Poor MrPloppy! He flew to London on Wednesday evening… well, that was the idea, anyway – it didn’t quite work out like that. His itinerary was pretty simple: fly to Auckland, spend two hours there, then fly to Los Angeles, another two hour wait, then fly to London, arriving at Heathrow on Thursday morning, where his parents would meet him and then drive back to Wales. He’d never flown long-distance on his own before, so was pretty nervous, but I had spent all week reassuring him, and going over all what would happen, what he’d need to do in terms of customs, passport control, etc, so that he knew exactly what to expect, until on Wednesday he was looking, if not actually relaxed, at least not quite so utterly terrified. I finished work early so I could go out to the airport with him, and asked the check-in person to go through the whole procedure with him as well, just to reassure him yet again that everything would go just as I’d told him. He got on the plane to Auckland, and I headed home, expecting that the next time I’d hear from him would be on Friday morning (Thursday evening UK time), when he was going to ring me from his parents’ house to let me know he’d arrived safely.
3 am Thursday morning, and I’m awoken by the phone ringing. I drag myself to the phone, and it’s MrPloppy: “There’s been a bit of a problem.”
“Where are you?”
“Still in Auckland.”
My mind was racing at this point – had he missed the plane? Been in an accident? Luckily, it was nothing so dreadful. He’d had no problems at Auckland – he found the International terminal easily, paid his departure tax, went through passport control, found the right gate, got on the plane – everything was exactly as I’d told him to expect. The plane took off, they flew for a while, and then the pilot made an announcement: a warning light had come on, and he was going to have to turn back to Auckland, but first they’d be circling over the sea for a while, while he dumped some fuel so they could land safely. It was after 1 am when they landed back in Auckland, and then it was a long time before the airline actually started passing on any information to the passengers – finally they announced that the repairs would take several hours, so they were going to put the passengers into a hotel for the rest of the night, and they’d take off again at 11 am. For some reason, they didn’t put them into one of the hotels near the airport (I suppose they were all full or something), but bussed them all the way into the city, so it was nearly 3 by the time they finally reached the hotel and got their rooms (which was when MrPloppy rang me). He’d been told they’d be picked up in the morning at 9 am and taken back to the airport, and that they’d arrive in London about 10 hours late, so he wanted me to ring his parents to let them know about the change (rather than him phoning a mobile phone in the UK at hotel room phone rates – it cost enough just for him to ring me!). I rang them straight away, hoping to catch them before they reached London (because I knew they were planning on staying overnight in a hotel near Heathrow, and thought they might be able to find somewhere cheaper further afield, now that they wouldn’t have to pick him up until Thursday night). Unfortunately, they’d just checked in to the hotel 🙁
I staggered back to bed, very aware that I had to get up in the morning for work. Somehow I managed to get up when the alarm went off, made it to work, and wasn’t there long when MrPloppy rang again. “Are you at the airport?” I asked.
“No, still at the hotel. We’re not leaving until 3 pm now.”
The repairs were taking longer than they’d expected, so the new plan was that the passengers would stay at the hotel until 11, and then be bussed to the airport, and fly to LA, arriving there 7 am (LA time). Unfortunately, for reasons never properly explained (or if they were, MrPloppy couldn’t understand them), that meant they wouldn’t be able to fly Air New Zealand from LA to London – instead, they’d be flying American Airlines. And that flight didn’t leave until 6 pm, so they’d have an 11 hour wait in LA! The airline hadn’t decided yet whether they’d give the passengers a hotel room while they waited, or if they’d just be stuck in the airport, but it did mean they’d all have to apply for entry visa waivers (because previously they’d just have had a short wait in a transit lounge, so wouldn’t have needed to officially enter the USA, so nobody had visas). I reassured MrPloppy yet again that everything would work out ok (my reassurances were starting to sound hollow even to me at this point!), told him to make sure the airline at least gave him meal vouchers for his stay in LA (because he didn’t have any American money if he wanted to buy something to eat), and said if he did end up staying in the airport and needed to sleep he should stretch out across several seats and use his bag as a pillow so noone could steal it (he was in such a panic by now, as well as suffering from lack of sleep (he hadn’t managed to sleep much in the hotel, of course), that he couldn’t think of those sorts of things for himself).
2.30 pm, and the phone rang again. I braced myself to hear some more bad news, but it was just MrPloppy letting me know that he was at the airport and was about to board the plane – it didn’t look like there’d be any more delays, so he’d ring me when he got there. He gave me all the flight details for the American Airline flight so that I could ring his parents again and tell them the new arrival time (now 11 am on Friday!). At least this time he’d managed to get a phone card out of the airline so he could ring me – the two short phone calls from the hotel had cost him $40!!! (Isn’t a Visa card a wonderful thing?)
I didn’t sleep well that night (I think I was waiting for the next phone call!), and on Friday night I half expected to get a call from his parents at midnight, saying that he hadn’t turned up or something. But finally on Saturday morning I got the long-awaited phone call from MrPloppy, telling me he was safe and sound in Wales. “So everything went ok then?” I asked.
“Not exactly.” The plane had taken off from Auckland, and the same fault had happened again! So once again they had to dump the fuel (no wonder air travel is so expensive!) and return to Auckland. This time they were taken to the Business class lounge and given a buffet dinner while a different plane was prepared to take them instead. They eventually arrived in LA at 5 pm (LA time), so only had a two-hour wait after all – just enough time to get to the terminal where American Airlines leaves from (which of course was at the opposite end of the airport to Air NZ’s terminal!). The flight to London was mercifully uneventful (and had the bonus of personal video screens in the seat backs, which Air NZ planes don’t have yet), his parents were waiting at arrivals, and the only hitch remaining was that seeing as it was now Friday instead of Thursday, when he was supposed to arrive, they were stuck in all the May Bank Holiday traffic on the road to Wales, so it was a very slow journey.
Anyway, after all the traumas, he made it (and so did his luggage – pretty amazing, considering all the chopping and changing that went on!!!). He’s vowed and declared never ever ever to fly anywhere on his own again though! (Well, except for flying back home, of course!) And he wasn’t impressed by my suggestion that he look on it as all part of the adventure of travel…