After months of counting down, we finally headed to the USA for a family holiday on 5 April 2016. Man, travelling days are hard days! All good in the end though.
We opted to get up at 3am and drive from Canberra to Sydney before flying out. This is a trip that would normally take 2.5 to 3 hours. At that hour of the morning, before peak hour traffic, we thought we would whizz through! Unfortunately not.
It was foggy which slowed us down and then once we hit the M5, there were roadwork signs. Even though the roadworks weren’t actually yet active for the day, it still slowed things down. We crawled, watched the clock and crawled. We watched the moon, the stars and flights trails and crawled some more…
We eventually made it to Sydney airport and dropped off our hire car. Then we queued and we queued and we queued. A very slow check in with Qantas. We chatted with people in the queue who were to revisit us several times on the plane, in Los Angeles, on arrival into New York. We just didn’t know at that point the we would be spending quite so much time together…
Finally we burst though security and made it to the Qantas Club with 20 minutes to spare before boarding. Only Poppy got bounced for taking his shampoo through (no liquids over 100ml – which had been brought up by him as a reminder to us the night before…) Or at least we thought we only had 20 minutes to spare… After a quick breakfast and champagne, we made it to the gate lounge. Only one brief hiccup on the way. Our 16 year old had decided to purchase lollies and we were all nearly in the gate lounge when he suddenly realised that he had left his boarding pass at the cash register. He rescued it and we made it into the gate lounge. Then Qantas finally admitted that the flight wasn’t going to take off at all… gotcha. Their engineers had just found a fault (I’m not all that happy thinking about the engineers still checking the plane as we were sitting in the gate lounge minutes from boarding…). Obviously the news wasn’t good as we were directed back to the Qantas Club if we had membership. Which thankfully we did! Our flight was originally due to depart at 9.50am and the next estimate we were given was 11.30am boarding. That came and went. We ate another breakfast and had another glass of champagne and waited for news. We walked the airport and waited for news. Finally a flight attendant came around the lounge and told us that it was looking likely for 1.30pm – I think he was bored or else sent out to rally us all. We went for a walk through the airport and immediately heard an announcement telling all crew on our flights to report to the plane ‘after they had had their lunch’ as the flight was departing earlier than anticipated. We hoped for a short lunch and wondered exactly which anticipated time they were talking about…
Our 16 year old son decided to have a shower in the Qantas Club. Given his shower duration at home, we feared he may still be in there when the critical call came to go… All was well though. Qantas delays managed to outlive even his shower duration.
After another round of champagne, finally we were directed to the gate lounge and we eventually departed at 1.45pm, 4 hours after our original departure time – there’s half a day of holidays lost… We had heard that another A380 flight had been diverted back to Australia, 4 hours into its flight to Dubai and had arrived early that morning. I think they may have been given our A380 and we were left waiting for the repair…
Then we flew, and flew, ate anything that landed on our tray, watched several movies, crossed our legs and re-crossed our legs in an attempt to get comfortable, wandering the length of the massive A380, visited our 16 year old who was lucky enough to score a seat on the top floor (albeit one that didn’t fully recline…), flew some more, ate some more, wandered some more and eventually passed 13 hours of flight.
24 hours after getting up in Canberra, we finally landed around 3pm in Los Angeles. We had to go through Border Protection and the fun began. Poppy hadn’t made it to the toilet on the plane due to queues and was desperate. So we deposited him at the toilet within sight of Border Protection and said that we would start queueing (what else would you do in an airport…). We were asked a series of questions (eg. are you a resident of the United States (No)) and were directed to the right into a choice of queues for Border Protection. It was slow. We waited. We kept an eye out for Poppy expecting him to join us in the queue. We waited and finally saw him heading towards the questioner. Not sure if his answers were different, but he was directed left and we lost sight of him. I had time to fit my pre-paid USA SIM card into my phone (which, like Superman, turned it from a mobile phone into a cell phone 🙂 and miraculously it worked straight away. Well it worked for voice and texts anyway. Data was playing hard to get.
Our crawl through the Border Protection queue was painfully slow. We finally made it to the counter where the Border Protection Officer was at pains to be impersonal and make us feel uncomfortable (‘everyone take a step back from the counter NOW’). We were allowed to step up to the counter one by one and he held our passports at head height and snapped his eyes between our faces and the passports several times before having to give in and admit that it was really us. Then we had to provide our fingerprints and a photo. I think that my fingerprints might be less two prints which were lost to rather painful blisters while gardening the day before I left but the US wasn’t too fussy by then.
