On a Thursday, I came home early from work, by which time the rest of the family was already home. The kids, I repeat (though I don’t think I mentioned this earlier), were still not really thrilled as they would be missing their first week – plus two days – of school as a result of this Australian adventure. Rather reluctantly, therefore, they worked at packing their luggage. By the time we were all packed up and ready to leave, it was past seven pm, and we had originally planned to leave by five, so as to get to our Atlanta hotel by midnight.
As it happened, we did not get in there until nearly three am – and there is a reason why!! Given the latest advances in technology, which I had not embraced yet but DS had taken to like ducks to water, I neglected to look up Google Maps before leaving to note down a back-of-the-envelope (literally!) map that I typically draw when I am driving to an unfamiliar destination. Instead, I had asked Baab to get the travel route all sorted out, which he did. Once we got into the general Atlanta area, it was about 2 am. We were still on I-75 in the general neighborhood of the hotel. At this point, the GPS informed us that the destination was about 30 minutes away and indicated that we should be leaving the interstate.
We followed the directive. What followed for the next 30 minutes were right turns and left turns and right turns … you get the point! We were driving around on little side streets in the middle of the night with not a soul (or house) in sight that we could see even on a moonlight night! We called the hotel’s number but the clerk was not really sure if we were on the right track – she could only read us out the official directions which required us to take an exit off I-85!! At this point, we got severely nervous as we had no clue what we would do if the car developed an issue. Fortunately, it didn’t and, like I said, we reached the hotel almost at 3 am. Though the GPS was exactly right, looking at the map later, I realized that I was right in guessing that the hotel was somewhere in the V-region formed by the two interstates. Instead of taking us all the way to the junction and bringing us back, it decided to take the shortest route (based time or distance or both), but it was not the most inhabited route for sure. Oh well, lesson learned … almost. Why? Read on in later posts.
At Atlanta and Houston, we saw a lot of different airlines:
For now, we were in Atlanta and all checked in – we had one check-in bag between the four of us and four carry-on bags and four back-packs. The idea was that we would dump all the food (TV dinners, cookies and the like) and warm clothes in the check-in bag while travelling, but then – once in Australia – rearrange our stuff and leave the nearly empty check-in bag with friend in Sydney. Two things were making us a bit nervous – the first was Australian immigration and the second was our flight connection at LAX.
In researching Australia, I had chanced upon some YouTube videos of folks being caught taking undeclared food (a big No No) into the country. In addition to losing their food item(s), the passengers had to pony up a significant amount for fines. Some visitors were deported back for not adhering to the rules of the visa that they came on. I also read about shoes being banned from Australia as they had dirt on them. Needless to say, we were worried that we might fall foul of the law with the food items that we were carrying and also that our (hiking) shoes might not be clean enough for Australia, as we had worn them in Switzerland last year.
Then there was our flight connection – so careful I was in getting our flights on the right dates, that I did not pay enough attention to the actual flight timings and connection times. As a result, we had over six hours of connecting time at Houston International (IAH), followed by 45 minute connection in Los Angeles (LAX). I called United, I talked with an agent at a booth in a mall in New York – everyone assured me that as it was a published connection, we would not miss it. However, researching the flights online, we noticed that the IAH-LAX flight we were on routinely late. To add to our worries, Baab informed me that there would be quite a bit of walking involved across terminals in LAX, and we were unsure whether we would be subject to another round of security as well. All in all, we were antsy even though the research also indicated that the LAX to Sydney (SYD) flight was also late on the days when the IAH-LAX flight was late! To add to our worries, a couple of days before we were flying, Delta had major issues with their computer systems and a lot of their flights were grounded in – of all places – Atlanta!
As it turned out, we were vindicated (a little) for our concerns. ATL-IAH was on time, and we spent the long transit time just hanging around (three of us) and checking out planes and taking photos (Baab). Baab and I went from the domestic terminal to the international terminal and back in the shuttle trains within Houston. However, the IAH-LAX plane took off a bit later than its time, though the pilot assured us that the flight would be reaching on time. And he was right, as we landed at LAX ten minutes ahead of schedule. I was so glad that I heaved a sigh of relief. Not so fast, buster! We taxied for a few minutes then ground to a full stop on the tarmac, well short of any gate. Then came the announcement that our gate was occupied by a plane and we would get there as soon as the gate was available.
After ten minutes more of waiting (now we were past the scheduled time and so, officially, we were late), another announcement followed which mirrored the previous one. Now, I was positively worried. I called the flight attendant and asked her if she knew anything about our flight out to Sydney. She went back to check and came back in a couple of minutes to tell me that it was on time. As we had still not started moving, I requested her to arrange it so we could leave the plane early as we had a really tight connection. She said that she would make an announcement.
Sure enough, when we finally got to the gate nearly 30 minutes behind schedule, she requested folks to make way for families behind them (we were almost at the last row) who had to rush to catch a flight. To no one’s surprise, nothing like that happened. Not only us, but also another family immediately ahead of us who also claimed that they had a tight connection, was able to get ahead of the crowd. And so, when we finally entered the terminal building, it was almost time for the Sydney flight to take off. Leaving the rest of the family to walk slowly, I almost ran all the way to the Sydney flight (gate 74 in Terminal 7, IIRC) from our gate (85 in Terminal 8, I believe).
When I got there, I was relieved to see that the door to the jetway was still open, though there was no sign of any of the other passengers who had obviously all gone in and occupied their seats. As I had the passports and boarding passes for everyone in the family, I quickly got them all verified by which time, the rest of the family showed up and we were able to get in the flight. As an anti-climax, we had to wait for another half an hour or so – and more passengers to come in – before the flight finally took off (though the pilot blamed the delay on some mechanical issues).