Day 17, Wellington NZ -> Aurora, IL USA — December 18, 2003

What started out smoothly morphed into a fiasco. Our return trip was planned out and, if executed smoothly, would have put us home and in our fuzzy slippers by the evening news. Unfortunately things went amiss.

We all checked out and got our luggage loaded into the taxi by ten. The first leg of our return trip was a short one-hour flight from Wellington to Auckland. We got to the airport with plenty of time to spare. Unfortunately this is where our fellowship began to break up. April, being one of our native members, had a short flight to her home in Hamilton. Her flight left shortly after we settled in at the airport. Then went we boarded the plane we left behind Jenny, a Wellington native. It was sad to see them go.
Things got rocky once we reached Auckland. We were congregating at the baggage claim when one of our group came up and told us that our flight was delayed. Thus began one painfully long headache. Apparently there was some kind of mechanical issue delaying the flight. Isn�t that reassuring? It turns out it was some kind of scheduled maintenance that was conflicting with the flight schedule but had priority. Our flight, which was originally supposed to leave Auckland at nine in the evening ended up boarding at two in the morning, with a scheduled lift-off of three, and an actual take-off at four. This put us seven hours behind schedule. We had planned for a four hour layover in Los Angeles, so we missed our connecting flight too.
The airline tried to be accommodating. They gave us food vouchers. Unfortunately we had about ten minutes to eat at the only restaurant we could find � McDonalds � before they started closing up. From there we found a few long benches and spread out. Most everyone ended up lying down and napping but I couldn�t settle down enough to relax. I was anxious to get going. The time finally came to board and we were very happy to see that there was still a duty-free shop open. We ran in and picked up a few bottles of wine. We�re not big wine fans, but we wanted to pick up some for gifts and whatnot. Two whites, a red, and a yummy bottle of ice wine.
I don�t remember much of the flight to Los Angeles. I passed out as soon as I got buckled in my seat. I suffered periodic moments of consciousness, but thankfully they were short-lived.
When we eventually landed in LA, it was an unexpectedly short trip through customs and back to the Air New Zealand counter. They had rescheduled our flight on United for us and even checked our baggage for us, so we didn�t have to carry it across several terminals. We got checked in at the United terminal and staggered towards our gate.
Our flight to Chicago landed at five in the morning, seven hours past schedule. The handful of hours of sleep we�d gotten since watching Return of the King was not enough, and I had to go into work at ten to do a conference call. I blame that tiredness for what we discovered next. As we were picking up our luggage, we noticed a bag identical to the one we bought in Wellington go around the carousel a few times, but the name tag on it wasn�t ours. We finally checked the baggage claim number. Oops. It turns out I had picked up the wrong bag in LA and checked it in to Chicago as our own. United did a good job handling it. We turned in the bag and explained what had happened. The person who picked up my bag called and we had a laugh about the mix-up. It turns out he bought the exact same bag while in New Zealand, so he could carry home all of the extra stuff he bought, too. We also both put on the temporary tags provided by the airline, so at a glance the two bags looked identical. He picked up his bag that afternoon and United delivered ours the following afternoon.
After getting things settled with the airline we caught a taxi home. We had a great time on our vacation, but it was good to be home.

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