Eventually we passed the Border Protection tests (remembered our destination address and answered the same way twice (lucky we didn’t forget in between…) when asked what we were going to do in the US…) and fell out the other side. Next step was luggage collection. But first, where was Poppy? We tried to loiter outside Border Protection and sight him behind another counter. However, no loitering allowed and we were hustled down an escalator towards our luggage. All very well, but where was Poppy? Why wasn’t he though Border Protection? We separated with 3 of us going off to collect the luggage and myself waiting at the bottom of the escalator for Poppy. I waited and waited. I caught up with the others who had all the luggage, including Poppy’s luggage but no Poppy. I left them at the carousel and went back to wait at the bottom of the escalator. I asked the airport staff what I could do to find him as I wasn’t allowed back into the Border Protection area to even see where he was. They said that only the airline staff could track him down in Border Protection. I sought out airline staff and they were all stressed about the delayed connecting flight due to our delay from Sydney. They re-directed me to other Qantas staff back near the bottom of the escalator and I decided to give his luggage back to them so that we could go through the next stage of Border Protection. Before I could get to them though, Poppy was sighted at last on the escalator, making his way to freedom. He wasn’t happy. We hadn’t given him our destination address and he had been bounced around several times in Customs before being released on a good behaviour bond once he remembered that the had actually visited the US before on the same passport!
We collected his luggage again and queued for the next round of Border Protection. Passed again and headed for the next queue. The worst one of all – the security queue at LA airport. That took the best part of 45 minutes and crawled. We finally got through and an anxious Qantas staff member herded us straight to the gate lounge, then straight onto the plane. I think we were last to board as the fight was at least 3 hours late by now.
We settled in for another couple of movies, another meal and another drink and 4.5 hours passed relatively easily compared to the previous 13 hours. Well except for the rather vicious turbulence which was apparently caused by the 160mph tailwind that had been assisting us to New York but was causing some turbulence once we passed through it.
Finally, 30 hours after getting up, we descended into New York to the beautiful pink glow of sunset and illuminated buildings. Quite a long wait for our luggage but thankfully no more Border Protection or airport security and we were out the door. I was tired but still remembered (most of the time) to veer to the right.
I visited the ladies and got my first reminder of the American’s love for big, flat toilet pans full of sloshy water and automatic flushes. I’m not sure what triggers the flush but somewhere between finishing the business and exiting the toilet door, it decides to flush – you can’t replicate it on demand.
Miraculously my data was now working on my phone and we were able to track down the appropriate booking emails for the car and even call them. All good. We met the car (which was more of a minivan) outside and even more miraculously all of our luggage fitted in. We headed for New York city. How exciting! It was freezing outside (2 deg) after leaving sunny Canberra. We had already pulled out the puffa jackets.
Nearing the East River crossing to New York, we could clearly see the illuminated Empire State Building and Chrysler Building. Beautiful but we couldn’t capture them on my phone. It was now past 8pm and traffic was good. We had a smooth path in and pulled up outside the apartment. We had text the building manager, the amiable Leo, and he was waiting for us. We moved in!
Sadly our 12 year old’s pre-ordered air mattress (to stretch out the 2 bedroom situation for 5 people) had not yet moved in… Or even been purchased. A promise from Leo for tomorrow. So the boys had to topand tail on the futon. They were so unconscious that I don’t think they even noticed each other’s feet in their faces…
Our apartment is probably generous by New York standards with 2 bedrooms, a bathroom, living area and teeny kitchen. The kitchen is precisely the width of two bar fridges – we know because the incumbent bar fridge takes up half the width of the space under the kitchen bench!
I’m not sure if we were tired or delirious but by that point, despite having about 5 hours of sleep across two nights, I felt OK and not too tired. We went for a quick walk to check out the rather disappointing delis within our block, then headed to bed around 11. My attempt at a shower before bed led to a long struggle with the strange plumbing which resulted in a very slightly luke warm shower.
The apartment was completely over heated by heating that was central to the whole building and had no temperature controls within our apartment. Despite all of that, I slept very deeply until morning.