I debated whether to take my cell phone on the trip. It turned out it was a good thing I had it. My friend Pam dropped me off at the Rochester Airport two hours ahead of the scheduled departure. That was as smoothly as things would go for a while. The United Airlines ticket counter agent looked into her system and said she couldn’t check me in. It was throwing a red flag because it thought i was double booked on one of the segments of the return trip. There had been half a dozen schedule changes and reticketings since I booked the trip through Air New Zealand in October, and somewhere along the line things had gotten out of sync between the two carriers. UA suggested I call ANZ to get them to fix it, so I did. The agent in Auckland told me that her system didn’t show any such double booking. A UA supervisor came over. The ANZ agent wanted to relay the current ticket number to UA, but the UA agents weren’t interested in that. The supervisor called someone on a telephone. The ANZ agent asked to speak to the UA agent. When i relayed that request, Three UA agents all gave me a look of startled disbelief, as if that were the most insane idea they had ever heard. Finally the UA supervisor asked me if i wanted him to delete the wrong booking. When I tried to get clarification of the situation the super said “I just need you to say yes, Sir”. “Yes it is, sir” i replied, satisfying an apparent a point of protocol in his training. They were now interested in the ticket number. The superfluous booking was deleted, and the problem was solved. We seemed to be on our way.
As the super was walking off, the original agent once again pecked on the keyboard and then said “you don’t have a seat on this flight”. I love the way they’re trained to frame it as if it were me who overbooked the flight and got caught. More pecking and peering into the CRT. Finally the printer whirred and I was presented with four boarding passes. I wondered what had happened to change things, but didn’t dare ask. Once again we seemed to be on our way.
On the way to the gate, I bought four magazines: The New Yorker, Harper’s, and two weeks of The Economist. I havn’t traveled by air in at least three years. Four magazines used to cost twenty bucks. It’s thirty now. The Economist alone lists for $8.99! I was to later find that the dinky five dollar bottle of wine on the plane is now a dinky nine dollar bottle of wine.
This is when the magnitude of the storm that was pounding the East Coast began to loom large. The board showed most of the flights from NYC and vicinity to be cancelled. The gate agent announced a one hour delay, soon revised to a two hour delay. I guessed that the aircraft for my flight had been scheduled to come from one of the cancelled flights to the East. The Type A road warriors began fuming and saying unkind things to the gate agents. I retreated to an area with tables and chairs to try the free wifi. When I pulled up the UA web flight status, it cheerfully announced that it was on time. A man with a large golden six pointed badge walked through with a large black dog on a leash. The dog was wearing an identical large gold badge hung from his collar. I wondered what Deputy Dog was sniffing for. Again i didn’t dare ask.
After about an hour, and no doubt some serious shuffling by the rerouting specialists, it was announced that a previously unscheduled flight from Chicago would arrive around noon, and we would board it when it arrrived. That happened pretty much as predicted, and the absence of deplaning passengers made it fairly certain that it had been sent to take the place of the one stuck in the East. We boarded about 12:45, about two and a half hours late. My four hour layover in Chicago miraculously transformed from a nuisance to a godsend.
Things went smoothly from there. The thirteen hour flight across the Pacific only took eleven and a half hours. I sat next to a Taiwanese couple that had lived in Denver for forty years. He was a retired civil engineer, specializing in waste water treatment. He liked his work, but hated the politics. Sounded familiar. They were going on a whirlwind tour of NZ, then on to Taiwan. They were experienced trans-Pacific travelers, and brought their slippers and their own food, which smelled pretty good. The food on ANZ wasn’t bad either.
Customs in Auckland was tedious. I think my bags were xrayed four times. Another dog sniffed me. They asked if I had been in a forest recently, and i said i lived in one. They wanted to look at the soles of my hiking shoes. It was partly sunny when the flight to Queenstown took off, but after half an hour in the air, the cloud cover blanket was horizon to horizon. Despite having my camera ready, I would not see the Southern Alps on the way in. I caught my first glimpse of the South Island as we descended below the ceiling on approach to Queenstown.
It was cold and windy on arrival. Bruce had taken a relative to the airport to board the same plane i just gotten off, and we saw each other for the first time in about ten years. The next day was sunny and warm.