of the island, with the Pacific Ocean on our left and Mauna Kea mountain on our right. Looks like mom was still jet-lagged...lol! =P
Even though Big Island is the biggest island among all 4 major Hawaiian islands, the population is significantly lesser than Oahu, which explains why there is very little traffic on the island and the pace of life is much slower. We were actually surprised that the roads are very well-paved and maintained.
Our first stop of the day was Polulu Valley Lookout. This was the view from the small parking area.
There's a hiking trail down into the valley to the black sand beach but we weren't planning on doing any hike here. This view was good enough. =)
Drove through a few small towns and made a quick photo stop of King Kamehameha Statue at the small town of Kapaau.
Drove through a number of ranches along Kohala summit ridge (sleeping volcano). We were pretty high up at 3,000 feet above sea level and it was so windy and cold.
Stopped at Waimea town for late lunch at 2pm. We asked mom to pick what she wanted and chinese food was the winner. =P
Our final stop before going to the hotel was the Hamakua Macadamia Nut factory. Hawaii is famous for macadamia nut and coffee so this was a good place to sample some Hawaiian coffee and macadamia nuts for free. You can also visit the factory but it was Saturday when were visited so no one was working.
For our 2nd night, I booked the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort using my Marriott credit card free award night. This hotel is located in the 'resort' area of the island, right next to a nice beach. We had to drive through a private road with security checkpoint to get to the hotel.
Such a pretty entrance to the hotel!
This view explains why this was the most 'expensive' hotel on our trip. Amazing view from the lobby and look at that turquoise ocean!
Check-in took awhile because there were some confusion with my reservation. Normally an award stay is just for a standard room. However, I had a Suite Night Award request and also a request for an 'accessible' room, confusing I know. Somehow after the front desk guy discussed with his manager, we ended up with the room with the best view in the hotel (according to 2 front desk staffs). =D I was too excited with this room that I totally forgotten to turn on the lights (and adjust the lighting) before taking photos. =.=
Professional photos can be found on the website...haha! As you can see from the bottom left photo, our room (room 931) is the biggest room at the highest floor. Lobby is on the 8th floor so anything below that does not have as good of a view.
We also received lei and beads at check-in.
The hotel had direct access to the beach, which was great! The photos don't show but it was so windy that day and we felt like we were in a sandstorm walking on the beach.
My one and only jump shot for the trip. =P
After being blasted by 'sandstorm' on the beach, we decided to retreat to the pool area to watch sunset. Too bad it was too cloudy to see the sun going down the horizon.
The main pool and the adults-only infinity pool.
Few more photos around the hotel before we returning to our room.
Pool and beach view from our room's balcony.
Dec 1 (Sun): Westin - Waipio Valley Lookout - Akaka Falls - DoubleTree Grand Naniloa
Early morning stroll around the hotel.
Mom went for a swim at the pool.
Complimentary buffet breakfast for my Platinum welcome amenity. Definitely a good choice because the breakfast (worth $38/pax) with ocean view was awesome. I was surprised they had a spread of Japanese options at the buffet.
Enjoyed this awesome view from our balcony for one last time before checking out. Thanks again Westin Hapuna for this nice upgrade!!
Total cost for this stay was $34 for the annoying resort fee. I managed to get the $25 parking fee waived because it was supposed to be included in the resort fee when I made my reservation. The hotel decided to charge parking separately since August.
After checking out of Westin Hapuna at 12pm, we continued our journey around the island by driving eastbound to Waipio Valley Lookout. Thanks to the gloomy, cloudy, rainy day, this was all we saw when we arrived. The view point is a very short walk from the parking so we waited in the car for the mist to clear.
After approximately 10 minutes, the mist started to clear a lil' and we could see the coast and the valley!!
Quickly snapped a few photos before the mist came back. Even though it would have been much nicer if it was a clear day but I'm happy just to be able to at least see something.
It was raining the entire time we drove along the east coast, which was not surprising because I've read that it rains a lot on the East side of the island.
Our next stop was at the Akaka Falls...not letting the rain stop our sightseeing. =P We parked right outside of the gate and avoided the $5 parking fee. =P
We paid $1 each to enter the hiking trail. There are 2 trails here - one for 30 min and another for 5 min, unsurprisingly we chose the 5 min one to get to this viewpoint.
Made it to Hilo, 2nd largest town on the island at 4pm and had early dinner at Ken's House of Pancakes. The menu at this place was extensive and they had so many types of food to choose from. Prices are also pretty reasonable.
