Even at the best of times, a sixteen hour flight to Hawaii via Los Angeles from the UK is going to be taxing and a sense of humour is going to be essential, right? But humour is only going to get you so far when things start to go wrong.
We arrived at the airport to find that our flight to Los Angeles was delayed by an hour. But, hey, what’s an hour when you are on your way to paradise – we could wait. So we settled in for the long haul, consoled by an obscenely large English breakfast until we noticed that people in the departure lounge were on the move. Something was wrong and, like sheep, we followed the crowd as an announcement was made, telling us of an ‘incident’ that would close the terminal building for safety reasons. Outside the window, cars with flashing lights hurtled towards some unknown threat and Hawaii started to feel an awfully long way away. Crowds became hemmed in and stood, looking confused but in good mood while the incident was dealt with. A young woman from one of the burger bars was worried that her burgers were becoming overdone, left to char to a cinder following her evacuation. People had paid for their food and then had been ushered out empty handed. Luckily, the incident was over in a short while, but the holdup was long enough to ensure that some planes could not land; adding a further delay to our flight.
We eventually made it on-board our flight some two hours late to be told that a replacement pilot was “hot-footing it through the terminal building as we speak” as the reason for the original delay was a sick pilot, unable to fly. Apparently, three pilots were required on such a long flight which, I have to admit, made me feel kind of safe and looked after. So, with the third pilot safely in his seat, we set off, hoping that this new guy (or gal) was in the mood for putting his foot down and making up time – we had a connection to catch.
Three mini bottles of Merlot, chilli con carne and a packet of pretzels later, we were given the bad news that we would probably miss our connecting flight to Kauai.
“Is there anything you can do?”
I’m not sure what we were expecting the exceptionally friendly cabin crew member to do exactly, but short of opening a window and flapping his arms about frantically, it was clear that he was out of options. But later, he came up with a cunning plan to move us up to Premium Class to sit with the posh people so that we could be the first to leave the plane when we reached LA. That way, we might be able to make it to our next flight if we ran like the wind. This sounded like a great idea and, oh, the leg room, the leather seats, the big screen – we were suddenly living the life. Unfortunately, they only moved us thirty minutes out from LA but, hey, beggars can’t be choosers!
The doors were ‘set to manual and cross-checked’ and Rachel was already elbowing her way to the front of the queue, confirming the views of the Premium Class passengers that people like us should have been left to rot in Economy. Thankfully, no fights broke out and we were off and running. At the top of the gangway we were stopped by a lady who informed us that, since we would miss our connection, she had booked us onto the next available flight – a mere 24 hours away – and that we were stuck in LA.
“Can’t we just run for the flight?”
We still had thirty minutes to collect our bags, get through border checks, re-check our bags and get to the gate – what could go wrong?
“You’re not going to make it, but you can try if you like.”
I turned and saw Rachel, somewhere in the distance running like a mad woman. Our choice had been made. Just watch us, I thought. When Rachel’s in this mood, anything’s possible. So we ran and ran. Amazingly, our bags appeared first on the carousel (that’s never happened in our lives) and we were able to get to the border checkpoint first. Chit-chat, finger prints, photo and “have a nice day” and we were off and running again. It became frantic and somehow we ended up on different escalators and Rachel sank into the basement while I headed up to the first floor. I could still hear her long after she disappeared from view. That’s it, I thought, we will never make it now. All hope seemed lost, but then, like a cavalry charge, Rachel reappeared on the horizon and the chase was back on. Turns out that we were in the wrong terminal. We were bedraggled and perspiring profusely but we pushed on – five minutes to gate closure. We arrived at the gate as the last of the passengers were disappearing down the gangway and, against all the odds, we had made it. We were elated and could hardly talk as we handed over our boarding passes. The lady scanned the first into the system. When the red light appeared, something broke inside me, something called hope, and I knew that we were not getting on the flight today. Rachel was already holding her head in her hands and she had that look on her face – a look I’ve seen only a few times before. Oh God, I thought, this could get ugly!
Even Chernobyl took some time to go into meltdown – it took Rachel only two seconds, which must be some sort of record and I had visions of spending the night in a cell. Words, more words and shakes of the head and the lady was not letting us on the flight. We were directed to a desk a few feet away. Rachel was becoming incandescent and I knew I would have to step in soon to avert disaster so I made sure I got to the desk first to speak with another very nice lady who, as it happened, moved at a snail’s pace. It was weird, an almost spiritual calm washed over me as I explained our predicament. The lady tapped her keyboard, one key every 10 seconds, or so it seemed.
“You’re not booked on this flight sir.”
I was struggling to see due to the sweat in my eyes but managed to explain, with a smile, that this really was our connecting flight and we had just done the impossible and probably broken some fundamental laws of physics to get here with seconds to spare.
“Let me see, sir.”
More tapping and her tempo had increased to one every five seconds.
“I’ll have to ask my colleague, sir,” and another lady sauntered, yes sauntered, over to the desk but I could see through the window behind the desk that our plane was still there but that all passengers had now embarked.
