Getting to The World Championships 2013….
This is the story of how my flight to Australia took five days
The First Day (Thursday)
There were 3 surf boats on top of my parents’ SUV. They only have standard factory racks, so with two boats stacked on top of one another, and a third next to them, the whole setup looked ridiculous. The plan was to have my parents drop me off at the airport and we would leave rather early because of the expected traffic from the BART (metro) strikes. Strangely enough, we hit no traffic the entire way. The day was The Fourth of July (Independence Day), and my best guess was that everyone was barbecuing.
We got most of the way to the airport, and then the delays started. I received an international call from Air New Zealand. ‘The flight is delayed and we are going to put you on an 8am or 10am flight with a 14 hour layover in Auckland.’ There seemed to be some confusion on their end as to what flight I was going to be on- I wasn’t able to get a straight answer from them. Apparently the plane had an oil leak that needed to be fixed in Auckland and by the time they arrived here in the States the pilots had to take their mandatory rest time so we were delayed.
I feel like the delay was information they knew hours and hours in advance and they could have told me this before the flight had arrived in SFO and I wouldn’t have wasted a day driving to SFO, but okay whatever… Well, I decided to say f-that and got onto the 10pm flight instead. That way I wouldn’t have the dumb layover and I would be on the flight with Devon and Kate. We turned around feeling bummed that I was delayed and wasted half a day, but I was relatively okay with it since I was now going to be flying with the team.
The Second Day (Friday)
Kate picked me up early and we fit all six boats on/in her truck; that thing is a beast! We made a slight detour when we picked up her buddy Delilah, but she was going to shuttle Kate’s truck so she didn’t have to leave it in the airport. Thanks Delilah! Eventually, we got to the airport and tried checking in the boats. We were there too early and the desk wasn’t open yet so we asked a service guy when they would be. He said that the flight was delayed and we should come back in about two hours. There were no attendants for air NZ to be seen anywhere and there were a couple of hours to kill so we went to a nearby bar happy hour.
We get back to the airport HELLUVE early and are the first ones in line, only to find out that the flight was delayed until Saturday. Apparently they were still back logged from the original leak, but didn’t tell us until the time of the flight. Again you would have figured that they would have known this and could have notified us the day before? Luckily they checked the bags in, so Kei, the nicest lady ever, got our 6 boats checked in for free (shhh). We hadn’t brought them in at first because we weren’t sure if they would take them, so we brought them in one at a time after she gave us the green light. Being three of us it surprisingly went fast and didn’t really seem to take much extra time than it normally would have to check three people in. The people in the line were giving us interesting looks; most of the responses were “is all that really necessary?” Ha!
We lucked out and Air NZ gave us a free night at a local hotel that was only about 10 minutes away; $28 for dinner and another $18 for brekky. We made good use of our hotel; did some laps in the pool, enjoyed some hot tub, and ate some really good San Francisco style bar food.
The Third Day (Saturday)
After a nice and free breakfast, we get to the airport early and everything is checked in ready to go. After the delays we have already had we figured we were past all of it and nothing else would go wrong. That is why we didn’t even bat an eye when the flight seemed to be delayed a bit past its 11am departure time.
At first they announced loading ‘children and people who need assistance multiple times. I don’t think many people caught that, but they seemed to be stalling or waiting for some troublesome person. I kept thinking that someone had requested the service and was late. After about twenty minutes of that they finally announced that the plane had been delayed and the next update will be in an hour.
Giving us no information and telling us that we had to wait an hour before we would get any made it seem like we were going to be there a very long time. Naturally, Kate and Devon go to the bar but I decide to stay at the boarding desk to wait for any info.
