This is the conclusion of my 16-part series about my November 2016 trip to New Zealand, booked off a $215 mistake fare.
I’ve actually never connected at LAX before. Particularly if you have luggage, I don’t recommend an international connection there. Landing at the Tom Bradley International Terminal itself wasn’t that bad, and there was no line to clear immigration at Global Entry. A lot of people were trying to go through Global Entry when they didn’t have Global Entry, causing a bit of a backup at the desk where you leave the kiosk area. (As with MIA, it slightly defeats the purpose of Global Entry to require interacting with a human on the way out of immigration itself.)
Bags had already started coming onto the belt when I got through, and mine came pretty quickly, even though it hadn’t gotten a priority tag, despite Oneworld rules. But that’s when it got messy. A long line had formed for the Global Entry and Crew counter for Customs, but they opened up a number of additional general lines, and agents were directing people to those lines. Still not bad. But after I passed through customs, there was a long line for baggage recheck/connecting flights. My bag wasn’t tagged through to DCA, as I hadn’t bothered to ask Qantas to interline the bags on separate tickets. But there was one line, regardless of what you needed to do. When I finally got to the front, I had to stop the agents from scanning my bag and taking it, and they argued with me a bit about my needing to go to the counter. The transit counter for AA and Qantas had a long line, with no priority counter, and only two agents, dealing with what seemed to be some relatively complicated situations. I decided to screw it and just walk outside to Terminal 4 and the main AA check-in, which I correctly surmised would have very little or no wait.
I don’t know if I could have accessed the Oneworld Business Lounge in the TBIT, but didn’t bother to try, and just headed through Precheck to the Admirals Club. (For some reason, a lot of people were making It to the Precheck podium who didn’t actually have precheck.) As soon as I got in, I got on the waitlist for a shower. A woman had just gotten called to the podium and handed a shower key, and I saw her go back into the main, seemingly always under-construction, seating area. She then went about making herself a big breakfast, and sitting down, with the key. I was feeling really gross, so I actually said something to her when she got up to the bar, and came back with a Bloody Mary and sat down. “Ma’am, do you realize there are a lot of people waiting for shower keys?” She seemed shocked and genuinely surprised, and handed it to me and said “Go ahead, then.” Pushy? Maybe. But come on.
The shower was lovely, and the shower room much nicer than the one in the ORD Admirals Club. As I was finishing up, my name was being called to the front desk, which I felt bad about, but I got dressed and to the counter to explain shortly after my second page. The agents seemed similarly surprised why someone would have taken a key and just hung out with it.
I had already had four breakfasts in 24 hours, so I wasn’t that excited for any of the food in the Admirals Club – though I did make myself peanut butter on a bagel. I figured they probably would only have breakfast food for sale again on the plane, too. So after charging electronics, having a few coffees, and exchanging my drink chit for a bottle of water, I headed down to the gate area, where every food place had an insane line and matching prices- I settled on a turkey wrap and chips for $18.
My flight to DCA, unlike my outbound, was on a newer 737, so there was inseat AC power and USB power and personal inflight entertainment. I had foolishly thought I might have a chance at an upgrade since it was a Saturday morning flight. But of course not. It was completely full, and I was #4 on the upgrade list. I really wonder what the point of AAs “sticker”-based upgrade system is. I’ve been an AA elite for three years now, most of it as a Platinum, and my upgrades have rarely cleared except on DC-NY flights which are sub-500 miles and don’t require use of stickers. It seems that most routes fill the front with Executive Platinums- hence why I have 33 500-mile upgrades sitting in my account. (At the last minute three people were upgraded after boarding. Boo…)
We were delayed because “Catering shorted us on a number of items,” which obviously is a problem for a transcon. Several pallets ended up being loaded and we were off. I fell asleep pre-takeoff and wokeup to some beautiful views of the Sierra Nevadas. I had correctly surmised that AA would only have breakfast items for sale on the flight, since it leaves at 9:45am, even though it doesn’t land until nearly 6pm on the East Coast- which is dumb. Since this was a FlexPerks award flight, I had $25 to spend, though, so I ordered the turkey croissant and the snack box. They didn’t have any snack boxes loaded, which is ridiculous, so I got trail mix instead. Although branded a breakfast item, the turkey croissant was actually more a lunch item anyway, and far better and fresher tasting than the “Cuban turkey” sandwich I had on the way out.
In all, despite the depressing election-related end, New Zealand was a great trip. Wellington is a nice city, Christchurch was fascinating, and I really enjoyed Mt. Cook. I’d love to go back and spend some more time on the parts of the North Island I didn’t really get to see, and I felt like I didn’t get a good sense of Auckland. I’d also be interested in re-doing Queenstown without wasting most of my time in Doubtful Sound, and exploring some of the East Coast of the South Island, like Dunedin and some of the smaller villages, although less likely to do that alone. So I’ll keep my eye out for the next $200 fare to New Zealand.
December through February have been a lot of smaller trips for me, including Chicago, New York, Puerto Vallarta, and Orlando. I may post a brief trip report or review from those, or not. It’s a bit of a strange time for me. But I will definitely post more about my coming South Africa and Namibia trip, scheduled for March, as that comes closer, and will be welcoming suggestions and tips!