Thursday, January 18, 2007

Denver to New Zealand--A Midwinter/Midsummer Vacation

Sarita and I are on a cruise around New Zealand and Australia. I'm hoping to blog some of my observations. Photos will have to come later. It's ridiculously expensive to connect to the web from the ship!

The next several posts will be written in the present tense, even though, obviously, I have had to write them after the fact. Something about time zones and the International Date Line put me up to it. . . .


We left Colorado on the afternoon of the 17th; spent a few hours in LA; then took off shortly after 9 p.m., Los Angeles time, for Auckland. We arrived at 6 a.m. on the morning of the 19th in New Zealand (9 a.m. the 18th in Los Angeles).


Sarita, nervous about having the airlines lose one of her bags, decides to carry-on the maximum possible in Denver.

When we get to the international terminal at LAX where the Qantas counter is, there is a huge line. At first, we think it must be for Lufthansa, since the Lufthansa counters come before Qantas. But something gets us thinking that maybe the line actually is for Qantas, even though we are present a good three hours before the flight is scheduled to take off. We ask one of the people in line. “No. We’re on the Qantas flight.”

Eventually we discover there is a group of 150 people from a single tour Southern California tour group all on Qantas and all scheduled to be on the same ship as we are!

After standing in line for half an hour, a Qantas employee comes our way: “Anyone who has no baggage to check, please come with me!”

We are ushered forward, past most, if not all, of the 150 people in the tour group and then see we are about to be served by the First Class/Business Class attendant.

“Oh!” we exclaimed. “We should have come here right from the beginning! We didn’t have to stand in line. We paid [a huge premium] for Business Class tickets. We could have been through the check-in process almost immediately. . . .”

We get up to the window and the woman informs Sarita that the bag she has saved for bringing onboard cannot go with her. There is a strict weight limit for carry-on baggage and Sarita’s bag is almost twice the limit.

So Sarita loses the right to hold on to her luggage, but we get faster service--the kind of service we should have gotten all along (considering we paid for it).

The agent then hands us a ticket: “After you run your bag through security, please go to Gate 121 and enjoy the Business Class lounge . . .”

The lounge sounds great. I’d much rather sit in a place of relative comfort and quiet than out with the hundreds of raucous passengers in the regular, Economy Class lounge. . . .

The attendant then hands Sarita’s bag back to her: “Please take this down to the baggage security check area. . . .”

There then follows one of those scenarios that drives Sarita absolutely bonkers and concerning which she can’t keep her mouth shut: “This is so stupid! . . .” --And it is.

Why do they have passengers take their already tagged luggage down to a separate line where they have to wait until the scanning staff takes it from you. And then you have to wait until they have scanned your luggage, wait till they place it on a cart, then accompany the cart a few yards further, out to the middle of the hubbub of passengers still waiting to be checked in . . . only then to abandon your bags so you can go through your own security scan?

Is there some new employee “safety” regulation in place that relieves the ticket counter personnel from having to be able to drag 40kg bags from the weigh scale at the side of their stations to the conveyor belt behind them? (The conveyor belt on which they used to always place your bags is still there. Not moving, but still there. . . .)

Maybe they figure they want to keep you close enough to your bags so that, in case you’ve hidden a bomb inside, you will be close enough, prior to scanning, to potentially suffer injury yourself?

Whatever. The inefficiency of the “system” causes Sarita to fume. . . .

By the time we get through the luggage security check, we have “only” 45 minutes to go before it is time to begin boarding. Should we go to the Business Class lounge? “Yes!” I say. And so we do. . . .


After take-off, I am shocked to discover New Zealand is functionally only 4 hours behind (actually, 20 hours ahead) of us in Colorado--three hours behind/21 hours ahead of Los Angeles. Put another way, they are closer to us, longitudinally, than we are to England! Yet it takes us something like 7 hours, on a direct flight, to get to England from Denver. It takes 12 hours to get from Los Angeles to Auckland, New Zealand . . . which is where our travels began. . . . .

Truly, I was thinking we were going to be closer to fully “on the other side of the world” than we are--closer to Australian time, which, for whatever reason, I had understood is 14 hours ahead of us. I mean, New Zealand is “right next to” Australia, isn’t it? (Actually, Auckland, New Zealand, on the north island, is almost directly east of Melbourne, Australia, and is about as far away from Melbourne as Denver is from New York City!)


To escape jet-lag, I change my watch to New Zealand time pretty much as soon as I get on the plane in LA, eat dinner when they serve it (about 11 p.m. LA time/8 p.m. Auckland time), then determine to stay up as “late” as I can stand--hopefully, about 2 a.m. Colorado time. Jet-lag really shouldn’t be too bad: a four-hour time differential? I do that at home: one day I’ll wake at 3 am, the next day at 7; or one day I’ll go to bed at 10, the next at 1. No big deal. Right?

To help me stay awake, I watch “Who Killed the Electric Car?” an ode, more or less, to the EV-1, a General Motors vehicle I have never heard of before, and an investigation of why the vehicle was developed in the first place, why “no one“ ever heard of it, and why there aren’t any more on the street today.

The film impacts me deeply. In fact, I think I will create a separate blog entry for the movie on its own. (2/11/07: Now added.)


After our Thailand trip a few years ago, when we were on planes for more than 24 hours each way, Sarita suggested we splurge and pay for “Business Class” seating. Wow! On Qantas, that is quite the privilege! (When I went to India with my brother two years ago, the Business Class seats weren’t quite so nice.) The seats are cushy and pretty much infinitely adjustable. In fact, they lay down almost flat. You can almost sleep in them the way you would sleep in your own bed. Not deeply. But well enough.

I wake up every hour or two, but figure I get six or seven hours of sleep. About my normal. And completely different from the norm in the Economy section of the plane.
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