At this point the people on that flight were so used to standing in lines and waiting that we mostly ignored security rules. I was there in the lobby with Kate’s, Devon’s, two others’ (who we had become friends with), and my bags. I thought about making a fort at times which you are totally not supposed to do, but really no one cared anymore. It was really interesting seeing people take turns standing in line or watching bags. Everything seemed much more relaxed than it typically would be. There were times whole groups of people were sitting on the floor chatting. It became a sort of community. There were people that I recognized from the day before and some that I had talked to that were supposed to be on the same original flight I had been. We mostly chatted about what their trip in the States had been like. Curiously, I had people ask me if I was that guy who had been here since the Thursday delay, like I had been pointed out by people. If I had taken the other options that they gave me after my first delay, I would have been in Australia already.
Now, there was one younger kid with a laptop that kept trying to show the attendants something. He had a rather smug look on his face like he had figured it all out. I had this feeling that it had to do with our flight, but the attendants never said anything about it. I think they were waiting for an official announcement to tell us anything.
Eventually that hour went by and all they gave us was that the next update will be at 2pm. I figure I will go tell the girls to update them since they weren’t there. Funny thing is that they knew more than I did. I get to the bar to tell them about the ‘update’ and there is a plane crash on the TV screens at the bar. In my head I am thinking, ‘seriously? How did they keep that quiet?’
Then we started to hear that other flights are being straight up cancelled, but our Air NZ kept us waiting. Apparently they did everything they possibly could to try to get our plane in the air. At 2pm they make an announcement and tell us that the problem is that our flight needed a long runway to go anywhere. SFO has two long runways and the plane crash sent debris over both of them. They tried taking things out (fuel and etc) to make the plane light enough for a short runways and figuring alternate paths for us to go (at one point Fiji), but the wind switched to a tailwind which screwed everything and we couldn’t go anywhere.
They then announced that they are putting us in hotels. The girls were still at the bar, so I called Kate to tell her what was going on and to SPRINT to the desk. The entire airport just got delayed a day and it is unlikely the airlines is going to be able to put that many people up for the night. We might be spending the night in the airport.
I brought the bags back to the front desk and find Kate and Devon in line. It was utterly amazing that no one cared at all when I strolled up to them and gave them their bags. I watched dozens of people do the same thing. There was no point in complaining about ‘cutting or line hopping,’ we all understood that were all going to wait the same amount of time anyways. In this case though, some people might not have gotten hotels, but to my knowledge Air NZ got everyone set up.
The Airline ended up placing us in a hotel forty-five minutes away, across the bay in San Jose. The shuttles were going in waves and we were going to have to be in the second one. We also had the option of getting a cab and getting the cost refunded later, which we took. Luckily we called ahead as the cab was taking us. The hotel that we were supposed to go to had not heard of us, so we went to an alternate one that we had on our ‘delayed papers’. This turned out to be a great move.
We were after the second wave of shuttles and the alternative hotel was already booked up on rooms that the airline had purchased. So, we waited for an hour or so to get confirmation that the airline was buying more rooms and this was going to be the place we were staying at.
Our shuttle group was hanging out in the lobby waiting for the confirmation to come through when more stranded travelers arrived, like refugees. They had been rejected from the other hotel that we had called ahead to. I was so happy that we had called. Whose ever idea that was, THANK YOU! The other group formed a queue and waited for any news. Happily Air NZ came through, and we got rooms.
I got a room high up on the twenty-something-th floor, along with more food vouchers. I was too tired to go down to the dinner hall so I ordered order room service. It was about midnight when a giant Cobb salad arrived and I left a fat tip with all the leftover money. Originally, I had tried to prepare myself for the time change by getting up earlier. Initially I was worried that these delays had really screwed with that preparation but we were going to have a daytime flight the next day! That meant it was going to be night when we arrived, which was perfect for lining up with the time change.
The Fourth Day (Sunday)
We took the earliest of shuttles for the airport at about 7am. We were able to leave the boats on the plane the day before, which was lucky because if we had to take the boats with us that would have been a nightmare. I would rather not think about getting on a shuttle and into a hotel the day before. The shuttle was packed and if we had boats we would have had to wait for the last one.
