so I should be in Auckland today, within smooching distance of a certain handsome, six foot tall Kiwi of my acquaintance, but I am instead sitting in the lobby of a Los Angeles Marriott.  How did this terrible turn of events come about, you ask, aghast?  It is a tale of woe and a much wiser (and lighter in the wallet) Dara. To wit:

I had a tight connection in LA (two hours to go from one terminal to the one adjacent to it, but clearing security again), so I only brought carry-on luggage.

The plane FROM L.A. to Orlando (which they cleaned up and popped us on) arrived about 10 minutes late.  They were making constant announcements hurrying people along so we could depart on time, and I even yelled at some teenaged moron girls in the aisle who wanted to sit together and started negotiating with the man in the middle, blocking everything, right after they’d just made on of those ‘step into your row to let people pass’ announcements.  I wanted nothing messing up my time with Gar, and had been literally bouncing with excitement when I got to the airport with the long anticipated trip finally really occurring….. so I hollered those girls outta the damn aisle with exterme prejudice.

Everyone finally was seated, and then we just —sat— there.  for like, ten minutes.  After all that haranguing, I knew something was wrong.  So then they made the announcement that though they’d just filled up all the water tanks, the taps were not turning on, so they were going to have a mechanic take a look at it.  Instantly I was pumped full of adrenaline and dread, flashing back to my miserable 12 hour ordeal attempting to leave Paris, when I had dysentery and the flight was eventually, after five hours of malingering, cancelled due to the bathrooms not working.

I also had booked the tickets from Orlando to LAX on Delta (with whom I was able to use some flier miles to save several hundred dollars on the cost of getting to L.A.) and then purchased the Qantas tix on Cheapoair, since they were about $200 less than anyone else.  So I had, for the first time ever, booked separate tickets on unrelated airlines to cobble together a single trip  – Qantas is a great airline and had super service, but they codeshare their domestic legs with United/Continental, which was like flying in a 3rd world country…. terrible!!!!

As we sat anxiously and maintenance crew stalked through the aisles, I yanked out my Qantas boarding pass and looked for an 800 number to call and ask them what gate the plane’d be leaving from to expedite the full-out running I was prolly gonna hafta to do to try to make the plane, and ask them, what happens if we get IN too late and I miss the flight?

I also noticed to my dismay that the boarding pass, in the fine print area, said ‘people not present an hour before departure time will be denied boarding’.  Oh shit.  Having barely scraped onto the plane back from Auckland to LA before they shut the cabin door, since I insisted on smooching Gar ’til the very last possible minute (despite the poor boy’s very correct protests I was going to miss my plane, and urging me to head for the passport control line, which I ultimately had to brazenly cut to the front of to make my plane), this hour buffer was total news to me.

Meanwhile, the pilot announced that they were going to maybe go anyway, since it was just the sinks not working but the toilets were, and they’d were going to get Purell and extra paper towels and get us under way if the issue wasn’t fixed in the next 5 minutes.   So hope remained slightly alive.

Well, the Qantas woman was very nice and told me that she could put aside a seat for me on the same flight out the following evening, and happily the cost to change up wasn’t too much, but because I booked through Cheapoair, she literally could not actually access the ticket to make the change.   At this point I thought, cheez, I don’t want to get stuck in LA sleeping on the terminal seats; maybe I should get off, reschedule everything, and go back home to sleep.

They had, unlike in Paris, after about 15 minutes said we could go stretch our legs, and after about 25 minutes told us we could deplane if we had our boarding passes scanned ‘out’ and stayed near the gate.  However, they also added, while I was on the phone, that they were mistaken about the Purell reprieve, as a little bit of water WAS needed to power the toilets, and planes only fly if most of the toilets are working.

So I deplaned, explained the issue to the man at the gate, and he reassured me that since it was a mechanical problem that Delta would put me up in LA on their dime, but perhaps I’d just want to at least be out there in LA in order to be SURE to make the next day’s flight, but it was totally up to me.  The man next to him, a supervisor, also piped in that they had another plane standing by, so if the sinks were not fixed in short order they’d pop us on that one and get us underway.  I thanked him and went off to call Cheapoair.

