It should have taken Ian McCurrach 27 hours to fly home from New Zealand. It took seven days
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The Independent Online
I've had quite a few bad travel experiences but what follows was probably the worst. I'd gone to New Zealand to work and my outbound travel had been paid for. Having to fund my own flight home I booked the cheapest ticket I could find, which was with Continental to London via the USA.

I should have known better.


When I arrived at the airport in Auckland, I immediately discovered that the plane was going to be eight hours late from Sydney, which meant I would certainly miss my connection in Newark. This would mean my coming out of transit in the US and at that time you still needed a visa for the States - something I didn't have. Continental therefore would not let me on the plane. Instead, they said that I would have to go to the embassy for a visa stamp before they would carry me. I replied that if their plane had departed on time I wouldn't have needed a visa. It was a public holiday, the embassy was closed, so after a great deal of hassle they paid for me to spend a night in a hotel.


Eventually I got a visa. The plane was now going to Honolulu where I would have to connect to Los Angeles. Having taxied to the runway two hours late, it developed a fault. We sat for three hours on the tarmac, before eventually leaving a mere five hours late.


I arrived in Honolulu but missed my connection. Now I would have to wait 18 hours for a flight to San Francisco. From there I was told I would be able to connect with a flight to Gatwick via Newark. I was so tired I didn't know what I was doing. When I complained for the hundredth time and again got the standard Continental response: "Life's a bitch!" I crumpled on the floor in front of the desk in tears (or was I just pretending?). They put me up in the Waikiki Hilton.


The Waikiki Hilton was cool but I was not. Delirious with fatigue and frantic with frustration I headed for the beach. I watched the surfers at play and felt resentful. As another glorious sunset came and went I headed up town to purchase the archetypal surfer's T-shirt, the sort you can only buy in Hawaii. Even this turned out to be a mistake; I have never worn it.


The plane left two hours late for San Francisco which meant I would miss my connection to Gatwick. By now I was deranged and cannot remember how I eventually got a plane to Newark, though I know I ended up waiting there at least another four hours for the onward flight. I finally arrived at Gatwick first thing on Sunday morning.

In all, it had taken seven days when it should have taken 27 hours. The only saving grace was that, after three letters of complaint to Continental, I had most of my fare refunded.

I was really looking forward to my next trip.

Ian McCurrach is director of the Strathcona Theatre Company.

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