The new lady began tapping the keyboard and I could feel my zen-like calm becoming strained. Another man came up behind and fired a question at the new lady, waving his ticket in the air and can you believe that she stopped what she was doing to satisfy his demands first? I began to think that I should just set Rachel onto her but decided against it – one last attempt – tap, tap, tap on the keyboard.
“You’ve been bumped, sir.”
“I’ve been what?”
I felt it before I heard it. Like a distant tectonic shift, a portent of something awful. It felt like an age, but when it came it was something to behold. I turned (everyone turned) and Rachel was stood, open-mouthed, her hands clutching her hair, bent almost double and the wail came. The first lady stared, first at Rachel, then at me. Was I still smiling? I’ll never know. And that was it – the meltdown was complete and Rachel’s ability to remain silent shattered and she was on a new mission.
The long and short of it is that the airline, believing we could not make our flight, moved our booking to the next available flight, which was to be 24 hours later as there’s only one Delta flight per day to Kauai. Try as Rachel might, she was unable to get the airline to book us with another airline. There was no special desk in the whole of LAX to deal with such an issue, which is amazing when you think about it. It was only the work of one kind airline employee that managed to bring Rachel’s mood back to something approaching normal. The young woman had been happily minding her own business minutes earlier but spent at least an hour with us, booking us a hotel for the night and confirming that we would have our room and meals paid for by the airline until our next scheduled flight.
I wish I could say that this is the end of the sorry story but it turned out that, although we didn’t make our flight, our luggage did, so we spent the next 24 hours in the same clothes with the addition of a toothbrush and sachet of tooth paste, given to us by the hotel.
Our mood had reached new depths but we were determined to make the most of our situation and the next morning we headed out to Manhattan Beach. What a great place! This is where the other half lives, with amazing beach-front condos of all shapes and sizes. We walked and walked, taking in the sights and had drinks in a lovely little bar called Simmzy’s. We even saw dolphins playing just off the coast, leaping over each other and calling out – we could hear them from the pier.
We got back to the airport at least three hours early (as directed) to find our new connecting flight was delayed for three quarters of an hour. Enough said.
The first thing we noticed when exiting the airport terminal on Kauai was the wonderful, wet, warm fragrance of flowers, earth and palms wafting on the breeze and the irritation of the previous day was forgotten. After a short drive to our condo we fell into a deep, restful sleep to the sound of the as yet unseen sea only a few feet away.
We awoke early as we were still on UK time and a cockerel was calling outside. I had promised myself that my first action on Kauai would be to see the beach so I headed out to explore. There were chickens all over the lawn in front of the condo and many cats sat or lay along the path to the beach. The chickens and cats completely ignored each other and seemed to live happily side by side. Chickens are everywhere, in the street, crossing the highway, in shops and even in restaurants. It reminds me of Key West. It was a boyhood dream to come to Hawaii and while the cool kids listened to Whitesnake, I listened to mum and dad’s Hawaiian music albums, dreaming of beautiful girls in grass skirts and palm trees on pristine beaches.
Down on the beach I found the need to separate, in my mind, the natural environment from what we have done to it. The sun was just rising on the horizon and the fine, golden sand stretched ahead as far as I could see. It was still only 6am.
Palm trees hung, as they should, at the very edges of the Pacific. But then I noticed what humans have left behind in paradise – plastic bottles, paper wrappers and discarded camping equipment. But small crabs, oblivious to the detritus, scurried for cover as I walked by, disappearing down tiny holes in the sand. Don’t get me wrong, there were no piles of rubbish on the beach but even one plastic bottle top was an insult to my boyhood fantasy of what paradise should be. There was enough stuff out there to make me wonder why ‘SaveOurHawaiianBeaches.com’ has never been created. Maybe one day it will be.
We had lost a full day due to our interrupted journey and we had no food, so we found the nearest supermarket in order to stock up. We really couldn’t believe the cost of food here on Kauai. It is comfortably more than twice the cost of food in the UK. Our total bill, for a couple of meals plus breakfast for 3 days cost us an eye-watering $179. We stumbled, bewildered, back out into the car park feeling like we had been mugged in broad daylight. We will be eating out from now on.
After breakfast, we decided to make up for lost time and explore the island and headed south, down the coast to Poipu. The journey there revealed an incredibly lush environment; a humid, green landscape, good for the soul. Apparently, Kauai is known as the ‘garden isle’ as it is covered with tropical rain forest. The beautiful, colourful flowers here appear larger than life and the palms reach high into the sky.
The breeze is an ever constant theme but welcome in the ninety degree heat.
We spent the next few hours on the beach at Poipu, snorkelling in the beautifully warm, blue-green sea among a myriad of colourful fish. I’m happy to report that not a single piece of litter could be seen on the whole beach. It was in pristine condition and the dream lives on.
Later, a giant sea turtle came to visit and swam amongst us just off the beach. It was completely unconcerned at the attention it attracted. We followed it around as it meandered through the surf. The lifeguard told us that turtles sometimes come up onto the beach, but not today. I couldn’t help thinking that, only hours ago, we were stranded at an airport hotel in LA and now we were swimming with turtles in Hawaii. Maybe it’s not only the boy who can dream.
Tomorrow we are heading north.