I had a bit of trouble understanding the man on the phone at the agency (I think it was one of those Delhi, outsourced call centers) but he was thorough and checked into a number of options for me. However, he said that because the ticket was nonrefundable, there was a penalty to change it, plus a fare hike, and the total would be over $800 to make the alteration.  Augh.  While that wasn’t impossible,  it was painful, and NOT what I was expecting after the Qantas lady said it wouldn’t be much of a cost to change (that to me sounded like $200 to $400, not over $800).

BUT….. I was stuck.  Even aside from the fact that I’d be crushed by having to make the choice to scuttle the plan to see Gar, my plane ticket was non-refundable, two of my three hotel reservations were non-refundable…. I had to pony up or no Gar and no return on that initial investment and that’d be penny-wise but pound-foolish.

I told him to make the arrangements, asked if he could charge my original card, because they were reloading everyone on the plane and I had to get off the line. He said yes, and off we finally flew to LA.  The only problem was this time, the people in front of me put all their items in the overhead bin – even coats!- nothing under their seat, so the only place for my bag was five rows behind.  Not exactly helpful for running to a tight connection, but I figured I was sunk anyway.

As the flight wore on though, I was eyeballing the people ahead of me and next to me, both of whom had no one in the middle seat.  If I could get them to put my bag there on the floor in front of the empty seat between them — just for landing only– I’d be able to grab it ON my way out, not wait til everyone was off (or brazenly attempting to swim ‘upstream’) before getting the bag.

We landed at 10:35, and the Auckland flight left at 11:40.   I decided with grim resolve that I was going to try to make a run for it in the poorly marked, labyrinthine hell that is LAX.   Security couldn’t be that backed up that late at night, right?   And the worst they could do was say NO to me at the gate, but perhaps, seeing as I had already checked in the night before,  they’d have pity and let me on within that hour window, and I’d still be able to have a long lovely Friday afternoon and evening with Gar as originally planned.

Except……. we just sat on the runway –for the NEXT. FORTY. MINUTES!!!!!– hope trickling slowly and torturously away.    Since we were off schedule and the plane occupying our intended spot was running late, there was no place for us to park and disembark.  By the time we were actually at the gate and deplaning – the Qantas all jets lined up right next to us, literally, me gazing mournfully out the window at them – it was 11:25.   All chance was finally gone.

I spent the next 2 hours:

  • wandering the LA airport terminals (Qantas operates out of more than one) looking fruitlessly for a Qantas human to try to assist me with finalizing flight changes (they’d all gone home; no more flights for the night)
  • using the last of my cell battery on the phone with Qantas and Cheapoair (which apparently had NOT made any finalized arrangements despite my requests, and the voicemail forebodingly mentioned ‘the prices have gone up since we last talked’ – aiiieeee!)
  • sorting out the hotel and taxi and a new return flight with Delta, which was –to their great credit– really awesome about everything from start of the water trouble to the finish, except for the ‘no room at the inn’ gate situation when we landed in LAX, because that additional significant delay surely screwed a lot of people besides me out of planned additional flights, and just seemed really sucky after we’d already been so long delayed.

By adjusting some dates, we were able to find the original quoted $800-some fare, but the best Cheapoair could do for me was say they’d put in the request for the ticket changes, but couldn’t guarantee anything til ticket issuance a few hours later, which left me feeling rather unsettled.  The awesome Delta lady (who I wrote a nice email to Delta about) fixed up the return flight from LA to Orlando for me on the new return date, and sent me downstairs to find the SuperShuttle.

I arrived at the [quite swank] Marriott that Delta put me up in at about 2 am local time (5 am to my body).  I realized after the shuttle dropped me off that in the dark and my exhaustion, from the 12 little slips of almost identical paper Delta issued me, I’d mistakenly given the shuttle driver the hotel voucher instead of the taxi voucher, so had to call them (which the front desk handled) and wait for them to come back and fix my error before I could go to sleep.  I did at least have the idea of simply putting the room on my credit card temporarily to allow me to wash up and drop off my luggage, rather than sit in the lobby for the additional hour it took to get the driver back.

And now I’ve just gotten off the phone with Qantas and they’ve confirmed that I do have seats on the flights I asked for, out and back.  PHEW.

Of course, nothing can fix the loss of the day with Gar, which was after all classes were done for him and on a day taken off from work for me, with only a Saturday awaiting on the following day ——-  replacing this with a Tuesday evening is NOT the same.   But at least I’m still able to GO (I shudder to contemplate the alternative) even if I’ll be slaving away to pay off the trip debts for a long while to come.