It all started with an invitation to come to the Big Island of Hawaii in December. Hawaii? For a bad amateur surfer like me? Who used to be hooked on “Lost” and admired the stunning surroundings of that crazy show? Oh yes, please let me come. It means travel to the other side of the world, though… long haul travel isn’t my favourite, and long haul travel USA, with immigration queues and not always friendly immigration officials, even less so. But Hawaii has been on my dream destination list forever, it’s really expensive, and here was my chance to tag along for the price of a flight and grocery money…
Be prepared for a long haul to Hawaii
After I cleared my leave with work, some pricey flights were booked with an online Spanish agent. I wanted to fly a half-decent airline but not pay through the nose and not travel for 50 plus hours. I found flights with Air Franc, operated by Delta on the internal US leg, through a flight comparison site about two months before our proposed travel date, with a fairly sane Berlin-Paris-Los Angeles-Kailua-Kona routing. As for the Spanish online agent… well… ask me for details but their customer service was terrible.
Book with a reputable agent or direct with the airline
And here’s LESSON ONE of long-distance travel: If you want to avoid hassle, book with a reputable agent, your trusted travel agent with an office you can can actually visit, or directly with the airline.
Because… a couple weeks after booking, the connecting flight from LAX to Kailua-Kona was cancelled by Delta. Well, a physical flight still existed, but flight numbers had changed, and the flight… fallen apart. The genius online agent just chopped off the last leg of the trip and my trip now ended in LAX. An email to the agent went unanswered, a call to the agent resulted in the (incorrect) advice to contact the airline directly. The correct way would have been for the agent to request a re-routing. This the agent had no great interest in, as the flight was already paid for, or offering a full refund.
It took me half a day, including multiple international calls to two of the airlines involved, the one that flight originally went under, plus the code-share partner who was actually operating the flight, until finally, late at night, a nice woman at Delta in Atlanta just re-booked me onto the newly coded flight.
I’m not a travel novice, but little did I know that flights to the US are usually fully booked.
And here’s LESSON TWO: As soon as the airline allows seat reservation, reserve a seat. Usually, you can do this at the time of booking when buying directly from the airline.
So, car parked, luggage dropped, plane boarded, it still looked for some time as if we might have a nice layover in Paris due to de-icing in Berlin, a run across Charles de Gaulle, some begging to jump the queue included, no pit-stop at the bakery, onto a long flight, 11 hours or so, to LA.
VISA Regulations and Immigration to the USA
Then, LESSON THREE, US immigration formalities. If you think the ESTA application (wwww.esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta) is somewhat bothersome, hang on… LA is humongous, and some machines are supposed to do the work of immigration officials and approve your entry. Look a bit baggy-eyed after your long flight? Forgot to remove your glasses? Fingers a bit sweaty and not contortious enough to go onto the fingerprint machine all at once? The computer is likely to say NO, and send you to an immigration official.
Taking into account current US immigration policy, its somewhat scary. But do not worry: half an hour of queuing and some friendly interrogation later, passport usually gets stamped, and off we are. Into the domestic terminal at LAX. Bring lots of money and numbed tastebuds. And a pashmina.
Final leg: Internal flight Los Angeles to Kailua-Kona
Fast forward seven hours, a fairly bumpy flight in a spartan cabin (with a cracking entertainment selection on very large seatback screens), we’ve arrived in Hawaii, where the terminal building is open air and no one welcomes you with a flower lei no more (unless you pre-arrange and pre-pay for it) but where we are welcomed into the corporate bubble with bottled water, cookies and a twenty-minute bus ride to our resort. Next time I will probably avoid third-party agents, and try to book directly with the airline, and stay somewhere smaller, though. But this travel to the other side of the world… I don’t think I will do that very often, but Hawaii was totally worth it
Disclosure: I did not pay for hotel accommodation at the Hilton Waikoloa Village as I travelled as my partners “friends and family” who can stay free of charge by my partners employer. Everything else was paid by myself.