March 13 -- Christchurch to Westport, Massachusetts

Day 20

Today was a traveling day, and rainy at the start, without too much scenery to report.  Checking out of the hotel at 10:00am, I took the shuttle bus to the airport, and cooled my heels for a few hours, reading, until boarding the plane to Auckland at about 2:30 pm.   There was a brief spasm of anxiety here, when I discovered my passport was missing after checking in at the Qantas counter.  Going back to the counter, it turned out that the clerk had failed to return it to me.  She was quite embarrassed--but I was relieved.

By 4pm we were in Auckland after a smooth flight over Cook Strait and Tasman Bay.  The Boeing 747 for Los Angeles, was scheduled to leave at 6:40 pm, but was delayed for better than a half an hour.  A crowded plane, I lucked out (as it happened) by being seated in the forward economy section, between the lower business class and in front of the stairs leading to the upper business class.

It was a smooth flight, but the plane did not make up the lost time before takeoff, and we landed in Los Angeles at about 11 am (now Tuesday morning, after leaving on Tuesday evening).  So I had just 2 hours to clear customs, collect my baggage, and get to a different terminal for the 1:00pm flight to Charlotte.

But to complicate matters, the jetway to the Qantas plane did not function properly, and there was a delay before the doors were opened.  Another anxiety spasm!  When the door was finally released (I was near the head of the line), in the doorway appeared three LA Police EMT's.  It turned out that someone on the upper business deck had a health problem, and deplaning could not occur until the EMT's assessed the situation.  Another anxiety spasm!

But fortunately, the Qantas official on hand looked around, and decided to let the few people in the forward section (me and about 20 others) deplane, while holding the rest of the passengers hostage.  Relief!

So I was one of the first to get through customs, and only the luggage collection remained.  After waiting for more than 20 minutes for the luggage to appear, there was a public announcement that something had gone wrong with the luggage handling system, and that only a small portion of the plane's baggage had been delivered to the distribution point.  But, that they had made the decision to release what few suitcases they had.  Anxiety redux!

When the wheels started turning, I realized that I had an angel on my shoulder, for the very first suitcase out of the chute was mine!  Grabbing it, with only 45 minutes to cover a lot of ground, I headed out of the terminal looking for a shuttle to the distant one that was the home of US Airways for the flight to Providence.  Unlucky, I got on the wrong shuttle bus, and hand to endure a 15 minute diversion through the LAX parking lot system before getting the US Airways terminal.  Then my ticket was not a clean one, and the attendant had to work for a good 15 minutes to sort things out (turns out I had duplicate tickets).  Where is that angel?

But I made the flight, and the connection at Charlotte to Providence could not have been easier (adjacent gates--the angel is still there), and the plane arrived in Providence right on time, with daughter, Melissa, waiting to pick me up.  We reached home by 12:45 am, finally on Wednesday!

What a fabulous trip!  Anne Wellnitz and Down Under Endeavours did a magnificent job of setting it up and facilitating this personal tour.  Not once did I have any problem with a hotel, rental car, or tour booking (the US Air difficulty was a Travelocity problem). 

I can't emphasize enough about how great a place New Zealand is to visit.  If you ever have a chance to go, GO!