Being a hardened European, I have never had any plans to visit the USA. Then my younger daughter got an internship in Los Angeles and begged her sister and myself to visit for the end-of-year holiday season. The prospect of spending a few days en famille, sans partners, cats or deadlines, under the sun-kissed palms of California was too good to pass up. Now read on. Or not.
Saturday: Awakened by alarm at 8 am., swear, listen to news which announces airport security staff strike still on, swear. Get up, usual ablutions, dress, chuck final articles in suitcase and wonder what I’m forgetting this time. Hope it’s nothing major. Neighbour picks me up at 9:30, we reach the airport shortly after 10. My flight is due to leave at 1:20 pm. but we’ve all been warned to turn up early because of strikes.
I get to the Departures terminal: the flight is already flagged as delayed. Swearing. Other daughter phones to say her flight was cancelled and all flights to LA from Paris are full, so she’s going to lose 24 hours of her holidays. On the plus side, she’s got extra stress and aggro. More swearing. This may mean I’ll be stuck overnight in Paris as well, depending on seating priorities.
I hurry to register my baggage. You have to get your boarding pass from the machines first. “Insert passport”. I have inserted my passport, you malfunctioning lump of impure silicon. I remove my passport from the reader. “Please reinsert passport” WTF? After much argument, the machine and I establish that I have inserted my passport into its maw, that I exist, that I need to tell it all about my passport (which entails extracting the document from its inefficient gob, accompanied by further electronic complaints), that I am travelling to the USA… It wants the address I’ll be staying at. That’s in my other bag. I already have both hands full and am typing using my big toe. Fine. Happy now? It is, and at last spits out a boarding pass covering both flights. This entitles me to check my suitcase in. The nice lady says I’ll see it again in Los Angeles. Yay! I hurry to phone the daughter, who starts explaining what sort of compensation I can expect for being delayed. No, I’m registered for the full journey; sorry about the background noise: that’s not a fairground, it’s the local strikers demonstrating. Yes, it does sound like a fairground, but that’s the French for you; if you’re going to shout slogans, at least have fun doing it.
We are urged to go through to the boarding gate as quickly as possible, because of the security checks. We board on time, but takeoff is delayed for refuelling and a couple of suitcases that have gone walkabout. No meal on the plane. I haven’t had time to grab anything to eat other than a small apple, so I have to survive on a tomato juice and a packet of savoury biscuits. Breakfast was a slice of bread and butter. I am not feeling at my best.
We land with twenty minutes to spare before boarding starts for my next flight. Bugger. I start out at a smart pace. It’s not looking too bad: we arrived Terminal 2F and I need to get to 2E. It’s the same building.
It’s a walk of over a fucking mile!
By the time I get to the gate, my leg muscles are burning. I’m not used to walking so far, due to the old war wound playing up after about 10 minutes. Long queue to get into the plane. There’s a guy checking boarding passes and ID. Where do I live? France. This confuses him, as I have a UK passport. When I am coming back? I haven’t left here yet. We board, I collapse gratefully into the tiny seat. The captain announces we’re being delayed for refuelling. Haven’t we done this one? Then he announces that one of the tyres has to be replaced as, during their inspection, the technicians found it was damaged. We take off an hour late. Apparently the weather in LA is “pretty bad”, i.e. light showers. This leaves 283 people who have just lived through a 2-day storm somewhat unimpressed.
More bad news: I had asked for the vegetarian menu, but they’re really, really sorry. It’s not an option today. Eurgh. I really don’t want to have to choose between greasy lamb and cardboard chicken, but the steward has a fallback: I can have the first-class menu. Ooh. Things are looking up. In terms of quantity it’s much less than the standard fare for economy class, but it tastes pretty good. Of course, it being my first meal for over 24 hours may have helped. I polish the sauce from the plate with an extra helping of bread, watch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 on the tiny screen, **try to kip until the sheer discomfort drives me to sit up again and watch a nature documentary. Repeat from ** until the cabin lights come on again and dessert/breakfast is served. I think my arse is now square from sitting on thin cushions in the same position for 12 hours.
There is a none-too-genteel rush to get to Immigration first. Good grief, nearly everyone who works here seems to be smaller than me. I thought America was supposed to have lots of big beefy types? This is Gnomeland security! The Nationals queue is fairly short, while sundry shagged-out aliens look askance at the tiny number of officials available to process our dabs and mugshots. After a quick conference, the Gnomes take pity on us and let some people through to the other side: mostly old folks, families with young children, me and my walking stick, pretty girls… Funnily enough, the couple who were complaining incessantly and looking for a way to jump the queue got overlooked.
Immigration are pleasant and friendly enough. When am I going back? I collect my suitcase, pass Customs, stagger out into the mild California night to find my bus. Bloody hell, American trucks and buses look like they’ve escaped from a WWII film. How strange. My bus arrives, late. It is a wheezing affair and requires a whopping $10 to take me on a bumpy 25-minute ride, most of which is spent picking up Chinese students from the other stops around the airport.
Nevertheless, I have arrived. Hello America!
- French airport security strike disrupts travel (cbsnews.com)