That was the third time that I had checked in for that flight, and I was getting to be a pro at it. ID? Check. Passport? Check. You need to see it? Already out. Water in the bottle? Already drank it. Shoes? Not even laced. Pockets? Been empty for three days. Everything finally went smoothly at the airport, with no hiccups at all
There was still a wrecked plane on the runway. We needed the long runway to be able to do the flight we intended on without delays. The plan was to reroute us to Fiji so we could take off with less fuel, but at the last minute they opened up the big runway and we were able to fly straight to Auckland. I suspect they took pity on our flight since we had been delayed for so long.
One of the creepiest things I have ever seen is the carcass of the crashed Asiana flight on the runway. We were taxing (It’s taxiing, according to Merriam-webster.com. Awkward, so I would reword to eliminate it). about getting ready to fly and we drove right by it; the roof missing, luggage everywhere, huge chunks of machinery about. We had heard that no one had died, which was later reveal to be false. It was just so surreal, and yet I was in an airplane like it wouldn’t happen to us.
Thankfully, the flight was smooth. The twelve hours went by rather fast and I didn’t sleep a wink of it. I will say, the landing that pilot did was the smoothest landing I have ever had. I honestly had a hard time telling when the wheels hit the ground. The plane burst out in applause and there was a cheer!
Cheers aside, the plane landing did not mean we were at our destination. We had to stay the night in Auckland, but none of us cared since we were at least on our way to Australia now. We did care, however, that they wouldn’t let us check the boats in that night and made us carry the boats to the hotel. It just so happened that the hotel was just right across the street and the bellman was able to hold them in the storage room.
The hotel was one of those real fancy smancy hotels with elevator keycards and everything. It was trying to be modern, and had a weird see-through shower. Besides aesthetics, I could not for the life of me figure out why I would want to be able to see someone on the toilet…
The Fifth Day (Tuesday?)
This was the fourth time I had been given a free brekky. Naturally, being in New Zealand, they had kiwi juice!
Checking in boats went fine, the flight was on time, and everything seemed to be going smoothly; until we were delayed in the air for whatever reason and were put into a holding pattern for half an hour. The three of us basically just rolled our eyes. We were off the coast of Australia finally. If worse comes to worst, the plane goes in the water and we kayak to the competition.
Again, the landing was smooth. Not as nice as the Auckland landing, but hey, we were on the ground and finally in AUSTRALIA!
The competition was being held north of the airport at a location that was about an hour and a half away, so Kate took a taxi to pick up the van. When she pulled up in the craziest of Wicked Van uglies, I just laughed. It was going to be one of those trips… Awesomely enough, all the boats fit in that van! That is, two IC boats, and three HP boats, along with all of our gear.
We just barely made it to the paddlers meeting, but unfortunately we missed out on the barbeque. 😦
What I Took Away
This was my first time travelling internationally with boats. I think we lucked out quite a bit with airlines allowing the IC boats to come along and not having to make multiple transfers with them. Being a crew with six boats things could have gotten quite interesting, however people seemed to understand that we were serious about bringing them and were very accommodating about it.
Throughout the entire ordeal I mainly just tried to keep a positive attitude. I never moped about losing four days of vacation time in Australia that I could have been pre-surfing. Nor did I gripe about how terrible the airlines were. I actually thought that Air NZ did an amazing job trying to make up for the delays. Mostly, to keep positive, I just talked to people.
Being forced to stay in the airport for hours got you talking to random people. Everybody had stories about where they were going and what they had just done. I lucked out at one point and talked with a bunch of Kiwis to get some beta for the next leg of my trip, going to New Zealand. Some people were agitated but I don’t think they stayed that way very long; they just couldn’t with the amount of time we had to spend in the airport. There was also the guy who was continuously shit-faced. That man sure had some opinions to tell you about!
I would say that this experience was an eye opener for me. While I didn’t come to some profound sense of understanding humanity or learn something deep and personal about myself, I did get more comfortable learning to follow the flow. I really wanted to be in the warm Australian Pacific for the extra days, but I had to take this path instead. I didn’t want to take this path but there wasn’t anything I could do about it. The only way I was getting to that ocean was by following the flow. Which is really just a simile for pretending to be a sheep in an airport…