Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Holiday from Hell Part 3: Wrong Country
LAX is a labyrinth. I always forget this, and no matter how many times I've been there, I still never have any idea where I am or where I am going. During my mad dash off the plane, I was much too preoccupied with getting myself off the plane to think about where I was going to go once I succeeded. Thus, once I entered the airport, I ran up to the nearest gate agent and gasped out an incoherent question involving the phrase "Air New Zealand". The agent looked at me quizzically, possibly because I was sweating and panting like I had just run a marathon. "Sorry," she said, "ask at Customer Service and they'll be able to help you."
Customer Service? I had 15 minutes to get on my connecting flight. There was no way I had time to stand in a customer service line. "You'll have to run," the gate agent told me, with the tone of someone attempting to be patient with an extremely aggravating customer. I took that as my cue to look for help elsewhere.
Fortunately, Customer Service was across from my gate and the area was completely empty. I quickly explained my dilemma to the agent at the desk and asked if she would be able to call over to Air New Zealand to see if I could make the flight. I've been on international flights where we waited a few extra minutes before leaving so connecting passengers could make it on, so I thought this would be a reasonable request. I was expecting a "Sorry, I can't help you," or "Let me see what I can do." What I got was "Sorry, I don't have the phone number for Air New Zealand."
This was puzzling. Air New Zealand is part of the Star Alliance and is a partner of United, so why wouldn't they have the phone number. Secondly, the agent was standing in front of a computer that I assumed would have access to that information. Befuddled, I asked the agent what I could do about my flight. "You'll miss it," she said matter-of-factly. Well, obviously. But what was the next step?
It took the customer service agent about 10 minutes to find a way to contact the agents at the Air New Zealand gate. By that time, my flight was gone. They could only say that they might have been able to do something had they been contacted earlier.
At this point, the United customer service agent began rebooking me. "We'll put you on the flight to Sydney," she said. "You'll have to hurry though because it's already boarding." She appeared to be undisturbed by the obvious problem I pointed to her, that Sydney was not even in the same country as my intended destination. "Just ask in the Sydney airport and you'll get a flight to Auckland," she told me.
I normally have a small amount of travel anxiety. I don't like it when things go spectacularly wrong. So, the idea of showing up in Sydney with no confirmed plan for getting to Auckland was not especially appealing to me. At this point though, I had already given up on having a smooth trip to New Zealand, but I was happy enough not to be at work to be enjoying the whole experience. As long as I got to go somewhere, I wasn't going to complain. So I grabbed my boarding pass and got on the flight to Sydney.
Once I was seated on the plane, I quickly realized another major problem. My brother and I were supposed to meet in the Auckland airport after our planes landed. He was flying in from Melbourne and I was flying in from Chicago, so I had no way of contacting him at the moment. I sent him an email, left a message with my parents, and hoped for the best.
One of the annoyances of taking unplanned flights is that things like previously-requested vegetarian meals go out the window. I nibbled on various things on the way to Sydney, but mostly, I starved and slept.
A couple of hours before landing, a flight attendant came through with immigration forms. "I don't need one," I told her, "I have an international connection." She informed me that I would still have to go through immigration and customs.
I knew that Americans need to apply for a visa before going to Australia, which I had obviously not done. It seemed like I was either heading back to the U.S. in visa-less shame or about to make a sequel to The Terminal.
Continue to Part 4