Leaving Sydney

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Our journey to Cuba was vexed by problems with air travel. The itinerary was not complicated. We planned to travel straight to Cuba, spend six weeks there, and then travel straight back to Australia. This would involve six international flights: from Sydney to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to Mexico City, and then Mexico City to Havana. To get home we would fly each leg of the journey in reverse order. We did not plan to stop over anywhere. It seemed so simple!

Trouble began a few days before we left Sydney. Although Susie had signed off on our itinerary months before our departure, and although we had paid well in advance for all international flights, we discovered a day or so before our flight was due to leave Sydney that Student Travel Australia (STA) had failed to book the second leg of the journey from Los Angeles to Mexico City. Our last 24 hours in Sydney should have been filled with excitement and anticipation. Instead, it was weighed down by sickening anxiety between phone calls to STA.

On the morning of the day we were due to depart, the missing flight to Mexico City had still not been confirmed. We decided to board the flight to Los Angeles and hope that the problem was sorted out by the time we arrived.

We called Taxis Combined, but the cab failed to show up. Getting to Havana was starting to look like an impossible dream: we could not even get to the airport 5 km down the road. Susie phoned the Silver Service cab company, and before long we were sitting at Kingsford Smith Airport looking out over the tarmac, sipping Japanese beer and miso soup, trying not to think of the 3,000 km that lie between Los Angeles and Mexico City.

At 5 p.m. we settled into two Economy-class seats on a Qantas flight 17 to Los Angeles. The flight would take about 13½ hours. We remained plugged into the movie screen in front of us for as long as possible to escape cramped conditions in our mind’s eye. I watched Gravity for the illusion of space, and then Fury because it was Susie’s turn with the noise-cancelling headphones, and I had heard that the dialogue was completely unintelligible anyway. Before I finally attempted to sleep I watched Before I go to sleep.

According to the clock, we arrived at Los Angeles International Airport on 30 April about 3¼ hours before we left Sydney. We made our way to the Aeromexico counter to see if STA had managed to book us onto our connecting flight to Mexico. Apparently this had been done, but we could not check in until three hours before lift-off. That meant we had to kill six extra hours in Los Angeles Airport.

LAX was being renovated so there was not enough seating; the Wi-Fi did not work, and there were few food outlets. After some strategic loitering we secured two plastic seats in a long row near a door, and we bought a coffee and a cola to get us through the hours.

When we returned to the Aeromexico counter, the queue was frightful. Our only compensation was that we were surrounded by Mexicans. It had been a long time since we last heard that beautiful accent, and once we were though the check-in process, we allowed ourselves to get excited by the prospect of returning to Hispanoamerica.

As Aeromexico flight AM649 took off from Los Angeles at 11:30 p.m., our worries began to fade away. We had no idea of the fiasco that lay ahead of us.

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