As with the night before when I had the disembarkment looming over me, I find it hard to sleep with the morning flight coming up. I’m up ahead of my alarm and the back-up wake-up call, and out on the shuttle bus to Melbourne airport with plenty of time to spare.
At home, we’re always told to get to the airport at least 3 hours before an international flight.
On Air New Zealand, you can’t even check in until you get within the 3 hour mark.
And since there’s nowhere to sit near the check in area, I am one of a handful of people just lingering awkwardly about.
But eventually I get myself and my luggage checked in. I wait patiently for my connection to Auckland, while behind me, the direct flight to LA which is of course the next leg of my trip is leaving. (I’d probably see if I could get on it, but (a) it’s United and I’m booked on Air New Zealand for this leg, so there’s not going to be an easy transfer of logistics and (b) it’s probably going to be prohibitively expensive to take the more direct route, because it was when I booked in the first place.
I sit tight.
I get checked onto my flight, and it’s smooth sailing to Auckland. My transition in Auckland is smooth. I board the 12-hour flight for LA.
This time I have the window seat I wanted!
But even with the ability to lean (plus recline a bit, just imagine!), and the empty seat between me and the next person, and the sleeping pill, and the fact that I haven’t slept up to now or meaningfully for the last few days and back at home it really is time to sleep so this would be perfect…
I still don’t get much sleep on the plane.
But at least Air New Zealand feeds us. Reasonably well, for airplane food, even.
Eventually, we start to get near LA. From above, there is barely a spot of green anywhere; a stark comparison to New Zealand.
I have closer to 3.5 hours to make my transition this time, so I shouldn’t be in such a time crunch this time around. But I’m inbound from international PLUS this is LA, so of course it doesn’t work that way.
- We land “early” but that just means our gate isn’t ready for us, so we have to wait anyway.
- We have to go through immigration, and the line I’m assigned to, although there are only about 10 people ahead of me, literally takes an hour to clear.
- We have to claim our bags before going to customs.
- We have to get through customs.
- We have to get out of this terminal, and in my case, get to the LAX inter-terminal bus (oh, not this nightmare again) and get to the United terminal. Which is… terminal… 6. Wait. 7/8. Wait. Why is United listed on 3 terminals without any clarity about which does what, and why is my “on time flight” detail telling me a GATE without bothering to mention a TERMINAL?
AUGH!! TIME IS TICKING AWAY AND EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS PROCESS IS UNNECESSARILY STRESSFUL!
Eventually I get to the correct terminal. Again with the Arrivals vs Departures lack of clarity. Again with the employee directions needed to get to the right place. Again with the security line but I (and the 4 other people in the same boat with me, trying to get to our connection) am on a flight that reports boarding is starting in… 10 minutes.
Mercifully, a staffer there (bless you, sir) gets us expedited through the line and we RUN through the terminal (shoes flopping, unpacked liquids under arms because there’s no time to repack right now) and…
We just make it to the gate, where everyone is already lined up in their boarding zones. (Of course there wasn’t time to stop in the ladies room in the interim but the flight attendant takes pity on me while others are still finding their seats and storing their bags.)
True to form, the 6 hours domestic feels at least as long as the 12 hours international. But we get there safely, which is the thing. My ride takes me home without incident. A bit of unpacking, a quick shower, a change into jammies…
And I go to bed smelling of my usual bath products and in a bed where the sheets smell of my laundry soap and the sounds are the sounds of my home.
I am well and truly back, and that is good.