Coming Home

I never seem to have too much trouble getting anywhere, but returning always seems to turn into a miniature disaster. The Lake Tahoe trip, for example. The flight back from California was no exception. Let’s recap…

As I wrote earlier, I had to twice go into San Francisco Airport to work out the changes to my ticket. I knew after all that mess that I there was no hope of my return being uneventful. But I put the most likely screw-up as sending my luggage to Scandinavia. I should be so lucky.

Since my flight departed at 8:30am on Saturday, meaning I had to be there by 6:30am (ideally), I had to catch the airport shuttle at about 5:30am. So… I figured what the heck, I’ll just stay up. That way I have more time to get ready, and don’t need to worry about sleeping in or anything silly like that. So I did that, and it was fine – once everything was ready I wasted away the small hours of the morning playing Minions of Mirth.

It was rather scary waiting for the shuttle. I had a booking window of 5:30-5:45, allowing for traffic and whatever. Just to be safe, I was outside, downstairs, at 5:15. 5:30 came and went, and I started to expect the van any minute. 5:45 came and went, and I started to get worried. At 6am, I knew I would have to get a taxi right away to get up to the airport in time. Just as I was walking inside, the van came around the corner. A huge relief, but, we were still running half an hour late. That didn’t phase the driver, who sped the whole way to the airport at 70mph, while playing with his mobile phone the whole way. I’m amazed we survived. Luckily, I guess, at that hour there wasn’t much traffic.

So I got to the airport with plenty of time. Check-in went smoothly, with the usual “random” security check – one I “randomly” get every single time. This time I had the ‘privilege’ of being put through their little air blower, which is bizarre. For a few seconds you get buffeted with warm air, and then it beeps, and you walk out. I’m not entirely convinced it does anything – it’s probably just a test of how complacent people are when it comes to their own dignity and privacy.

Anyway, I made it to the plane, which was fine. The plane was rather cramped, as they always are, but seemingly even more so than usual. I slept [poorly] for a fair bit of the flight, and killed the remaining time listening to music and whatnot. I had a window seat, but my window was stuck shut, so I didn’t see much at all. Rather boring, all in all.

At Honolulu, things went smoothly enough – I asked two separate people if I had to do anything with my baggage, but they both assured me it would go through to Sydney automatically. I didn’t believe them, but, couldn’t do anything otherwise. So, after an hour or so waiting in the departure lounge, we finally departed.

And got as far as the end of the taxiway. There, the plane in front of us stopped. And didn’t go again. Apparently it had completely broken down, and had to be towed away. After half an hour or so, while they took their sweet time, they moved it out of the way and we were able to depart. Not a great start, but at least we were on our way.

The flight to Sydney was quite good, really. There was sporadic turbulence, which I really like. It gave me an extra hour or so of light sleep. But the plane really was uncomfortable, with the dodgy seats that don’t lean back properly and with headrests that fall down constantly. So sleep wasn’t really an option.

I watched four movies – Legend of Zorro, Just Like Heaven, The Greatest Game Ever Played and Metropolis. No, the airline didn’t show Metropolis – I had that on my laptop. It worked rather well for a plane flight – it’s a “silent” movie with a classical musical score, which is somehow rather serene. I haven’t actually got to see the last five minutes yet, though – we landed that little bit too early.

The food was pretty abysmal, though, I must say. Not nearly as good as Qantas’ trans-pacific flights, which I actually think are quite good – barring that weird radioactive purple muffin I had a few years ago – but that was a Melbourne to Canberra flight, anyway. :)

So, when we landed in Sydney it was in typical Sydney weather – thunderstorms. They weren’t very bad at all – we saw all of half a dozen lightning strikes the entire time, if that, and most were sheet lightning. But nonetheless, the damn chicken ground staff called a strike, just as we were about to dock at the terminal. So we sat there for a good three quarters of an hour. Brilliant.

When I finally did step off the plane, it was 10:15pm. My flight to Melbourne was scheduled for 10:20pm. Just swell. Those people with connecting flights to catch were let off the plane first, so I got off quickly. At the end of the walkway was a woman with various envelopes, that she was providing to people by name. Of course, I didn’t have one. She had no idea why, so she got my name, and told me I’d simply have to go to the Hawaiian check-in counter, once I got out, to find out what was going on. I knew that some others had missed their flights and were being rescheduled to the next day, but I thought there was still a chance I could catch mine. I’m sure if they’d actually tried they could have got me on it. But they didn’t care.

Getting through customs was actually quite quick. I made it to the custom’s counter with only a few people ahead of me, while behind me were the passengers from half a dozen planes, that had finally managed to dock too. So the custom’s people were more than happy to expedite my progress. Of course, once through there I had to wait half an hour for my luggage to turn up.

Once I had my luggage, I had to head off to find the Hawaiian counter. At the exit to the international arrivals area there was thousands of people all crowded around, waiting for people. And they wouldn’t move. I had to just force my way through, shoving people aside. Bloody Sydneyians.

Once I made it upstairs, I found the Hawaiian counter. Of course, as usual there weren’t any Hawaiian employees there – I suspect they don’t really exist – but there was a fill-in girl there, who while nice clearly had no actual authority. I gave her my ticket and summarised my situation, to which she responded “Oh… your flight was yesterday”. Ah ha ha. Ha. Even after those two trips to SFO, they’d still managed to screw it up. Which is really brilliant for an airline that derives a major part of it’s revenue from flights that cross the date line, and should know damn well of the date change that entails. But no, they’d blindly booked it on the wrong day. So somehow I was supposed to be departing Sydney some two hours or so before I departed San Francisco. There’s some real magic going on behind the scenes, obviously. Next time I’m not going to change my domestic flight, I’ll demand they change my pacific flight to whatever one it is that can do the whole trip in minus four hours.

So, she informed me that she could get me into a hotel with all the others stuck in Sydney for the night – there were dozens of people on my flight alone – but she couldn’t guarantee an actual ticket out. She told me there was a flight at 7:30am the next day, and that I could turn up and see what happens. That’s just lovely.

So, I went to the hotel – which took over an hour to get to, because they didn’t bother sending for the shuttle bus for forty five minutes – and eventually got into bed, after a $13 jaffle. Seriously. Served on corn chips. Fancy. Only a few hours later I was up again, of course, to get back out the airport. I arrived there at about 6:30, and made my way to the Qantas check-in counter.

At this point all I had was a crappy paper itinerary which noted the 7:30 flight’s time and number. So I gave that to the girl at the counter, and explained my situation. She confirmed that there were no tickets for me. This didn’t surprise me at this point. But, since I clearly wasn’t going anywhere anyway, I didn’t go anywhere. And after a few minutes of doing her thing, whatever it is they do there – writing the great American novel, to judge by the constant typing – she abruptly handed me a boarding pass, and I was on my way.

So, from there it was a relatively smooth ride to Melbourne, where things unexpectedly progressed well – I caught the airport bus down to Frankston, where my dad picked me up and dropped me back at my mum’s. There I was able to indulge in both real chocolate and clean water! That really was the highlight of the entire trip. Finally being able to get decent chocolate, and decent drinking water. I’ve been drinking way too much water since I got back, simply because I can! I missed water.

So, despite a few ‘hiccups’, I arrived back in Australia, safe and sound. Hooray.

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