America, episode 1 (Helps if you hit "publish", doesn’t it…)

by Crystal N on August 4, 2007

Hi. I promised my list the story of my time in the US a few days ago, but turns out when I finished writing it I hit “save” instead of publish. Oops! Here’s the story below (finally) – apologies for the delay.

OK. The saga begins with a comedy of errors. The dates on my itinerary don’t match the ones on my ticket, and neither match what I actually told the travel agent I wanted. When I follow up, she manages to make it sound like it was me assuming she would change something I hadn’t asked her to, although I distinctly remember discussing it and the bit that’s wrong is actually right on the itinerary, so she changed it on the paperwork but not the ticket. I can’t change any of it without a big fee, so I arrange a last minute extra night in a hotel in Miami, book the shuttle for the date she’d booked me into and tell everyone the new plan.

The night before, I don’t sleep much with the excitement (no surprise there). The light bulb in my study blows as I get ready to go, and I don’t have enough time to fix it. The shuttle company isn’t answering when I try to ring and confirm my booking. The day is grey, wet and miserable, but despite that we arrive at the airport early at 9.30 and I check in half an hour before I need to, so I figure things are finally going right again. Famous last words. I remember I need to check they forwarded my details about being vegetarian so I double back and check. After the agent having made a big deal when I told her about how so many people forget and they really need to tell the travel agent so it can go through with the booking, she hasn’t put it on. So, they’re going to try to grab something for me, but may not be able to. At least they fix it up for the rest of the trip.

I head for the lounge to sit and wait, but they won’t let me in since it’s too early – just after eleven by the time I’ve wandered all the shops. Plane is due to take off at 1.30 which means we can get in about an hour before that. There’s a few chairs nearby and a setup with three internet terminals, all in use, so I grab a chair, plug in my mp3 player and madly start scribbling notes from the course I’m listening to. I take a break from that after about a half hour, and one of the terminals come free, so I shoot off a quick email to a few friends, telling them how exciting it is now it’s all happening, and how I hope things having gone wrong before I leave means the rest of the trip is hassle free, the way my mum used to believe. Again, I really shouldn’t have said that.

At 12.30, the lounge is full, and we find out that due to the storm this morning, they have to check the plane over for lightning damage, so there’ll be a delay of about an hour. Then after an hour, it’s still delayed. There’s a lounge full of schoolkids heading back to the states who are becoming increasingly vocal about the situation – including asking why they don’t just put us on a spare plane. I couldn’t keep quiet at that, and told her that businesses didn’t run that way – if you left spare planes lying around at every airport that’s a lot of planes not making money. She took it and started whinging about how they didn’t keep spare planes. Kids!

We finally got into the boarding lounge at 4.30. We finally got on board at 5.30 We finally took off at 6. By this stage, I’ve already spent pretty much the whole day waiting. And I’m flying cattle class. Being a “fuller figured person” I need a seatbelt extender, and of course the tray doesn’t go down properly so I’m eating my meals off a cushion balanced on the tilted table. Delivered first because of being vegetarian, I’m finished before everyone else is started, but they won’t collect it until they come through for the rest of them, so it sits there for a LONG time each meal. I’m reminded why I so badly wanted to go business class if I ever went back to America…

So, almost 14 hrs later we landed in LA. This was at about 2pm local time, when we had been due in around 8am, so of course we’ve all missed our flights. We’ve also been shunted to a terminal miles out, so we’re climbing down stairs from the plane with numb and/or shaky legs after the trip, hiking to a bus with standing room only, and being shuttled across to the entry. Going in, we’re all following stairs and corridors, only to choke up on one of those rooms with endless backwards and forwards roped off sections for a very long queue (half full at this stage, I might add) and I start wondering if this is what cattle feel like going through all their stuff. I’m feeling sleep deprived and probably looking it, so by the time I finally get up to the counter (felt like about an hour later) and the guy takes a photo of me, I’m thinking they must have about the most candid shots EVER of all of us. I mean seriously, the kind of shots you expect to see in a lineup. No makeup left, big dark circles, no idea how many different directions my hair had decided to simultaneously head in – you get the idea? After all the formalities, I finally got “Enjoy your stay… ” Yeah, right. Fantastic welcome. You now have my fingerprints scanned and a photo I could probably be bribed with. Great start.

So, I’m at LA airport. I’m directed down a corridor to re-book my flight to Miami since I’ve obviously long since missed mine. I head down to the room they directed me towards, only to be told before I get there to head OUTSIDE the terminal and to the actual check in gates instead. Innocently I do. I have no idea whether the people in the queue for that re-booking area had to go through this, but by going out and upstairs to the ticket counter I joined in every Tom, Dick and Harriet checking in, another long queue, then off to another spot to put my luggage in again, then into the even longer queue for customs, where I discovered that here they have everyone take their shoes off to go through the scanner. After what must felt like nearly two days of travel, my joggers probably could have qualified as a health hazard – I really do not envy those poor attendants (I couldn’t have been the only one with a slightly fragrant air) and I reckon they ought to be paid danger money!!!

I begin to cotton on to why, after arriving at 2pm, the ‘next flight’ they book me onto doesn’t leave til 9pm. Even if I am totally wrecked, sleep deprived, and feeling a lot like some kind of homeless vagrant type. Oh yes, and after all that last minute rushing to get the hotel for that extra day the agent had me booked for, my flight doesn’t get into Miami until almost 6am on the 10th, approximately 4 hours before I would have to check out again. Not a lot of point, so I rang the hotel to cancel it. Luckily they gave me a phone card to notify people about the delay, but to my surprise, having booked it over the internet I now have to actually call back to AUSTRALIA to the booking agency to cancel it. Go figure! I get through to Australia, and spend two minutes listening to one of those automatic answering services that tells you the history of everything before giving you an option to connect anywhere, waiting impatiently through options while I wonder desperately whether the phonecard is about to run out…

Stay tuned for episode 2 next week!

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