From my travel journal: Tuesday 19 April 2011, 4.30 pm

It’s Wednesday in New Zealand, 11.30 am, which means that theoretically I should be home by now. The observant among you will have noticed that the date at the top of this entry doesn’t say Wednesday though. That’s because I’m still in America. In Los Angeles airport, to be exact. And the reason I’m an ocean and quite a few time zones away from where I should be? Because I travelled with United from DC to LA.

I can’t say I wasn’t warned. When I told people I was flying United they all told me it was a bad idea. But United code shares with Air New Zealand, so the travel agent told me it would make transferring smoother. Yeah, right…

At first, everything about leaving DC went smoothly. Newk was on the same flight to LA as me, so offered to share a taxi (actually a limo) to the airport. There was a bit of confusion with checking in, because they had a weird self-check-in system that nobody could figure out how to work (and my screen didn’t work at all), so it took twice as long as an ordinary check in while everyone waited for the two staff members on duty to scurry back and forth trying to help people. And it was a bit of a worry when the trainee assigned to check me in when the machine failed mixed up Oakland and Auckland (ok, that just possibly could be to do with my accent :-)), and had to ask me what the airport code is for Christchurch. But eventually it all got sorted out, I was checked in for the correct flights and my bag checked through to CHC (good thing I’m geek enough to remember things like airport codes ;-))

Once through security, Newk and I took turns looking after the bags while the other explored the food and shopping opportunities of the airport (I found a Borders, which was extremely dangerous to my carry-on weight limit!). After one such expedition, I got back to the gate to see a lot of worred faces – they’d just announced that our flight was delayed because of a mechanical problem. Newk asked at the desk what would happen about our connecting flights, but was basically told “don’t worry, we’ll sort it out, now sit down and shut up” (but in slightly prettier words, of course). So we sat down and shut up, and waited, and waited… an hour and a half after our original departure time they finally found another plane, and loaded us onto it. Again we asked the staff what about our connections (and I pointed out that there’s only one flight a day to Auckland from LA), and again we were told not to worry. As I would now have only have about 30 minutes to get to my flight, and Newk about 45, we were worried. But there wasn’t much we could do, so I trusted to United (you may laugh uproariously now) and went to sleep.

Four and a half hours later (and having been further slowed down by bad weather) when we landed at LA, the cabin crew asked other passengers to let those with tight connections off first (yeah, fat chance of that – Newk managed to run down the aisle before it got blocked too badly, but I had to get my bag from the overhead locker, and the few seconds that took was enough to leave me trapped at the back of the plane) and that passengers on the Auckland flight should meet the agent on the airbridge. I assumed that meant they’d organised a cart to get us over to the Air NZ gate on time, but no. They didn’t even bother to request a cart until we were all there (about 15 of us), by which time there were none available. And by the time they figured that out it was too late for us to just run to the other gate. So that was annoyance number one: surely given that they knew when we left Dulles how late we were running and how many of us there were, they could have organised everything in the four and a half hours they had until we arrived???

With no hope of catching our flight, the agent told us to go and see the United service desk and they’d rebook our flights for today and sort out a hotel. So we trekked for miles around the airport trying to find the correct desk (the agent didn’t bother to come with us or anything, of course), and then had to wait for ages in a queue while the agent there tried to figure out where we were going (cue the same Oakland/Auckland mix up, even though I’d shown her my boarding passes – surely my accent isn’t that thick?) A lot of the passengers were getting very angry at this point, because she wasn’t at all sympathetic to any requests for re-routing to get to their final destinations quicker (one woman standing next to me was connecting to Sydney from Auckland, but even though there are several direct flights from LA to Sydney every day, the agent wouldn’t even look for one for her, but said she had to take the flight to Auckland). Eventually I got through the queue and got my re-booked tickets, and a voucher for a hotel, and vague directions on where to catch a shuttle. After a lot of searching (and getting totally lost and having to ask directions twice) I eventually found the shuttle, plus a few of the other stranded passengers, and we headed to our hotel… where the clerk said there were no rooms left, and that United hadn’t even contacted them to let them know we were coming!

He was very sympathetic though, and said United do this sort of thing all the time. He said there was no point in going back to the airport, because their service desk would be closed by now (it was after 11pm by this time), so offered to ring around a few hotels to find us rooms. We had to take a taxi to the new hotel (I made sure we got a receipt – United is going to be paying for this!), but of course they couldn’t accept our vouchers, because they were made out to the other hotel. So we had to pay for the rooms ourselves ($145!!! I definitely kept that receipt!)

Finally I could collapse into bed (but not before I range H – at horribly expensive hotel rates, so it cost me a fortune, but it was worth it to hear his voice and be able to tell him what a horrible time I was having). My suitcase was still at the airport, so I didn’t have any toiletries or clean clothes or anything, but by that point I really didn’t care.

The hotel was kind enough to give us a late check-out, so I could have a long sleep in (I needed it!), and then got a breakfast from room service (the first time in my life I’ve ever used room service, but I’d seen from the shuttle the night before that we were in a wilderness of airport hotels with no other alternatives for eating (other than the hotel dining room, which I didn’t quite feel up to with no comb and no toothbrush!). Not the cheapest breakfast I’ve ever had, but a necessary luxury (and I finally got to try a breakfast burrito!)). Oh yeah – to add insult to injury, despite the fact that we’d have a 24-hour wait for our new flight, United gave us each a single meal voucher for $15. So generous…

I had to check out at 3pm, so, with nothing to do in the vicinity of the hotel, and not being brave enough to try and get into the city, I’ve come to the airport. The terminal Air NZ leaves from is pretty small, so there’s only a handful of shops and restaurants, but I’ve got several books with me (thank goodness for that visit to Borders at Dulles :-)), so I should be able to keep myself entertained until my flight boards at 10 pm.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. When I got to the airport this afternoon and checked in, Air NZ had no record of my booking – United had stuffed it up yet again! Luckily they managed to get me on the flight though (and from the look on the Air NZ agent’s face, he will be having words with the United agent). After all this, I’ll be amazed if my suitcase makes it home to Christchurch with me…

PS. Yes, I know there are a few days missing – suffice it to say, the convention was brilliant and I didn’t have a spare second to journal (actually, this unplanned stopover is a bit of a bonus, because it actually let me catch up on some sleep!). I’ll have a go at getting caught up in a while. Probably.

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