So it’s Friday at 20:30, almost 24 hours from when I first checked in at SFO for my flight to Christchurch via Sydney. Contrary to most people’s belief, I’m not going to the Ice via South America; Punta Arenas is the jumping off point for Palmer Station, which is located on the Antarctic Peninsula and is only accessible by boat. For McMurdo and Amundsen-Scott, you fly to Christchurch, NZ and then take a military transport. Because the weather can greatly affect the flight plans, USAP requires that you designate a “boomerang” bag that is separate from your checked bags and carry-on. This bag should contain toiletries and a change of clothes or two and will be returned to you if your flight gets “boomeranged”. This way, your checked bags can stay in the hold of the plane to speed re-departure once the weather clears but you’re not stuck washing your one pair of underwear in a hotel sink and trying to dry it with a hotel hair-dryer. Great idea, right? Well, it’s only too bad I didn’t have the presence of mind to take my “boomerang” bag as carry-on for my flight from SFO to Sydney…
Everything seemed to be going well – although I was a bit late leaving to the airport, Sadie and I made it in record time so I was checked in and at the gate in time to call my brother and both parents before boarding.
My bags were even under weight, which left me even more concerned that I’ve underpacked but I figured I’ve got a few days in Christchurch which should have some pretty cool outdoor/sporting goods stores and I can scout around there for another fleecy-type jacket for running outside. It *is* home to Merino wool, after all. Anyway, so I get on the plane and settle next to my seatmates and get to know them and we chat. And chat. And chat. And I realize it’s about 30 minutes past our departure time. Hmmm. Then the captain comes on and says they’re having trouble latching the aft cargo door. The minutes turn to hours, they disarm the doors and let people turn their electronic equipment come on and I’m suddenly reminded of a young couple I met a month ago….
I was just home from my mom’s birthday celebration in Viet Nam and on my SuperShuttle ride home, there was a couple from Sydney who had been trying to get home for two days, but each time they were boarded onto their plane, then sat at the jetway for a couple hours, were eventually unloaded, then reloaded a little bit later, then the flight was canceled and they were unloaded and told to find their own place to stay. They were flying United. So was I. This did not bode well.
Sure enough, three hours later, we’re told the flight has been canceled – a fact some people already knew from alerts they received on their mobile phones and they would be unable to put anyone up for the night but that we would be automatically rebooked the next day on the same flight. Anyone travelling down the line (onwards from Sydney, in other words) would need to call a special number to make sure they could get rebooked to their destination. Ugh. So I set about notifying the various travel offices in Christchurch and Denver and it turns out there were five other USAP people on the flight with me. Although I didn’t meet them, we did eventually end up calling each other and giving each other updates on what was going on. The Denver office started searching for hotel rooms for all of us and told us to stay by our phones. Meanwhile, I sat myself down with Troy, a gentleman I’d met at the gate and again later chatted with on the plane and we played the “tell your life story” game to pass the time. Eventually, the two of us scouted a slightly more remote and less offensively-bright location to hunker down on the ever-so-cushy airport carpet and try and grab some shut-eye.
My phone ringing woke me up and I’ll admit, I was incredibly confused for about 15 seconds. I was lying on the ground…and there was a giant plant next to me…and I was talking to somebody I didn’t know…. It turned out to be Denise, one of the other USAP people on the same flight letting me know she’d found a hotel that would put us up from 8am until about 6pm so we could get some solid sleep before we tried again for Sydney. I was so confused and sleepy, I’m not sure what I said to her in response and think I went back to sleep for a bit after I hung up. But eventually, Troy and I gave the place a call and booked beds to crash for a few hours. I got even luckier when I took a call from the USAP Travel Department and they said they’d be covering the cost of my room, but washing the underwear in the sink? Yeah that happened. I am so my mother’s daughter. After we’d both caught up on sleep, Troy and I had dinner together in San Bruno before catching the shuttle back to the airport. When I checked in, there seemed to be a little confusion over the re-booking of my onward journey from Sydney but I guess I’ll have to sort it out there as it’s not booked on United.
So that was how I spent the last 24 hours. I’m back at the very same gate and greeting familiar faces from yesterday as they come down to wait for our flight (again). We’re all hoping they’ve at least gotten us a new plane although the way Continental/United has been since the merger, I’d not be surprised if it was the same plane with great straps of duct tape wrapped around it to keep the cargo door shut. *sigh* So fingers crossed I’m on my way for real this (the 2nd) time.