And I’m off again, this time, back to my much-loved Australia. I am departing on a spectacularly clear, blue-skied day. As I had hoped at the end of my last trip, I didn’t have to wait as long for this trip as I did for trip two. I’m sitting now at the gate for my flight, beginning to relax after the rush to get everything settled and arranged at home before heading off for a month. But now I am ready to depart—and truly ready to get back to Australia.
…Oops. Turned out, getting back was not as easy as I thought it would be.
Normally, the flight over—not just to Australia, but to anywhere—hardly seems deserving of comment. Even a really long flight generally consists of little more than sitting around. But this time was different. This time, the effort to reach my destination was sufficiently challenging and time consuming that it became its own saga—or more like a comedy of errors.
Actually, the flight to Los Angeles was uneventful, but shortly before we were to land, a flight attendant came on the intercom and cheerily said she had an update. I was thinking maybe a gate change. Instead, she announced that the flight to Australia was cancelled. My heart stopped, and then raced. Of course, the airline was frantically trying to come up with a solution to the problem, as an entire jumbo jet full of stranded passengers would not be a pleasant situation for them, either.
We were herded around the Los Angeles airport for a couple of hours, as they tried to get us on flights to San Francisco, where there was another flight to Sydney schedule to leave in a few hours. If they could get us all to San Francisco in time, they thought they could accommodate most of us on that other flight.
They found me a seat at the back of a 727 headed north, and then, a few hours later in San Francisco, they found me a seat on the 747-400 headed for Sydney—though it was a middle seat in the middle section of a packed flight. But I was on the plane. The flight had been held for us, and once we had arrived and the requisite number of volunteers had decided to stay in San Francisco, there was a mad scramble to get us into the air. There are strict rules about how long a flight crew can be on the plane, and we were quickly approaching the limit. Cross that line, and the flight gets cancelled. (I found out later that we took off with only five minutes to spare.)
After 14 hours of quasi-sleep interspersed with turbulence and the occasional meal, we were landing in Sydney. Unfortunately, I was far too late to make my connecting flight to Darwin, and the next flight wasn’t until evening. The airline told me they had already booked me on that flight. I asked them to also call the hotel in Darwin and tell them I’d be arriving late.
The airline had also arranged a hotel room for the day. When I arrived at the hotel, there was a message waiting for me—the hotel in Darwin didn’t have a reservation for me! Fortunately, the hotel contacted the tour operator with whom I’d be traveling, and the tour operator called to tell me I was really booked in a different hotel. Nice of them to let me know. I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t had to call.
For one crazy moment, I thought I’d try out the hotel swimming pool. I then decided that, after almost two days in transit, I’d be better off taking a short nap followed by a shower and changing into fresh clothes. The nap helped, but I was fairly staggering by the time I arrived back at the airport for my next flight. At the airport (and I’m not sure why I would be surprised by this after all that had happened) I found out the airline had actually booked me on a different flight than they one they told me about, one that stopped in Cairns first—and that flight had already left. The charming ticket agent, probably noticing the color draining out of my face, found that there was a seat left on the 6:10 flight to Darwin—a non-stop flight. So actually, a better option.
One bright spot in the evening, as I took off (an hour later than scheduled) was seeing Sydney below me, a broad glitter of lights spread beneath our wings. I could see the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, and I could see Sydney Harbour outlined by the lights on shore. It was the first sign I’d had that I’m really in Australia. (Because seriously, airports are all the same place, no matter where they are.)
I finally reached my hotel in Darwin by 11:30 pm (midnight in Sydney—I was reminded on arrival of the half hour difference in time zones). I’ve spent more time in transit than I can calculate at this moment. I got a drift of warm, fragrant air as I carried my luggage to my room, but it was too late to think about stopping to enjoy it. My tour is going to be picking me up in six hours, and I absolutely must get a bit of sleep in before I take off on my camping trip. So goodnight, Australia. It’s good to be back.