Airport Musings

by Nora Dunn on September 7, 2009

Thoughts that Happen During the Longest Trip on EarthIMG_3527_1

This is the story of one girl’s determination to take a large trip without layovers, inexpensively, and somewhat stupidly. Please enjoy my antics.

So. The longest trip on earth (or at least so it felt). I endured it recently, and lived to tell the story. It was not 4 days on a train through Asia (we’ve done that), nor was it bumping along in a bus on a dirt road for longer than bowels should have to suffer (been there too).

No, it was nowhere near as exotic a trip as that. It was just a bloody long haul – devoid of culture or enriching or even terrifying experience – from Canada to Australia. Between two points in two countries that are almost exactly as far away from each other on this not-so-small-world as is possible.

The trip should not have been that long. I mean, long – yes. The quickest route from Toronto to Melbourne will still be a 30 hour journey after necessary layovers and airport dramas.

But this journey in particular took 50 hours. And not a flight-has-been-delayed-and-your-itinerary-just-doubled sort of 50 hours; instead this was a completely intentional (possibly delusional) 50 hour itinerary.

It all started when I found a seat sale from Melbourne to New York City – return fare. It was a perfect chance to get me at least close to Toronto for my summer visit, and the price was pretty good. And traveling between New York and Toronto would be a cinch, right?

IMG_3574_1Well, on the way it was. Flying with Porter Air and enjoying the World’s Shortest Ferry Ride was a real treat after a two day rest in New York City.

Getting back to New York, however, was not as easy as I initially thought. Airfare was double the price than it was to go the other way (from New York to Toronto), which was an initial surprise. And I had no desire this time to layover in New York – I intended to catch my international flights from JFK airport directly.

As time ticked away and I scrambled to make an appearance on Canadian national tv, I also managed to miss the 14 day advance purchase price. Whoops – now airfares were triple the cost I had budgeted for.

Not only that, but finding a flight that would get me to JFK with enough time to allow for delays and still catch my international flights was proving to be a challenge. I finally found a great airfare time and price out of Buffalo – only to discover that there was no way to get to Buffalo early enough to catch the flight. And although I’ve slept on ferries and in airports before in the name of getting somewhere the night prior…it’s not something I like to do if I can avoid it.

And so the most logical solution (for my brain which was sadly devoid of logic) was to hop on an overnight bus from Toronto to New York City. I wouldn’t have to contend with airport delays or missing my flight out of New York; instead I could enjoy a fitful night of sleep on the overnight bus and wend my way across the city before catching a flight to LA, then Sydney, then Melbourne. All with a neat little nine hour layover in LA to break up the monotony (ahem).

All this travel adds up to 50 hours of dehydrating recycled-air bliss. Here are some of my crazed musings that happened along the way:

1) I had already ridden an overnight bus to NYC and gotten across the city to the airport, checked in, and made it to the gate. I sat down in the chair, looked at my watch, and did a quick time conversion to figure out what time it was in Australia. I then mused to myself that Kelly had TWO MORE SLEEPS until he came to pick me up in Melbourne!

2) I struck a moment when I realized why so many people have ipods and similar mp3 players (something I don’t own). 29 hours into the trip saw me going stir crazy as I finished up my nine hour layover in LA (this was surprisingly the most agonizing part of the whole journey –the 14 hour flight to Sydney was easy after this). This particular terminal had to be the dullest terminal on earth, with just about nothing to do and nowhere to eat.
It was here, that I began to contemplate elevator-music-suicide.
I knew I was in trouble when I broke down into tears upon hearing She’s Like The Wind played – elevator music style, in hour eight of the LA layover. I was placated with a self-reminder that at least it wasn’t the Phantom of the Opera or Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head (all elevator music style, of course) for the tenth time. But I was past emotional; I even got teary-eyed at the sight of McDonalds fries at one juncture.

3) And the suicidal-travel-moment that will go down in history for me: (drum roll please)
As I boarded the plane in LA (and embarked on the final 20 hours of my trip), I realized there was one avenue that I sadly had not considered in the process of looking for airfare back to New York. I could have called the airline and tried to switch my ticket to fly from Toronto directly to LA instead of from New York….and saved myself about 20 hours of agony. Then again, since I didn’t make the call I prefer to assume that the ticket was strictly unchangeable.

At least that’s my story, and for the sake of my sanity, I’m sticking to it.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank September 8, 2009 at 11:55 am

Great stuff Nora,
You write about your agony so well!
Welcome home.