For our 3rd night on the island, we stayed at the DoubleTree Grand Naniloa Hotel Hilo using 46,000 Hilton points. It was nice to spend one night on the east side of the island to save some driving time.
Our room for one night with lanai (balcony) and oceanfront view.
Dec 2 (Mon): Hilo - Volcano National Park - South Point - Kona
We were lucky to see rainbow from the hotel the next morning! =)
We were happy that the weather cleared up a bit the next morning.
No white sandy beach at this hotel but lots of black rocks instead.
Rainbow Falls was only 10 min away from the hotel so stopped by for some photos before leaving Hilo. One thing I liked about all the attractions on the island is that the parking are all very close to the viewpoint with minimal walking required.
Too bad we didn't see rainbow at Rainbow Falls. =P
Random photos of banyan trees and schools in Hilo.
Checked-out of the hotel at 11am and drove 45 minutes to the Volcanoes National Park, where the Kīlauea and Mauna Loa active volcanoes are located. The entrance fee for the park was $25/car. Fun fact: There are five active volcanoes in Hawaii and four of them are located on Big Island, with Kīlauea being the most active of the five. The most recent eruption was in May 2018.
We were hoping to visit the Thurston Lava Tube but unfortunately it was closed after the eruption last year. You used to also be able to see lava flows at this national park but since the eruption in May 2018, the lava lake that existed inside the crater disappeared and unfortunately, there was no lava flows to see anymore in or out of the park. =(
Our first stop in the park was the Steam Vents, where hot steams from the volcano rises through deep open cracks (as seen on hubby's glasses). The viewpoint of the crater was also within short walk from the parking and was wheelchair accessible.
Drove along the Chain of Craters with old lava flows on both sides of the road.
Random stop at a views of lava fields and the ocean.
The Chain of Craters Road is 36-miles round-trip and ends at the Holei Sea Arch.
Holei Sea Arch and rocky sea cliffs at the end of the road.
The viewpoint was an easy 0.1km walk from the parking area.
Standing on lava fields with the volcano in the background.
After spending 2 hours in the Volcano National Park, we continued driving down south and made a quick stop at Punalu'u Bake Shop, the Southernmost bakery in the USA to buy its famous Portuguese sweetbread.
Took a detour from the main highway 11 and drove further south to Ka Lae, also known as South Point, which is the southernmost point of the US (including continental US).
This place is also known for cliff diving. We didn't see anybody cliff diving when we were there but we saw a number of locals fishing right by the cliffs. I was nervous just looking at those guys standing so close to the cliff!
Glad we took this detour because the scenery here is beautiful!
It started raining on our way back to Kona but we spotted this beautiful rainbow thanks to the rain!
Made it back to Kona just in time for sunset.
Had dinner at Kona Brewing Co. before checking in to our hotel.
We were quite disappointed with the food at this place because they didn't have a lot of options to choose from, and they also ran out of few items we wanted to order originally. Guess we shouldn't expect much since this place is known for its beer. We had to finish our food hastily because it started pouring and was getting rained on sitting outdoor. =.=
We returned to Holiday Inn Express Kailua-Kona for the last 4 nights of our trip. This hotel was a good base for sightseeing around Kona and west side of the island. We requested for an accessible room but the hotel didn't have any available. However, they did give us a slight upgrade to a bigger room. I liked this hotel because they provide microwave in the room too. Mom was the only one who fully utilized the pool and jacuzzi everyday. The washroom by the pool is an accessible toilet/shower so dad used this washroom for his showers. There is also a very small gym in the hotel but we only used the water cooler in the gym to fill up our bottle. =P
We enjoyed the hot food served at the complimentary breakfast too. I used my 120,000 IHG points to redeem for our stay so the total cost for 4 nights was $40 (parking fee).
Dec 3 (Tues): Kona
Beautiful morning to drive along the coastal road.
Our plan was to take the complimentary coffee farm tour at Greenwell Farm but found out the tour is not suitable for wheelchair so we decided to skip it. I did try some of the coffee samples though. Mom was more excited to see the avocado trees than coffee. =P
Another quick stop at St. Benedict Painted Church, with beautiful view of the ocean.
Thanks to hubby for this random photo stop near Honaunau.
Love the different shades of blue.
Thanks to hubby for another unplanned stop (coz I was nagging him for a photo stop).
Glad to find this black rock 'beach' behind the Living Stones Church.
