Not only is the Kiwi a bird that cannot fly I discovered on a recent trip ‘across the ditch’ from Australia to New Zealand that ex-Kiwis sometimes can’t fly either. And the forced grounding can be frustrating.
It also taught me, as a supposedly ‘seasoned traveller’ with more than a million miles under my seat belt, that you can get too blasé and delays and long queues and security checks and badly laid out airports can thwart the best of plans and timetables.
I was flying Qantas from Melbourne to Auckland with a connecting flight to New Plymouth to visit my 91-year-old Dad and family.
It was the first time I had used any of a plane-load of Frequent Flyer points and it started smoothly. Got the economy fare flight I wanted at a cheap fare (despite the oft-repeated claims that FF points can only be used on obscure flights at the worst time of the day and night).
Then splurged an extra 16,000 points to wait list for an upgrade to Business Class. Got it. Had a pleasant and comfortable 747 flight in the upstairs bubble and ETA after a three-hour flight was 5.40p.m for a 7.15p.m. connection. Piece of piss.
We sat on the plane at the terminal for about half an hour because, according to the pilot, we were waiting for a vehicle to push us out from the air bridge. No worries. A ten past six arrival meant I’d be cutting it a bit fine if Customs and Immigration was crowded and the baggage carousel sluggish. But I’d still avoid a shuttle bus to an airport hotel for a tedious overnighter.
Didn’t happen. Finally docked in Auckland at 6.25p.m. They’d moved me to the front door to be first off the plane. The trot to the Arrivals desk, over the equivalent of several city blocks past endless duty free shops and coffee counters, consumed vital minutes.
Through in a flash with advice to ‘turn left at McDonald’s when you get your bag and check in at the special Domestic desk.’ By the time my bag arrived it was 6.45p.m. Could still make it. At the desk a flashing sign warned that if your flight was within 60 minutes then go straight to the domestic terminal. Easier said than done.
I should have remembered that in Auckland the International and Domestic terminals are a fair distance apartment. There are shuttle buses –which only go every half hour – and cabbies won’t take you. They’re angling for a fare to the city. The only way is a ‘brisk 12-minute walk’ following a blue and white striped line that snakes endlessly between the two termini (?)
Luckily, Auckland is one of those civilised airports like Hong Kong where they provide baggage trolleys free. There is nothing worse than arriving at places like money-hungry Sydney (where they now even charge $2.50 for a taxi to stop and pick you up at the kerb) and you don’t have coins to release a trolley.
Out of breath I completed the obstacle course in ten minutes panting up to the Air New Zealand counter. Too late. A disinterested clerk said ‘your luggage wouldn’t make it anyway’. Forget the suitcase. Send it tomorrow. Just get me on the plane. No way, Jose.
My sisters, waiting at New Plymouth Airport for my non-arrival, were asked what airline did he fly from Melbourne on. Qantas. ‘That explains it. If he’d been on Air New Zealand they would have held the connecting plane’.
And it got worse. Put me on the next flight. ‘That was the final flight to New Plymouth tonight’. First flight tomorrow. What time? Booked out. And the next one. Booked out.
He obligingly confirmed me on a flight at 11.55 a.m. but happily told me because of my ticket category it would cost an additional $179.00. You get used to internal travel in New Zealand being more expensive than a flight to Brisbane with a Gold Coast hotel thrown in.
With a throat as dry as the Sahara I headed for The River Café for a soda and the inevitable news: ‘Sorry. We’re closed’. At ten past seven at night.
And so a scintillating night in the Jet Star Hotel at nearby Mangere. Another $150. Plus eight bucks for a chocolate bar and orange juice in lieu of dinner.
Back to the airport with more than an hour’s ‘cushion’ before the flight and just before boarding get the now inevitable news: ‘Flight 8803 to New Plymouth has been delayed. More information at 12.20. Please do not leave the terminal.’ By now I was in Monty Python mode: ‘Passengers to New Plymouth are advised that your flight has now been delayed to 12.55p.m.’
About 1.30 p.m.(11.30a.m. Australian time) – 25-1/2 hours after leaving my Melbourne apartment -- we touched down in New Plymouth.
Ringing in my ears was the comment of the hotel shuttle bus driver who had recognised me in Auckland. ‘Hello, Mr. Hinch. Are you home for good?’
And a cautionary note on a trap for young players. On the return Auckland-Melbourne flight I scored a Business Class seat and, thinking of the faultless flight over upstairs in the Jumbo, I asked if there were any seats available ‘in the bubble’. No problem. But once board the bubble burst. The flight was on a crammed 737 where the small Business Class section seemed hardly better than Economy. If you’d paid full fare you’d be spewing.
Footnote: I woke up, after being stranded, in my Auckland airport hotel to read in The New Zealand Herald that kiwis are far more intelligent than people thought. Dr. Fabiana Kubke, from the University of Auckland’s anatomy department said research using MRI and CatScans showed kiwis had surprisingly big brains for their body size.
Kiwi brains were apparently comparable with those of ‘smarter’ flighted birds and made them much smarter than the extinct New Zealand native Moa. Maybe that’s what killed the Moa off in the first place.
And speaking of brains. The current influx of New Zealanders crossing the Tasman to Australia to answer the lure of better paying jobs is reminiscent of the ‘brain drain’ when Robert ‘Piggy’ Muldoon was Prime Minister of NZ.
Asked if he was concerned about it Muldoon replied: ‘Not at all. It will increase the IQ in both countries’.