Our transfer at Auckland was only one hour long, so although we reached the security check-in with time to spare, we were a little nervous. Unfortunately, all the rushing, combined with the (unexpected) requirement for alcohol to be purchased 90 minutes before a flight to the US, meant that not only did we not get any 42 Below to onsell at exorbitant prices, Tina also missed out on perfume. Tina was very disappointed on both counts.
The security check-in was actually less of a drama than we expected, it was more-or-less the same as domestic and Australian security, but with the added usage of one incredibly sensitive metal-detector paddle. To give you an idea of just how sensitive it was, it beeped when passing over the rivets in my jeans.
San Francisco was the longest flight either of us had been on, so we were enthralled with the size and features of the plane, but mostly we were happy we had got a free seat beside us so that we could have both the window and the aisle. Upon sitting down we immediately noticed the LCD screens set into the back of the seats in front of us. It took a little longer to realise that the buttons provided on the side of the seat, actually came right of the seat and became a remote control. More on that later.
The first thing we saw on our little screens was a 10-minute advertisement for Business Premium, Air New Zealand's first-class service. Actually, it was the safety video, but the frequent shots of suit-clad passengers with expensive laptops, enjoying their several feet of leg-room complete with power-plugs, Internet access, a fold-out screen, a fully-reclining seat you could lie down on, and an ottoman to put your feet on, soon had me blatantly ignoring my own personal safety and daydreaming instead. When you fly coach, space is a sweet and frequent daydream.
Both of us found the remote controls very entertaining. Quite aside from controlling the onscreen entertainment (a selection of movies, TV, games and music), it could be flipped over to reveal a (presumably very expensive) telephone, or turned on its side to become a game-pad (the four colourful buttons and the side-triggers had me anticipating all sorts of gaming wonders, but unfortunately the selection was entirely made up of very simple kids games (I'm not sure what this says about me)). Lastly, along the edge was a small credit-card reader. While we later discovered this was used to pay for the telephone, we found our initial conclusion (that there was indeed pay-per-view porn available on the flight) much more entertaining.
After the obligatory movie, and a quick look at the terrible selection of games (the first airline to bring out in-flight multi-player console gaming for long-haul flights will have my undying loyalty), we each settled down to the difficult business of sleeping. Sleeping on planes is something that some people seem to do very well, and everyone else seems to suffer. Here are our scores for the night:
Tina: 1 hour
Brendan: 20 minutes... maybe, but I might have just been dozing.
Not particularly impressive numbers all round. At around 8am California time (5am NZ time) we gave up and I watched a stand-up comedy routine while Tina took photos out the window (we were told off for letting all the sunlight in and waking everyone up, so Tina resumed with a blanket covering her head and the window).
After that, it was only a few hours wait before we were approaching San Francisco. It was very odd seeing all the places we had already viewed from Google Earth from a much closer perspective. Luckily for us it was a very nice day, which made for some beautiful photos, although the brightly colour desalination pools (salt-drying) turned out to be a lot less colourful in real life. What looked like fluro green an orange on the satellite, turned out to merely be slightly different shades of brown. Perhaps we caught it at the wrong time?
US immigration was fairly straightforward. Tina cunningly managed to come up with the answer to the official's one and only question: "What is your partner's name?", and then we were home free (or away free). Customs was even simpler, they just asked if we had anything to declare, asked a couple of questions about food and medication, and then waved us through. Our bags didn't even get scanned!
Much to our relief, we managed to find Duncan in the airport lobby. It occurred to us that he had no idea what we looked like, and vice versa. Luckily for us, kiwis are somehow easy to spot...
And now, here's Tina to tell you about pretty things we saw from the plane (I only mock slightly, the sunrise was actually amazing), and a few other bits and pieces I'm not sure of...
Distance crossed: 10,676 km
Flight Time: 11 hours 45 minutes
Highest altitude: 11887m
Lowest exterior temperature: -65 degrees C
The sunset leaving Auckland Airport was really lovely. It was a narrow rainbow band along the edge of the horizon, and the colours reflected onto the clouds and from the wing of the airplane like a trout's fin. As we crossed the Bay of Islands, the colours became banded, interspersed with dark lines, and finally the wing reflected red and purple. Gorgeous.
Around 5am NZ time, I woke up to Brendan shaking my shoulder and whispering, "Tina, look at this." He pulled up the little blind in front of the window and I was blinded for a moment as it revealed a tropical sunrise - the horizon was a band of bright orange, and the sun peeked out of the corner. On the window, the frost crystals glittered and sparkled. I jumped up and grabbed the camera out of the overhead locker, and took a few pictures. Then we were told off.
Once we were officially allowed to open the blinds, the sun was hot against my skin and on the window pane, but the temperature outside registered a steady -64 degrees C on top of the world.
Next time, though, I will heed my colleague Calum's advice and bring earplugs. It would have at least given me more sleep. Behind me, a family of 5 little children screamed and the one behind kicked my seat for the last two hours of the plane (I thought there were only going to be two somehow making that much noise; but oh, I was mistaken. Why do kids scream for no reason?). The only thing stopping me from turning around was that their mum also sat in the middle seat, and smiled thinly at me every time I turned around, well aware of the reason. Maybe that was why we managed to have our extra seat - no-one wants to sit next to screaming toddlers!
Also, on a strange note, I do wonder what happens if you are morbidly obese and have to use the bathrooms on the plane. Even I had trouble squeezing into the tiny narrow gallery where the toilets were on each side, through the tiny wee door and into the tiny bathroom.