Our original plan was to visit the Mauna Kea Onizuka Center for the free Stargazing program at night but as we were leaving the hotel and setting the GPS, google map was routing me through a road that takes 4 hours instead of the direct route which should only take 1.5 hours. I quickly googled and found out that the road to the Visitor Information Station was closed. =.= I found out later that the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station had been closed since June 3, 2019 and the Stargazing program had been temporarily suspended. I did my trip planning a few months back so I wasn't aware of this. It was a bummer coz hubby was looking forward to it, but glad that at least we found out before driving all the way there.
Since we couldn't go stargazing, we had the entire evening free so we went to Umekes Fish Market Bar & Grill for dinner. Can't leave Hawaii without trying Poke (diced raw rish), which is one of the main dishes of Native Hawaiian cuisine. Hubby is not a fan of raw fish so he ordered fish tacos.
Checking off all our Hawaii food list at one go...strolled along the beach with hubby and enjoyed some shaved ice.
Dec 4 (Wed): Kona
We hadn't really gone to a beach yet on this trip so we drove along Alii Drive, the main coastal road in Kona and went to the La'aloa Bay Beach Park.
The beach is small but we went early so it wasn't too crowded yet. I love the colors of the sea from this beach. We also avoided people by walking over to the rocky side for photos. =P
Dropped hubby at the airport at noon to catch his flight back home.
When we originally planned this trip, hubby and I was supposed to depart 2 days before my parents flew back to Malaysia. However, I was able to change my flights to depart on the same day as my parents but we kept hubby's original departing flight because was running out of vacation days and couldn't take more time off work.
After returning from the airport, the parents and I walked from the hotel to the beach to see sunset.
View of Kona town from Kailua Pier.
Saw a few people fishing at the pier and it was fun to see one lucky guy catching two big fishes within 10 minutes.
Wrapped up our evening with a shaved ice.
Dec 5 (Thurs): Kona
We've done all the sightseeing we wanted to do over the last few days so we spent a few hours bargain hunting at Ross and went back to the hotel to chill for the rest of the day.
Dec 6 (Fri): Kona - Honolulu - Huntsville
Time to say goodbye to Hawaii and catch our flights back home. The first leg of our flight was from Kona to Honolulu at 7am. We woke up early and checked out of the hotel at 4.45am to make sure we had enough time to return the rental car and arrange for wheelchair assistance at the airport.
Dropped my parents and luggages off at the airport first before returning the car at Hertz. I used my Hertz points to redeem for the 1-week rental so our total cost was only $72 for taxes and fees. =)
Check-in went smoothly and we went through security pretty quickly with plenty of time to spare before the flight.
Boarding went smoothly and we were ready to fly back to Honolulu. Spotted Southwest staffs holding the cute placards bidding goodbye to us. =P
That's a wrap for our 8D7N trip in Hawaii. For more details on how much we spent on our trip, check out this link.
Here's a map with our route and places we visited on this trip. Click on the top right 'square' to open in Google Maps.
P.S. Long story below about our crazy day in Kona airport and Honolulu airport...and how my parents missed their international flight. Documenting our experience here for my own records.
7.00am: Everything went smoothly and our flight pushed back and was gonna take off on time. All was good until the pilot announced that we had to taxi back to the gate because the maintenance light was on and they had to get it checked before we could depart. My parents' Philippine airlines flight was scheduled to depart at 11am (3 hours after we arrive Honolulu) so I figured we should be fine. The pilot said that he don't expect it to take long for the mechanics to check on the issue so he didn't want to disembark the passengers.
8.00am: After waiting for about an hour with no indication of when we could depart, the pilot and cabin crew started letting people get off the plane. I asked the ground staff and cabin crew if they had an estimated departure time but they said they didn't know either. I searched on google flight and saw that our flight was supposed to arrive at the gate right next to the gate that Philippine airlines (PHL) will depart from. I quickly called the PHL office in Honolulu to let them know about the delay and asked what the latest time to board and if we could go straight to the boarding gate without going to the check-in counter (I've checked-in online for my parents). The lady said that was fine and the boarding gate will close at 10.30am (since it's an international flight). She also took down my number just in case they needed to contact me later. I figured if our flight departs by 9.30am (it was 8.15am at that time), we should still be able to walk right to the next gate to board. All I needed to do was to pull out their cabin size luggage (that was already checked-in with Southwest) and carry-on instead so that we don't need to waste time collecting it in Honolulu.