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theprofessionalhobo September 8, 2009 at 1:28 pm

@Frank – I do love to be dramatic about these things. I tend to find it amusing, if even only to myself! :-)

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Sherry Ott September 8, 2009 at 2:53 pm

Love it! Sometimes it really sucks to be a budget traveler! Glad you survived though – and at least it provided a good story!
Just this moment I made the very difficult decision to save $200 and endure a 9 hour layover in Chennai…yes, Chennai. I will be kicking myself the day of the flight – but it seems worth it now.

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theprofessionalhobo September 8, 2009 at 3:01 pm

@Sherry – I usually find that anticipating a harrowing time can make it worse, but then again I didn’t anticipate that my 9 hours in LA would be worse than the 14.5 hours from LA to Sydney. But it was. (I get teary just thinking about it).
So I would normally tell you to try not to anticipate a bad layover in Chennai (because that might make it worse), but I think Chennai itself will ultimately dictate how bad it really is! Yikes – hang in there! (smiles)

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Dick September 8, 2009 at 5:15 pm

Now all you need is a traffic-controller strike with no end in sight and the assembled multitude is getting bigger, nastier and smellier. Then the mad dash for the gate with a loooong detour and a screaming baby next to you.

Did I mention the toilets were soon out of operation and the cabin “people” were excercising their rights to bear whips ? Not to mention the customs people at the other end had to stay up late ’cause were were coming.

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theprofessionalhobo September 9, 2009 at 12:09 pm

@Dick – Dude. That is the voice of experience I hear. I can’t help but smile, because don’t some of the funniest travel experiences come about in the form of our MISadventures? I mean, I couldn’t dream up a crazy situation like what you had on your hands if I tried to!
Travel rocks.
(As long as you survive the experience with relatively few whip marks). (!)

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Sreedevi September 9, 2009 at 12:43 am

@Nora: I read your blog for the first time today, and I’m hooked. You’re inspiring!!
@Sherry: I know a 9-hour layover in Chennai can sound boring…but Chennai is a nice city, and I love it. I live here, and can show you some reasons why if you’ll let me! I think its the nicest Indian city to live in -I know that’s not saying much- but drop me a line if you’re trying to stay awake through the 9 hours.

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theprofessionalhobo September 9, 2009 at 12:05 pm

@Sreedevi – Thanks for checking out my Site, and please do stay around a while! And what a kind offer for Sherry…I may take you up on it myself before too long, if I might! (smiles)

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Sherry Ott September 9, 2009 at 12:45 pm

@Sreedevi – thanks for the offer! I would love to use my 9 hours to actually see Chennai, however I’ll be locked inside the airport without and India visa!! I’m also guessing there won’t be wireless at the airport, so will need to just settle in and work on writing and photo editing in the most comfortable seat I can find!

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Dick September 9, 2009 at 7:08 pm

Hi Nora,

So glad you believe me, so few people do (” Oh god, there he goes again !”) I’ll save you the story from my ” real-live-Psycho-next-to-me-over-the-Atlantic-a-few-days-after-9/11 ” experience . I got the undying thanks and a bottle of booze from the airline for keeping my cool . (I was scared stiff but never mind)

Cheers,
Dick

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theprofessionalhobo September 10, 2009 at 7:32 am

@Dick – Heh Heh. Keep em coming! I’ll believe ya! I have no reason not to! (smiles)

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nomadic matt September 10, 2009 at 10:58 pm

uggh…I hate long flights like that. I hate long journeys like that. I wish we could have transporters like star trek. beam to nyc scotty!

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theprofessionalhobo September 11, 2009 at 10:45 am

@Matt – I can’t tell you how many times I wished for a transporter during this journey. It certainly pointed out that although it’s a small world, it isn’t exactly….Australia is a bloody long way away from a lot of places!

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Dick September 11, 2009 at 4:18 am

All right then, since you asked . To set the scene, this all took place on a flight from Mexico City to Amsterdam on KLM. (I’m Dutch by the way, but that goes without saying) about a week after 9/11.

Do you want to know about the bunch of drunken Russain sailors that prevented the plane from taking off ? Or , while we were over the Atlantic, the psycho,on my left, starts taking of his clothes and/or molesting the cabin crew on my right ? And see the captain again ? Or about the retired policeman across the aisle on my right who , increasingly insist that I exchange seats with so ‘he can set him straight’ which leads to arguments between him and the crew?

Or during the night, our psycho puts a blanket over himself and is doing something underneath which leads to the lights being switched on and another visit from the captain while it appears, in another part of the plane, the russians have woken up ? All the while I am ,wide eyed, trying to escape into my magazine or mp3 player waiting for the next outburts from him or the policemen.

After we landed we were not allowed to stand up and/or the leave the plane while waiting for the military police who removed our psycho friend kicking and screaming. All on one flight , I kid you not !

