Well, I can safely say getting to Dallas, Texas was something of an ordeal. Not quite as harrowing as getting the citizenship, Visa and passport in the first place but certainly bad enough.
This story is a little long, so I have broken it up into the three legs (Auckland to Los Angales, Los Angeles to Denver and finally Denver to Dallas). Sit back, grab a cup of coffee and enjoy. I will add more instalments later in the week.
Sarah and I left for the airport early, at around about 1pm. My flight was scheduled for 5:55pm, so the recommended 3 hour check-in time was at 2:55pm. I sauntered up to the desk at about 1:30pm and asked to check in for my first and longest flight: QF25, Auckland to Los Angeles.
“I’m sorry sir, but you are too early” came the reply “please come back later”.
Too early? How is it I can possibly be too early? We are all told to check in at least 3 hours before departure, which is 2:55pm. The reason we are given is so as to allow for plenty of time for customs to cavity search us on the way through.
So, I arrived early to beat the mad rush of people trying vainly to satisfy this edict from our emperors of the sky (and to ensure a proper amount of time for my cavity search). Instead I was asked to wait.
Do you mean to say that every passenger on the plane (a Boeing 747-400, with a capacity of over 400 passengers) is expected to arrive at exactly 2:55pm and get their boarding passes in the following minute? Surely not! If the 3 hour rule is just a way of saying “we issue boarding passes from 3 hours before the flight onwards, so don’t bother arriving till after that” then why not say: “arrive between 3 hours and 1 hour before the flight” surely that is more honest?
Of course, these questions all went unspoken and we amused ourselves for a while by having a late lunch. At about 2:30, I tried again. This time it was a woman at the counter. As I walked to the counter out of the corner of my eye, I saw the display above her head flicker and show “QF25”.
“I’m sorry sir, but you are too early…” she began in a weary tone.
“I think you’ll find that QF25 has just appeared on the board” I retorted, grinning smugly.
“Oh!” the look of surprise quickly matured into one of annoyance. Perhaps I had been a little too gleeful at catching her out.
I was promptly issued with a boarding pass on Quantas Flight 25, Seat 36C. Now, that’s about 2 rows behind the business class curtain and in the isle. I wasn’t sure at first whether she was doing me a favour or not. Turns out she was. Bless her!
We adjourned to a cafÃ© where we watched the planes fly in. Geoff and Alastair joined us to say goodbye. It’s a good thing my mother wasn’t there because when I called her from the airport she got a little tearful. A few short minutes and a hot chocolate later had me on the plane.
Here are my plane travel trips: for short flights, go for the window seat. You don’t need to go to the toilet and you get to watch take-off and landing which is oh so much fun. For long flights, take the isle seat. You can go to the toilet when you like, the lights from outside won’t bother you and you get to pop up and retrieve things from the overhead compartment whenever you feel like it.
Also, always try to get a seat as far forward on the plane as possible. The first rows board first and disembark first. When you have a connecting flight, getting off quickly can make the difference between a refreshing change of clothes and a hot, wet, frantic sprint to the next terminal. This was a great saving grace for me and left me feeling far more relaxed for the rest of my journey.
Anyway, so I sit down. There is only one other passenger next to me (an Australian girl). This means we have one spare seat between us. We quickly separate (she takes the window seat) and we pile our combined paraphernalia into the vacant seat between us. There’s nothing like an extra seat to give you that little bit of extra leg room.
At this point, the kids bear mentioning. There is one baby boy (approximately 1-2 years old I would say) in front of me, in the centre seats. In the seat behind me there is a slightly older girl (about 3-4 years). As soon as we take off they let rip with an almighty scream. The kid behind me starts kicking my chair violently as her mother tries vainly to placate her.
They kept this performance up for half of the flight. Thankfully I have had worse flights, where people have been actively, belligerently kicking my chair and the scream of the jet engine drills into your brain like an orthodontist’s drill, so I have developed a kind of tolerance for that sort of thing. I focus on resting as much as possible, because the flight will be long and the dark hours will be short (since we were flying towards the sun).
Half-way through my sleep, I am aware that the children must have been drugged because they drifted off quite peacefully about 5 hours into the 11 hour flight.
We arrived in LAX a little tired and bedraggled but not much the worse for wear. The longest sleep I had was for about 4 hours, the rest was in patches of 1 hour at a time.
This is where the real ordeal starts. Firstly, I had to fill out an I-94 form. The I-94 is for people who are non-US citizens, and who don’t have a green card, but do have a visa for the United States (yes, it is so complex that even the Americans get it mixed up some of them ended up in the wrong queue). I dutifully filled out the form as well as the customs form (which has the usual information about the monetary value of the drugs I am smuggling, how many bombs I am importing and whether or not I have any apples on me).
The customs officer removed my DS2019 from my passport. I was so pleased. For many hours, I had been obsessing about this unwieldy envelope stapled into my poor passport. It had been affixed there by the American Consulate in New Zealand when I received my Visa and I was under strict instructions NOT to open that envelope.
The Americans seem to have a fixation with stapling things. No sooner had he removed the envelope from my passport, than he stapled the stub of the I-94 form back into my passport, through two pages! That’s right, I now have a piece of cardboard protruding from my passport, and it’s affixed to my passport with a staple through two of the pages. Doesn’t that seem just a little barbaric to you? Can’t they stamp your passport like everyone else? What gives, Uncle Sam? Do you really hate the trees that much?
Anyway, my mutilated passport and I made our way through customs. They asked me if I had any fruit (they were particularly concerned about apples) and waved me on. I guess I looked like a local and didn’t appear to be harbouring apples. That was it for customs arriving in LAX.
Stay tuned for the next exciting episode: Los Angeles to Denver!