8.30am: I thought about buying tickets for the 9.13am Hawaiian Airlines flight for my parents so that they could make it for their flight. I ran all the way to the Hawaiian Airlines counter at the terminal to ask if they had any tickets for the 9.13am and the staff said that it is fully booked so no luck on that. At that point, I've already went through the security 5 times since early morning trying to sort out the luggage situation as well.
9.00am: At this point, I was getting really anxious about the possibility of my parents missing their PHL flight. Still no signs of when our flight would depart but at that point, even my parents had gotten off the plane so the chances of our flight departing by 9.30am was very slim (coz it's going to take time to board everyone all over again).
9.15am: I walked back to the boarding gate and explained my concerns to another ground staff and managed to talk to a Southwest customer service supervisor (Jessica). I saw that she was helping another Japanese couple rebook their travels back to Tokyo and was actually surprised that they did that, considering that Southwest is a low-cost regional carrier doesn't have any partner airlines. After explaining to Jessica that my parents are most likely going to miss their international flight from Honolulu, she immediately asked for their final destination (i.e. Penang) and started looking for alternative flights within their travel booking system. Initially, she found a flight that departs Kona the next day and offered to book that flight and provide a hotel voucher for my parents to stay one more night on Big Island. However, my flight back to Huntsville was schedule to depart Honolulu at 11pm that day and I was hoping to at least send them off before hopping on my flight. So she searched for flights departing Honolulu to Penang and we found a Hawaiian Airlines flight departing Honolulu at 1.30am, connecting through Incheon and KL on Malaysia Airlines. Note that I was standing right beside her the entire time through the booking process so I was able to see all flight options available. We decided that the flight option looks good and she quickly entered my parents' information and booked the flights.
9.45am: As we were booking the flights, they finally announced that our flight was ready for boarding so we had to switch to another computer and start the booking process all over again so that they could start boarding other passengers. We were in a hurry to get the flights booked as we needed to board the flight too.
10.00am: We completed the flight booking and Jessica asked me to take photos of the booking confirmation reference just in case we needed it when we check in for the flights in Honolulu. She then quickly helped push dad's wheelchair and used her walkie-talkie asking her team to reload our luggages and asked the cabin crew to keep our original seat open. She also helped my dad to get into his seat. She really went above and beyond to help us out and I'm extremely thankful for that.
10.20am: After getting settled in our seats, I quickly used the booking reference to check on both Hawaiian Airlines and Malaysia Airlines websites to ensure that the flight booking went through (because I hadn't received a confirmation email). I was able to pull up the reservation so I felt relieved that we got things sorted out. All we needed to do was to get to Honolulu in time to check-in for the flight.
10.25am: The PHL airlines staff at Honolulu airport called me back to ask if my parents are able to get there in time for their flight but I told her that we won't be able to make it in time. Not that they were gonna wait for us but it was still nice of her to call back to check.
10.45am: Our flight finally departed Kona and was estimated to arrive Honolulu at 11.30am. I knew that we'd have to be quick to check-in for the Hawaiian Airlines flight as we had only 2 hours before the flight departs.
11.25am: Finally landed in Honolulu. It took awhile to taxi and we were the last to get off because of the wheelchair.
11.45am: Southwest arranged for a ground staff for wheelchair assistance so we told him that we needed to get to the Hawaiian Airlines counter as soon as possible. We still had to collect the luggage so that took some time. We then found out that the check-in counter for Hawaiian Airlines was in a different terminal so we had to walk further to get there...ugh!!
12.15pm: We made it to the Hawaiian Airlines and was glad that check-in wasn't closed yet. When I provided the staff with the passport and booking reference, she said that she could see the flight reservation in their system but it was not confirmed before ticketing timed out. So that means the flights weren't booked...wth?!?! I was sure I saw "Confirmed" when we booked the flights and I even found the reservation on both airlines' website. Unfortunately, there weren't anything the Hawaiian Airlines staff could do that she told us that we'd have to contact Southwest airlines because they are not partner airlines and the flight was booked through Southwest's travel agent.
12.20pm: I tried looking for Southwest's contact number in Kona airport and called the Southwest general number but they gave me a number that didn't work. I tried calling few more times and still no luck. I needed to get in touch with someone in Kona airport because they'd be the only ones who'd know the situation and could help us. Dang it...I should have gotten Jessica's phone number before we left Kona.
12.30pm: After trying multiple numbers and not getting any help from Southwest general line (rebooking passengers on an international flight is a very uncommon way for Southwest to compensate for a flight delay so I don't blame them), I decided to walk back to the other terminal to talk to a Southwest staff. I asked my parents to wait for me coz it was gonna be a long walk.