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theprofessionalhobo September 11, 2009 at 10:46 am

@Dick – You rock! Sorry your flight was so crappy, but what a great dose of melodrama to have fun with after the fact! :-) Cheers…

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Sreedevi September 22, 2009 at 1:21 am

@Sherry: It is sad that you’ll be locked inside the airport for 9 hours..do let me know if there’s any way I can make it easier for you (home cooked Indian food, perhaps? ;-) I think they have wireless, but whether it works is anyone’s guess.

@Nora: Anytime!! I’d be thrilled to show you around.

And do avoid The Great Indian Stereotype (oops!) when you write about my country.

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theprofessionalhobo September 22, 2009 at 9:07 am

@Sreedevi – Oh my gosh. Did I do it? What is the Great Indian Stereotype?

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Sreedevi September 23, 2009 at 1:35 am

@Nora: Hey, no you didn’t. But I’m a little sensitive to the “colourful, exotic, vibrant, cows-on-the-streets and painted elephants” view of India. There are these shows on Discovery Travel & Living, NatGeo & Fox History- they seem to think India is full of garishly dressed subcultures, temples, elephants, paan-stained historical monuments and weird people in hot villages with no electricty or running water, and Bollywood. A colonial remnant, perhaps.

There’s so much more….young, well educated highly creative people, men and women who successfully straddle the Western & Eastern cultures, the close knit families, the amazing variety in cuisine and languages and music…. And ofcourse, people just like other ordinary people around the world. And the biggest achievement, if we can call it that, is that this country hasn’t really split up or lost its democratic nature in the 60 yrs since Independence. Infact, our culture is so varied that the very idea of India is an external construct, imposed after the British came here. And all the stresses and strains apart, it is the largest working, effective democracy in the world.

I used to take all this for granted, until I saw how Western cultures see India. That is one of the limitations of TV- the only perspective is that which sells. Anything that begins with “the Great Indian…” makes me just switch off.

I know I’m just venting off at the wrong person, but do consider this: How often are your views/ thoughts/ travel writings influences by what you already believe about a place or its people? Or, once you go someplace, do you revise what you thought of it? I mean, do you really go with an open mind..?

And I don’t mean to harass you with so many questions, so no offence taken if you completely ignore this comment. :-)

I really do enjoy your blog- so keep writing. Thanks!

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theprofessionalhobo September 23, 2009 at 9:21 am

@Sreedevi – That was not a harassment or offensive at all! On the contrary; thank you so much for contributing!
I must say, as much as I don’t want it to be the case, popular media has implanted certain perceptions and expectations for many of the countries I visit. It’s hard not to set expectations (even subconscious ones), as much as we all try to be open-minded on a conscious level.
But I am pleased to say that once I arrive, I usually see the environment for what it is instead of keeping the rose-coloured spectacles on. Sometimes this reality check is disappointing or jarring; and sometimes it is a welcome and treasured surprise.
I must admit my pre-conceived visions of India are not too far off your “Great Indian” description….lots of beautiful colours and flowing fabrics, cows in the streets, and also a very different (to me) culture of people who – like you say – straddle both eastern and western cultures gracefully. And I can’t wait to arrive and discover what the “real India” versus the “Great India” is all about! The calling is getting strong…..maybe you and I will meet sooner than later…. (smiles)

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Dick September 23, 2009 at 6:21 pm

Hi Sreedevi ,

I know just how you feel ! I’m Dutch , and if you believe everything you read and hear there is baccanalian debauchery (love that expression !) on every streetcorner over here … Which there is not of course …or maybe I just got accustomed to it … I don’t know !

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theprofessionalhobo September 24, 2009 at 10:24 am

@Dick – I would suggest that both India and Holland share many of the same “Great…” stereotypes. What? There’s more than marijuana and red light districts in Holland? NO! Couldn’t be! What? There’s more than cows and elephants in the streets of India? NO! Couldn’t be! (smiles)

I can’t wait to visit both of your awesome countries and discover the finer treasures held within for myself.
Thanks!

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Dick September 24, 2009 at 4:55 pm

Hi Nora,

Your B&B is waiting….

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Sreedevi September 25, 2009 at 1:58 am

@Nora- I’m getting hooked to this series of comments…!?! A good thing there are writers and bloggers like you to set atleast some perceptions straight! I’m quite keen to catch up with you too- would love to show you the places I know.
@ Dick- You forgot the sunflowers and the poppy fields- If you miss them, watch any of our Bollywood ‘romantic’ songs!

You’re tempting me to travel too- I wish the dollar exchange rates weren’t so loaded against the rupee- its hard to imagine travelling anywhere outside the subcontinent. If I did get a visa, that is!

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