This was probably my longest travel transition day ever, and definitely the most full of uncertainty. We’d been watching the news of COVID-19 for weeks, wondering if the trip would or could happen and under what sort of circumstances. As we sat waiting for the second flight leg, we still didn’t have the answers. But still, we persevered.
We left home and drove to Colorado Springs in snowy conditions. Regular readers of this blog will know that I detest airport shuttles, but today I was happy that the shuttle driver pulled up behind my car and waited for me (after I had dropped Maureen at the terminal). The United agent who checked us in was similarly helpful, overriding the bag fee to reflect the fact that the confirmation promised $0 for the first checked bag for each of us. (Since when do airlines charge for the first checked bag on international flights anyway?)
Security was a breeze (yay COS) and we settled in for a long wait after following the “arrive three hours ahead for international check-in” requirement. We need to remember to pack better snacks when flying out of COS. It’s one of the few downsides of using the nearby airport. However, a while into our waiting, I noticed an entrance that looked suspiciously like an airport lounge. I pulled out the Priority Pass app, and sure enough, it was a Priority Pass lounge. We entered and took advantage of the easy access to outlets, complimentary bottled water and snacks, comfortable seats, national newspapers, and quiet atmosphere as long as we could.
Of course the flight was (slightly) delayed. We knew we were facing a 7-hour layover in Los Angeles, so we weren’t worried. We paid airport prices (even at COS) for some fruit and only had to wait an extra 45 minutes to depart. The flight was uneventful and we enjoyed the United’s “Tapas” snack box (not free) and Biscoff cookies (not gluten free :)).
California was rainy. They do need it. Our next Priority Pass stop was the Point the Way cafe in Terminal 6. We hiked there from our arrival in the boondocks of United’s small plane terminal (8) and had a serviceable meal. The next hike was to the Tom Bradley International Terminal—did I mention that this airport is large?—where we searched in vain for a customer service desk for Air New Zealand, or even an informational sign… Apparently terminal modernization does not include making information readily available. We gave up and headed for the KAL lounge (Priority Pass stop #3) instead. Once again, we found a haven with outlets, soft chairs, quiet, and snacks (and alcohol).
The “entertainment” included a TV with the sound muted (yay), people watching, and a tower and set of screens in the main terminal upon which very fancy ads were playing.
We left the lounge thinking we had a bit over 2 hours until our flight. Can I just say that my least favorite calendar feature is the one that shifts times to your local time whether you want that or not? I had 10 pm in my brain (thanks to the helpful calendar), but it was really 9 pm California time. So we walked to the wrong gate, then walked ALL the way to the other end of the very long (did I mention it was big?) terminal. We then descended some steps and ramps into a different century. Apparently the 1980s aren’t quite ready to let go of the entire original terminal. We checked in, got misleading information about our seats and no possibility (except $1100/each for premium economy-ha!) of upgrade or improvement, then boarded almost immediately. I say boarded, I mean boarded a bus and drove across runways to what appeared to be another terminal, where we actually boarded our aircraft. Though many rows were mostly empty, ours was not among them. I would like to say this airplane also belonged to the 1980s, but the 90s is much more likely. They probably shouldn’t even let you hang out in the beautiful new Bradley terminal if they’re then going to subject you to this type of 20th-century flying experience.
We were in for one last surprise about an hour into the flight. They announced over the intercom that New Zealand had decided to institute a 14-day self-isolation for arrivals from almost everywhere in the world. This had actually been my worry since I started worrying about the impact of COVID-19 on this trip. My worst fear was that it would happen during our long haul flight, and it DID. Fortunately, the requirement went into effect about 18 hours after we arrived, so we did not have to self-isolate upon arrival. In case you’re wondering why we still chose to go, the reality is tied to the bottom line. Even with (pricey) travel insurance, there was no option to cancel without losing the entire cost of the trip. How this shakes out in the travel and travel insurance industries for the future will be interesting.
The rest of the flight was like any other long-haul flight in economy class. That is, cramped and largely sleepless. The gluten-free and kosher meals we had ordered were a good decision, and all beverages were complimentary with dinner, so we chose wine, which probably did help achieve the little bit of sleep we got. The aged 777 had only obnoxiously bright overhead reading lights, so most people chose to stay in the dark for most of the flight. It was dark outside for the entire 12+ hour flight. We landed on a new day—skipping one during the journey, but this narrative continues with Day 1.