12.40pm: I explained what happened to one of the Southwest staffs at the check-in counter and asked if he had a contact number for their Kona office. The guy gave me the same number which didn't work. After some back and forth with no luck, he offered to walk me over to the Hawaiian Airlines counter (apparently there was some confusion and he thought I didn't know where to go =.=). As we were walking over to the other terminal, mom called me and handed the phone over to the Hawaiian Airlines staff and she told me that it was too late and they have already closed check-in (coz it's an international flight). At that point, I was really frustrated and helpless. I just needed to get in touch with someone in the Kona airport!
1.00pm: I walked back to the Southwest counter and asked if I could talk to the supervisor to explain our situation. So the guy called his supervisor and told me that the he will come out and talk to me in a bit.
1.20pm: After waiting for 20 min with no signs of the manager, the guy who I was originally talking to went missing and I bugged another staff to see if she knew when the manager would come. She called the supervisor and told me that the they got in touch with the Kona supervisor and they were working on finding alternative flights because all flights were either too long or too expensive. At this point, I still hadn't seen the supervisor in Honolulu so I had really no idea what was going on (behind the scenes).
1.30pm: I knew that Airasia had a flight departing at 3pm connecting through Osaka to KL and walked over to the ask what's the latest time to purchase a ticket on the spot. She said 1.50pm so I quickly walk back to the Southwest counter and asked if I could see the supervisor so that I can help look through the flight options. I also told the staff about the Airasia flight option, which she then relayed the message to her supervisor.
1.55pm: I knew that they were really working on booking alternative flights when the staff asked if I had my parents' passport coz the supervisor was trying to book the Airasia flight.
2.15pm: I still hadn't seen the supervisor at this point and we were out of luck for the Airasia flight. I kept looking on google flight for other flight options on that day and the chances of getting my parents on a flight that day was getting bleak as the day went by. There weren't any flights departing from Honolulu to Asia after 4pm. I told my parents to walk back to the Southwest terminal as I continued waiting for the supervisor.
2.30pm: Finally, the customer service supervisor (Darrell) came out to meet us and asked me to look through the flight options coz they weren't able to find anything for that day. =.= We ended up in his office looking through all possible flight options. I was still hoping to get my parents on a flight out that day, but all the flights departing from Honolulu in the evening routes through continental US, which doesn't make sense as it would make the journey twice as long.
2.45am: We finally decided on the exact same Hawaiian Airlines + Malaysia Airlines flight departing on the next day. He also arranged for my parents to spend the night at a hotel close to the airport with free airport shuttle, and provided us with meal vouchers for dinner. After several phone calls with the hotel and Southwest's travel agent, we found out that the flight reservation this morning didn't go through because he had to call the travel agent to do something on the backend to push the reservation through their system to get it ticketed. We were in such a hurry this morning that we didn't have time to check on this.
3.30pm: After confirming with the travel agent that ticketing was successful, he offered to walk over to the Hawaiian Airlines counter (in another terminal) to quadruple confirm that the reservation went through. The Hawaiian Airlines staff confirmed that the tickets were good and helped to arrange for wheelchair assistance. She also offered to help my parents at check-in the next day, which was nice of her.
4.00pm: We walked back to the Southwest terminal where my parents were waiting and Darrell went to get our hotel and meal vouchers printed. He also called the Best Western hotel to arrange for the hotel shuttle to pick us up from the airport. Once again, I'm very very impressed with the Southwest's customer service because they really went above and beyond to help us out.
4.30pm: Checked into Best Western hotel to drop our luggages before taking the 5pm hotel shuttle to their sister hotel for dinner.
5.30pm: Had dinner using the meal vouchers and went back to the hotel at 6.30pm to get my parents settled before I head back to the airport to catch my flight.
8.30pm: Back to the airport to catch my flight from Honolulu - LA - Washington DC - Huntsville. Finally time to relax after a looooong crazy day...phew!!
Took a shower and ate at the Turkish Airlines lounge in DC using my Priority Pass.
Made it back to Huntsville on Dec 7 evening with a torn bag...but United gave a new luggage as a replacement.
I am really impressed with Southwest Airline's customer service and I am extremely thankful for all the help provided by Jessica and Darrell in Kona and Honolulu. What a way to end our trip but glad everything worked out at the end and I'm happy to report that my parents made it back to Malaysia safely. =)