I knew flying from Chapel Hill, North Carolina to Apia, Samoa would be a hassle. So I booked my ticket through a travel agent. Problem solved. The actual travel experience was a bit more heinous than even I anticipated (and I’m pretty prepared for travel disasters). I had a total of six flights (which was supposed to come out to 24 hours of travel out, 34 hours of travel back), and not a single one of them was unremarkable (though some were remarkable in a positive way).
DC to LA
Well, actually, this flight is pretty unremarkable. When I checked in, they said they could only give me a ticket from DC to LA because I would be switching airlines in LA. However, they were capable of checking my bag all the way to Fiji (how does that work? Why didn’t I ask that question at the counter?). My instructions were to check in at LA, pick up my bag at customs in Fiji, transfer it to the next conveyor belt, and end up in Samoa. Simple, right?
LA to Fiji
I head to the counter in LA to check-in for my overnight flight to Fiji, and instead of the ticket I expect, I receive a hotel voucher to the Hilton because the flight has been suspended. Somewhere in the furthest reaches of my consciousness a sense of frustration slowly seeps in, but I’m too stunned at this point to fully comprehend anything. I thought hotel vouchers were for people who had missed a connection, but here I was, 3 hours before my scheduled flight time, hotel voucher in hand. I ask about my checked bag, and they assure me that they have a baggage storage area downstairs and that it will make it onto the flight to Fiji that has been rescheduled for 26 hours later. (Perks of this unforeseen circumstance include an unimaginably comfortable bed, 4 pillows, a few more hours of sleep than I had expected, and a hot shower).
LA to Fiji, re-do
Again, I head to the ticket counter in LA to check-in for my overnight flight to Fiji and give the person my last name so she can look me up. She tells me they can’t find me in the system. My eyes widen in shock and panic, so much so that I’m sure they’re about to bulge out of my head. She then asks me if I have a ticket. Why would I be at the ticket counter if I already have a ticket? My brain is starting to catch up at this point, and I finally remember that I have the booking confirmation in an e-mail from the travel agency, so I find it on my phone, then she finds me in her system. I spend an inordinate amount of flight time fretting about the likelihood that my checked bag will magically appear in customs at Fiji and mentally reviewing the contents of my bag for what might be ir/replacable. If my bag doesn’t appear, the only things I would really need to replace would be my iPod charger and my retainers. Everything else would be a loss, though some items of highly sentimental value (like some of my Samoan clothes) would be harder to accept as a loss.
Fiji to Samoa
After getting off the plane and being hit by humidity heavy with nostalgia, I head immediately to the help desk to see whether and when I might actually get to Samoa. They inform me and another couple that we will be on the flight the following afternoon, then pass out hotel vouchers all around. I decide that being stranded in a foreign country will be significantly easier if I have travel companions and set about making friends with the other couple. We get through the passport line, then head to baggage claim. My bag magically appears at customs in Fiji! Life, the universe, and everything can continue on from my interrupted state and I will actually be able to enjoy my unexpected overnight in yet another tropical paradise.
Fiji to Samoa, re-do
Again, I head to the check-in counter, fully prepared with my booking confirmation instead of my last name. As I put my checked bag on the scale, the woman behind the desk pulls up my information and asks if they told me that I would be flying stand-by on this flight. What, now? I tell her, trying to be as respectful as possible, that I will not check my bag for a flight on which I don’t have a seat, so could she please either get me a seat or rebook me for a later flight? She confers with the next desk over, hits a few keys on the keyboard, and gives me a ticket with an assigned seat. After checking in, the flight is delayed for another hour, which is bitterly disappointing because it means I’ll be landing in Samoa after the sun has gone down. Again. Just like every other time I’ve flown into Samoa (except for the flight back from Pago, but that was a little hopper plane and I’d love to see the contour of the island from the height of a commercial jet). As we all prepare to board, I pass my ticket to the guy at the gate, and the light flashes red. My heart freezes as he crosses out my seat number. But he writes another one next to it. Perks of this unforeseen circumstance include having the entire row to myself and finally arriving in Samoa (although it was a Thursday night when I was originally supposed to arrive on Tuesday morning).
Samoa to Fiji
This is a fairly easy flight as well. It is remarkable because I fly out of Samoa in the daylight, which means I finally see the outline of the island. The middle seat of my row is empty, so even though I don’t have the row to myself, I do have ample space.
Fiji to LA
As I’m waiting to board my flight, an announcement comes over the system for passengers on the flight to LA that goes something like this: “We have more passengers booked for this flight than seats available in the plane. Please let us know if you can volunteer to stay in Fiji overnight. You will receive a night at the Tanoa hotel, money for food and transport, and $500 Fiji dollars.” Although I initially consider this proposition because the Tanoa hotel is the South Pacific equivalent of the Hilton, I discard it because I really don’t have the flexibility on my return trip to be delayed three days. This announcement comes on a few more times, and each time I respond with a slightly stronger twinge of panic stemming from the memory of my previous flight out of the Fiji airport (when I was assigned a seat only to have it revoked). What if someone else got to my seat before me? Then, a different announcement comes on. A connecting flight had just arrived, and some of the passengers were booked on the flight to LA, but the new announcement told them that they would all be staying overnight in Fiji. Apparently they did not have enough volunteers to stay overnight in Fiji and instead decided the unfortunate late-comers would be kicked off the flight.
LA to DC
This was another flight that was remarkable in a positive way. When I had checked in at Fiji, they gave me tickets for both my flight from Fiji to LA and also from LA to DC, but they gave me aisle seats both times. Great for an overnight, overseas flight, but I really wanted the window for coming into DC. So I went to the ticket counter and asked to be moved to a window seat. Fortunately, they had one left. During boarding, the regular announcements come on informing us that the flight is full but we can check carry-ons at the gate for free to make room for all the bags, blah, blah. I get to my row and sit down, and shortly after, they make the regular announcement that boarding has completed and we will prepare for takeoff. I look at my row. Not a single other person is sitting in my row. I see three people coming down the aisle and cross my fingers, hoping that they all continue walking past me. They all do. I rejoice! And move to the middle seat to spread out and stake my claim. As soon as we hit cruising altitude, I lay down across all three seats and manage to get an hour or so of sleep.
And that was how I made it to Samoa and back. I really tried to calculate how many hours I spent traveling, but after crossing the international dateline and changing time zones as often as I changed planes, I have no idea how many hours it actually took. I’m hoping my next trip won’t be quite so adventurous.