Flights to LA and MEX

My bum is sore. Any which way I sit and it’s not long before I’m moving again, trying to find a small spot that hasn’t been squished to the bone over the last 24 hours. I don’t mind flying, but I’m certainly not a fan of long haul flights. I’m waiting at LA airport for my third and final flight today, and currently feel like I’m sitting on an iceblock that is the lino floor of LAX. Positions are coveted, everyone vying for the elusive power points. I got here early enough to secure one almost close enough to the carpeted area, but not quite. I’m sitting half on the base of a board showing the allowed dimensions of cabin baggage, and it’s not quite long enough – like a step that your foot hangs over. That’s the current state of my bum.

Rewind 26 hours and I was sitting in a comfy chair eating bacon and eggs for breakfast, because, I was told, “It’s the last decent bacon you’ll eat for the next month – American’s don’t know what real bacon is!” I believe that too! Renee kindly drove me to the airport and I initially thought I was at the wrong check in counters for there was no one else checking in. Apparently I’d just beaten the rush, and had boarding passes all the way through to Mexico within ten minutes. Wandering leisurely through Duty Free I sampled the tasty Hendrick’s Gin, and used up the remaining credit on my phone with goodbye phone calls.

I’ve not flown with United before, and I can see why they’re at the lower end of the gradings for reputable airlines. My flight to Sydney was an ALL male crew, who were more interested in each other than the passengers. Rarely did they smile, and handing out pretzels and drinks seemed like they were giving away their own lunches. We landed in Sydney, simply to exit the plane and immediately line up to board the next plane. Thankfully there was a vacant seat next to me, although it was still a damn long flight with more surly hosts/esses. The fasten seat belt sign was turned on more than necessary, and I think it was just an effort on the airline’s part to get everyone back in their seats so the staff could sleep!

Speaking of the staff on that plane, I’ve never seen such a variety of air hostesses. Honestly, one hostess was a mature woman with naturally white hair! The planes were old school too – we had communal TV screens and no choice of movie. Fascinating in a way, considering I remember my flight to Japan in 1994 and that was the norm. On that flight I got moved to Business Class and each seat had a screen and we thought that was such a luxury! My fastidiousness came out again when we got served the meal on the way to LA (the food on UA was nothing to rave about either, it was probably the worse plane food I’ve been served, and I usually love those little food trays) – I naturally tidy up my tray after eating, condensing all my rubbish to occupy the most minimal space. Even rubbish can be neat and tidy, with everything in it’s place 🙂 We did get served an Australian made orange juice that I want to find at home – it’s called Just Delicious Orange Juice, and it certainly lives up to it’s name.

For those who like stats, I took note of the following from the screen:

Travelled 1997kms (it looked like we’d only just left the AU coast)

Altitude 9456m

10,170kms to go

1205k/hr ground speed

-31 degrees C outside

Despite pre warning about the poor condition and organisation of LAX, I was truly underwhelmed when I arrived. There was one guy organising the hundreds of people in the Customs hall and there wasn’t even marked lanes to organise everyone! I found a power point and decided to charge my phone while I waited for everyone to sort themselves out. I wasn’t worried about the hour and a half it took to get to the desk, because I had seven hours to kill before my next flight. I eventually joined the end of the queue, and nervously approached the large black guy at the desk. I say nervously because the USA had, four years prior, denied me entry and I didn’t know if that would have any repercussions on my current attempt to visit Han. There is no valid reason why I was denied entry last time, I believe the woman was just having a bad day, however I’d taken bank statements along with me just in case the Customs people wanted proof I wasn’t going to stay in their bloody country any longer than necessary.

I answered his questions about where I was going, and with whom (seriously, does it look like I’m standing with a group of people right now?!) and pressed my fingers dutifully against the smeared fingerprinting glass when requested. I took my sunnies off for a mug shot, and watched with hope as his big black hand stretched towards the entry stamp. Come on, come on, let me in.. Pick it up and stamp the damn papers! Yes! I’m in! Woo hoo! Han, they let me in! Surely I’ll get in again after Jamaica!!! In my internal celebration, I didn’t immediately realise he’d only stamped my Customs form, and not my passport. Half way down the exit lane I had a slight panic – what if this was some trick to catch me out? Given the American embargo against Cuba, and with Mexico, Cuba and Jamaica on my itinerary, I did not want to be set up. Oh no. Back to the desk I marched – feeling a little more confident now that I’d been given one nod – and enquired if he should have also stamped my passport. He replied in a voice uncharacteristic for his size, and put that golden entry stamp amongst the others in my collection. Now, to high tail it out of there, collect my bag and get the hell out of the airport before they changed their minds. Phew.

The lack of signage in and around LAX is atrocious, and tourist information is far and few between. I spoke to an older gentleman manning the only visible information desk, and decided to kill a few hours at the Hilton hotel. Courtesy of a free shuttle bus, a hotel so large they don’t know who is staying and who is intruding, and fast free wifi, I charged my laptop and phone, looked up accommodation in Cayman Islands, and cushioned my weary arse on a comfy couch for a few hours.

Heading back to the airport a few hours later, I began my third UA flight. I knew the lack of sleep was starting to get to me (I’d had only snippets in the last 25 hours) because I stood in line to check in when I already had that boarding pass from Melbourne.. Traveller’s Brain I like to call it, the effects of which are similar to Baby Brain, and can cause you to do silly things you normally wouldn’t.

The third UA flight was more entertaining than the previous two, with more Mexican Nationals on board and a lack of care to where people sat. There was an older guy in my seat, which I didn’t mind too much because it meant I got the window seat instead, and the announcements were all in Spanish and also in English. It reminded me of European flights, where they have Spanish and English announcements. Wishing I’d done more practise on my Spanish, I remembered how much I love that language and made a promise to be able to speak more of it next time I’m in South and Latin America. The aircon was up way too high and I was freezing, but I managed to get an hour or so of neck breaking sleep.

My head was hurting from sleep deprivation while I tried to decipher the cryptic questions on the Mexican Customs and Immigration forms. It was 11.30pm local time, which equates to 2.30pm Melbourne time, and my Traveller’s Brain had really kicked in. I understood then why the travel agent had warned against doing the Melb – LA – Mexico all in one leg, but it was lack of time between finishing work and starting the tour that necessitated it this time. Lesson learned.

The Customs hall in MEX at least had clearly marked lanes for Nationals and Foreigners, and enough officials working to move everyone through relatively quickly. It was also a carpeted area, which is more than I can say for most Customs arrival halls! One poor woman had two crying kids with her, and was towards the rear of the line just behind me. I spoke to three young women in the next lane over, closer to the desks, if they’d let the woman and kids jump ahead of them. They agreed, so I opened the barrier and ushered her through. No one else seemed to mine either, yet no one made a move to help her. I thought it was the least I could do. Thankfully, another passenger near to where the woman now was did the same again for her, and pushed her to the front of the queue. She cleared Customs in just a few minutes and I was so busy watching her gratefully wave thanks I almost missed the slight opening of the barrier to usher us to a new desk that just opened.

Traveller’s Brain kicked in again when I saw passengers wheeling luggage with tags on it and panicked for a few seconds that I’d missed the baggage conveyor belt and left my backpack behind.. Oh no, how do I retreat and collect my bag? Feeling slightly embarrassed when I remembered the long walk along the corridor and lack of baggage carousels on route to the Customs hall, I was grateful to be called to the desk to obtain my Mexican entry stamp.

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