It is nice to be home, even though the weather in Waikanae was drizzly when we got here. And Joy and Grahame, the lovely neighbours over the back fence, tell us it has been cold and wet a lot while we have been away. So we definitely got the best of the weather then, given most of the warm clothing we took over to the UK wasn't used at all, and I had to buy T-shirts!
A good trip home in Air NZ Business Class - beautifully comfortable reclining seats, lovely food and wonderful friendly service. And the seats turn into beds, real beds! Bliss!
The only fly in the ointment, and it was a blowfly of absolutely gigantic proportions, in fact a swarm of them, in fact millions of swarms of them, was LAX.
Los Angeles International Airport is aptly abbreviated to LAX, because lax it is, with the most appalling arrangements for getting people into the country.
And we didn't even want to go in; we were in transit - with a two hour stopover. Well, not really two hours ...
Firstly we got off the plane (good thing I had a pee as soon as the seatbelt sign was off), collected a bright blue Transit card, and followed signage (sorry, Neil of nb Herbie) along extensive corridors up, and down escalators, round corners, until we reached the Border Control Processing area.
Then the queuing started:
- for the computer terminals to check and register the ESTA -
- and then the ESTA system went down,
- and a couple more flights of people came in so there were well over 1000 people waiting
- with no information being provided
- after half an hour of nothing, no action, no info,
- the ESTA system came back up, so
- we waited another half an hour for our turn, with no apparent rationale for some parts of the queue being shuffled forward ahead of other parts of it - AAARRRGGGHHH!!!
- we finally got to the terminal and registered our ESTAs and our fingerprints and photos
- and were told by the woman assisting that we were done and could exit back to the transit area;
- but no - AAARRRGGGHHH!!! - we were told by an official as we were close to freedom (i.e. the doorway that would lead us back to the plane and out of Trumperyland) that we now needed to line up in another queue and get our ESTAs, passports, photos and fingerprints checked again by the Border Control officials.
- so another hour of waiting in a randomly selected queuing system where the barriers seemed to be moved at whim by officials but not by any passenger/s
- all the while Air NZ representatives were coming past checking that their passengers (us and several others) were progressing, albeit at glacial pace, and reassuring us that we would not be left behind
- eventually, after a time of wonder and much frustration, which cannot be loudly expressed or we run the risk of being delayed further for behaviour unbecoming to those who want to get in and out of the US without touching the ground,
- we were 'processed' by a very nice chap (honestly, no sarcasm or irony) and sent on our way to Security
- getting to Security, to re-enter the terminal and get back on the plane
- having had no opportunity to shop/buy inappropriate things/take possession of a firearm (would they care?)/buy drugs/smuggle in an illegal alien/participate in acts of moral turpitude (forbidden if you want to enter the US, we don't want to enter, but are not sure what moral turpitude entails, so maybe cursing under my breath or not so under my breath counts ...)
- as I was saying, getting to Security entails
- leaving the building
- re-entering the building
- following several signs
- going up escalators
- getting our boarding passes stamped TRANSIT by an Air NZ rep for the purpose she said of making sure we got fast tracked through Security
- ah, no it didn't.
- we were able to go down the Business Class lane, and that shortened the wait to HALF a BLOODY HOUR
- then at a run, to Gate 131 and back on the plane, apologising to the air crew as we came on
- not your problem they said and do not worry and would you like a drink
- chardonnay in a pint glass, sez I, and I wasn't joking ...
- We weren't the last ones back on the plane - it was a full 20 minutes before the last people made it back
- And then we had a 20 minute wait for a take off slot.
We are going to write a review of the LAX experience, as requested by the AirNZ crew, as they are powerless in the process.
One staff member at Border Control Processing said it is like that every day. To me that is a sign of a system that is broken, not just a computer system, but a whole system - policy, process and procedure.
For a start a simple change that would save airlines in transit a lot of money (as there is a cost to delays) is to set up separate queues for
- visitors entering the country
- passengers transferring to connecting flights
- passengers in transit on the same bloody plane
They could make another tweak and have just one check - if your passport is new, like ours are and the ESTA hasn't been used in it before, then go into a queue that goes straight to a person for checking and registering.
I don't want to sound unsympathetic, but the person who had a seizure in the BCP hall while we were there had it easy - she got into the country faster, using the ambulance!
We loved our AirNZ Business Class experience (fully lying down to sleep is such a blissful thing to be able to do!) and will be doing BC-ing from now on. But we will not be travelling via LAX ever again.