I'm writing this from the hotel we are quarantining in, which has a huge window looking out over industrial warehouses near the Auckland Airport. It feels surreal that two days ago we were pacing the hallways of the San Francisco airport with three trollies worth of baggage and two kids in a stroller wondering if we would even make it here at all.
Our airport shuttle was waiting outside when we zipped the last of our belongings into our suitcases at our old house in SF. Ari's high chair still had chunks of avocado on it, and our house was littered with things here and there that we had decided to leave behind last minute. Thankfully a good friend had agreed to help clean things out before our tenant moves in next week. Our movers had taken all our furniture away a day before, and I was sweaty from dismantling the kids portable cribs and deflating the air mattress Isaac and I had slept on for two nights. We threw away many huge garbage bags of food from the cupboards, and put a mound of items on the street for junk pickup. Moving has a way of generating trash. On our way to the airport our phones buzzed. Our United flight to LAX – where we planned to get on one of two weekly Air New Zealand flights to Auckland – was delayed. We'd given ourselves a seven hour layover in LAX just to be safe. But when a second notification came through saying they were taking our aircraft out of service and would work to find a new one for our flight, we panicked. If we didn't make that LAX connection to New Zealand, this move wouldn't happen. MIQ (managed isolation and quarantine is required of all travelers into NZ) spaces were booked out through the end of the year, and we'd had our reservation to go into quarantine on Monday secured for months. Not making it wasn't an option if we wanted to move to New Zealand this year.
(Above: Hauling our stuff around SFO trying to figure out what to do.) We plugged Jude into the iPad and let Ari roam free at the United check-in counters and hopped on my laptop to see if there was another flight we could book that day to LAX. There were first class seats on one with Alaska Airlines for $1200. It was refundable, so we booked it, reasoning that money wasn't an issue in this circumstance – we HAD to make that Auckland flight. Meanwhile, I chatted with United to see what was going on. That's when I realized our two flights were not connected in their system – our bags would go to baggage claim in LAX. We'd have to pick them up, transfer to the international terminal, check back in with Air New Zealand, and go through security again. With kids and the flight delay that just wasn't an option – it would take hours. We'd have to do that if we took the backup Alaska flight, which was also a big downside of that option. While both kids napped in our stroller (a miracle), I convinced a super friendly United agent to connect our flights. Now we just had to decide if we trusted them enough to get us to LAX. When they said a new aircraft had been located and we would take off (five hours late), we decided to stick with them and cancelled the Alaska backup flights so at least we wouldn't have to pick up bags and check in again. Fingers crossed.
Meanwhile, we hadn't been able to actually check in to the Air New Zealand flight. Their online check in system was down and they had no counter at SFO. United couldn't get us boarding passes for it, even though the flight was a code share. We'd have to get to the gate counter in LAX before the check-in window closed two hours before the flight. If we ran, we reasoned we could just make it. Well, we did. Barely. We forced the kids into the stroller and raced over a mile to our gate where we finally got our boarding passes and even had time to drink a beer before boarding. What a day.
Back in San Francisco the pandemic had felt like it was nearly over. Everyone we knew was vaccinated, new cases were low, and businesses operated almost normally again. We had stopped wearing masks when we left the house or went to the playground. But getting on our flight to New Zealand felt like entering a war zone. Eight armed police officers lined the walkway onto the plane, and I heard them saying our names and checking off a list as we passed. We had shown several pieces of paperwork before boarding, including our reservation for Managed Isolation and Quarantine, as well as all of our COVID test results. The woman in front of us in line had issues with some of this paperwork and her hands shook as she spoke with them. Luckily, all of ours were in order. After an hour and a half sitting on the crowded plane waiting for everyone to get processed through, we were off. The kids were screaming and tired (it was 11:30pm, way past bedtime) but I dosed our toddler with kids Melatonin gummies and eventually we got them both to sleep.
It wasn't the best way to kick off our trans-Pacific adventure. Isaac and I both felt like we'd run a marathon. And this was just the beginning. We still had a 13-hour flight ahead of us, several long lines and hours waiting to go to an unknown quarantine facility, and 14 days there before we were "free" to go see family and be in the outside world. There's a lot to say about MIQ, where we are right now. I'll share more in another post. But the important thing is that we made it here, and even though it's a bit prison-like in MIQ, we are happy to be here all in one piece.