It all started with an invitation to come to the Big Island of Hawaii Hawaii in December? Hawaii? For a bad amateur surfer like me? Who used to be hooked on “Lost” and admired the stunning surroundings of that crazy show? Oh yes, please let me come.
Eventually, some pricey flights were booked with an online Spanish agent (half-decent airline at the cheapest price and a not-totally-crazy 26-hour trip) through a comparison site about two months before our proposed travel date, with a fairly sane Berlin-PAris-LA-Kailua-Kona routing.
And here’s LESSON ONE of long-distance travel: If you want to avoid hassle, book with a reputable agent, your trusted travel agent with an office you can can actually visit, or directly with the airline.
Because… week later, the connecting flight from LAX to Kailua-Kona was cancelled by the airline. Well, a physical flight still existed, but flight numbers had changed, and the flight… fallen apart. The genius online agent just chopped off the last leg of the trip and my trip now ended in LA. An email to the agent went unanswered, a call to the agent resulted in the (incorrect) advice to contact the airline directly. The correct way would have been for the agent to request a re-routing, which the agent had no great interest in, as the flight was already paid for, or offering a full refund.
It took me half a day, including multiple international calls to two of the airlines involved, the one that flight originally went under, plus the code-share partner who was actually operating the flight, until finally, late at night, a nice woman in Atlanta just re-booked me onto the newly coded flight.
I’m not a travel novice, but little did I know that flights to the US are usually fully booked. And here’s LESSON TWO: As soon as the airline allows seat reservation, reserve a seat. Usually, you can do this at the time of booking when buying directly from the airline.
So, car parked, luggage dropped, plane boarded, it still looked for some time as if we might have a nice layover in Paris due to de-icing in Berlin, a run across Charles de Gaulle, some begging to jump the queue included, no pit-stop at the bakery, onto a long flight, 11 hours or so, to LA.
Then, LESSON THREE, US immigration formalities. If you think the ESTA application (wwww.esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta) is somewhat bothersome, hang on… LA is humongous, and some machines are supposed to do the work of immigration officials and approve your entry. Look a bit baggy-eyed after your long flight? Forgot to remove your glasses? Fingers a bit sweaty and not contortious enough to go onto the fingerprint machine all at once? The computer is likely to say NO, and send you to an immigration official.
Taking into account current US immigration policy, its somewhat scary. But do not worry: half an hour of queuing and some friendly interrogation later, passport usually gets stamped, and off we are. Into the domestic terminal at LAX. Bring lots of money and numbed tastebuds. And a pashmina.
Fast forward seven hours, a fairly bumpy flight in a spartan cabin (with a cracking entertainment selection on very large seatback screens), we’ve arrived in Hawaii, where the terminal building is open air and no one welcomes you with a flower lei no more (unless you pre-arrange and pre-pay for it) but where we are welcomed into the corporate bubble with bottled water, cookies and a twenty-minute bus ride to our hotel.