Mr. Bill was on the move again and Mother Nature sat up and noticed. Foolishly he thought that he could quietly slip away without any fuss. He may have loaded the suitcases into the car and navigated around the construction barricades undetected but the sound of tires crunching on gravel, was his undoing. The gig was up and with The Furies nipping at our heels, we left The Land of Steady Habits behind and began our odyssey back to the Little Country at the Bottom of the World. Driving in record time from Connecticut to Newark Airport, in New Jersey, we checked our bags through to New Zealand, breezed through security and wandered around the concourse, all the while congratulating ourselves, on our smoothest exit yet. We marveled that we even had had the leisure that morning, to enjoy a surprise visit from our son and grandson, before we headed out the door. With the first leg of our long journey done and dusted, we felt that we were finally on our way and had every reason to be hopeful, that our flight to Los Angeles would depart before the predicted thunderstorms. That’s when Mr. Bill’s dormant super powers engaged. We were in for a weather walloping. We should have known better and perhaps should have warned our fellow travelers, that Mr. Bill attracts stormy weather. Mother Nature’s furious response to his departure brought Newark Airport to its knees, as she hurled her powerful “Bohemian Rhapsody ” thunderbolts and lightning, which were indeed very, very frightening. The sky turned black as night, the heavens opened, thunder roared louder than any jet and lightening flashes, revealed stranded planes on the tarmac. Flights were grounded and diverted as the storm raged around us. All this drama, because Mr. Bill had the temerity to leave, without a proper good bye.
Mr. Bill kept a low profile, as we waited out the storm. There was nothing to do but suffer through Mother Nature’s tantrum. No one suspected that the catalyst of this catastrophe, was among the stranded passengers in the crowded terminal. Yet each time Mr. Bill checked the departure board, a strange thing happened- our flight was further delayed. Time and again, our flight’s departure was pushed back, despite other planes taking off and landing. United Airlines pleaded for everybody’s patience; blaming the delay on the fact that our plane had arrived late from Frankfurt and required a custom’s check and thorough cleaning. However, we knew better and our lips were sealed. Eventually our flight to Los Angeles was called and we boarded, knowing that we’d miss our connecting flight to Auckland. The Lady had made her point.
We were relieved that we had booked our flight through Air New Zealand, for we knew from past experience, that if a problem occurs, Air New Zealand will sort it. Unfortunately, United Airlines turned out to be the weak link in the Star Alliance. While en route to Los Angeles, the flight attendants reassured all the passengers, who had missed their connecting flights, “that there would be someone waiting to assist them, once they had exited the plane”. Perfect! All sorted! Wrong. United Airlines idea of customer service falls far short of Air New Zealand’s. Whereas Air New Zealand dealt with missed connections, by distributing re-booked flight particulars to us while still on board, United’s method was to have a ‘helpful’ representative standing by the walkway, giving directions to Customer Service, with the caveat, that our documents would be there waiting for us. They were not. What awaited us at six in the morning our time, was more waiting. All the passengers who had missed their connections, now formed a weary queue in front of two equally tired customer service representatives. There was a collective gasp when one left, leaving just the one, to solve an entire plane load of problems. It wasn’t looking good. There was murmuring down the line, as we witnessed one couple being dismissed and a second couple leave upset. We quickly banded together, Aussies, Kiwis and Americans and planned a group strategy. Our demands were: new flights booked with boarding passes, accommodations for the night and food. Our leader was an Aussie who googled passenger’s rights on international’s flights. He loudly announced that, “United needed reminding, that they were acting as agents of Air New Zealand and they were obliged to treat Air New Zealand customers accordingly”. Time dragged. We could not help but wonder, as we watched the sole agent laboriously search for the next available flights, why wasn’t United prepared? They knew that they had a late arriving plane, filled with passengers who had missed their connections. Surely, we weren’t a surprise. Where were the promised documents? Eventually two more customer reps arrived and we broke into spontaneous applause, which caused one agent to smile and take a bow. The reinforcements were terrific and the line surged forward. Soon we were a merry band with new tickets in hand, on a shuttle bus to dreamland and it only took an hour. (Note to self-in the future pack a change of clothes in the carry-on bag.)
All stress was forgotten the following evening, as soon as we stepped aboard Air New Zealand Flight One and were greeted with a warm “Kia Ora”. Ah, Mr. Bill and I love flying Air New Zealand. The longer the flight the better. What could be more relaxing (not to mention romantic) than dinner and a movie, high above the clouds? Why a choice selection of New Zealand wines and Whittaker’s chocolate, of course! After our meal, Mr. Bill relaxes and sleeps like a baby, while I stay awake, binge watching all things Kiwi. We also experienced two, ‘only in New Zealand’ moments while on board. Our flight attendant announced that it was our pilot’s last flight. After forty-one years flying for Air New Zealand, our captain was retiring. They would be passing around a card and would all the passengers please sign? With pleasure! When we landed in Auckland, all on board clapped and wished the Captain well. There was another announcement, wishing a special little girl, a very happy sixth birthday. She had missed her birthday when the plane crossed the International Dateline and the calendar jumped forward by a day. More clapping! Truly, what charming, endearing people work for Air New Zealand.
Was our unplanned layover in LAX, penance for Mr. Bill changing hemispheres without first informing Mother Nature? Was all forgiven? I was more than a bit nervous. It was hard to tell, in the pre dawn darkness, when we touched down in Auckland, a day behind schedule. The tarmac was definitely glistening beneath the runway lights. Was that water on the asphalt? Ever the optimist, Mr. Bill decided that it wasn’t. Actually unlike me, Mr. Bill wasn’t giving the weather much thought, he was far more concerned about our checked bags. Had they made it? Yes! Before long they appeared in the luggage carousel and off we headed to customs. The line moved quickly and we beat the deadline, to check our bags for our flight to Tauranga. What luck, this had never happened before! We have always had to push our laden trolleys, from the International to the Domestic Terminal and check them there, for the last leg of our flight. Sweet As! Looking forward to fresh air and a pleasant walk between the terminals, for once unencumbered by our heavy suitcases, we stepped outside into a maelstrom. Wind driven rain pelted us. It had been noted, Mr. Bill had arrived.
Despite not being able to shake off the liquid sunshine since our return, we are never the less, thrilled to be back in Aotearoa. We have settled into a cozy bach on Ohope Beach and are positively giddy to have escaped the Big Dig back home. No more construction for us. Therefore, imagine our dismay, when we went grocery shopping at New World upon arriving and discovered the liquor department under renovation .
Oh no Mr. Bill!