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Who would guess that traveling from San Francisco to Auckland, New Zealand, would require going through Dallas?

I like to travel, to explore new places and learn more about other cultures. This year, I decided to visit Auckland, New Zealand, and from there, Australia, because I have always wanted to see New Zealand and the scenery. Traveling internationally can be hell; I know that because long flights, different languages, accommodations and other facilities are different than what I am used to. For this trip, I have to travel for 26 hours, so I decided to log this experience as a travel veteran. Pay close attention–here’s how I survive the trials and tribulations of flying internationally, from getting through security to last-minute gate changes. Think of this as a declassified guide.

Traveling to Disneyland during COVID-19; Mickey and masks


B.F.D. (before flight day/disaster)

Originally, my wife and I booked a flight from SFO to Sydney, and then we’d transfer to the Auckland flight after a short layover. 

And it was. At the last moment, Qantas, our airline, changed the flight with no explanation or reason, only a notification our flights had changed. The cuddly trip, supposed to last 15 hours, was now 26. Now, the flight traveled from SFO to Dallas Fort Worth, a three-hour layover, and then a 15-hour flight to Auckland. Can’t the pilot see that Dallas is clearly not on the way to Auckland?

Regardless, my wife and I held our frustrations in and trekked on.

10:30 am PST, Jan. 23 (flight day)
Livermore Taxi picks up my wife and me at home, 10:30 am Jan. 23 in Livermore, California.

Livermore Taxi is a little expensive but very convenient as it is door-to-door. I was very excited about this vacation, so I waited outside for the taxi 15 minutes early. Of course, the worries started. Will the taxi show up as I booked it a month ago? If the taxi does not show up, what are my alternatives? Uber, Lyft, BART? 

The taxi arrived on time—at least one less thing to stress over. But the barrage of anxieties did not stop. What did I forget to pack? Did I have my passport and vaccination card? Yes to both. Already, I wanted the travel to be done.

Later, I found that I forgot to pack shorts as it is summer in the southern hemisphere. Ah, that stupid thing called the Earth’s axis! And I forgot my binoculars. Simple problems, simple solutions, though. Once we landed in Auckland, a quick trip to a store solved both issues.

11:30 am PST, Jan. 23
Security in Terminal 1, San Francisco Airport, 11:30 am Jan. 23.

At San Francisco airport, we checked in, checked our luggage and went through security. We checked our luggage as our suitcases were too big to carry on. SFO is one of the few airports where security is not done by TSA, or the Transportation Security Administration, but by a private company contracted by the airport and TSA. I am always anxious and nervous going through security, but I have nothing to hide. The rules seem to change with every airport; sometimes take your kindle out of your bag, sometimes it is ok to stay in your bag, cameras on or out.  I will admit but don’t tell anyone–I no longer remove my baggies of liquids and have never been questioned.

Alan Lewis passes through security successfully at SFO Jan. 23.
Noon, PST, Jan. 23

It is a long walk from security to the gates that American Airlines uses in Terminal 1. There are lots of shops and restaurants on the way. One restaurant’s name is Amy’s Drive-Through. It makes me laugh every time I walk by. How does one drive-thru an airport terminal? Unless you’ve got one of those rad police segways like Paul Blart the mall cop.

Inside SFO terminal 1 near shops and lounge areas Jan. 23. It is a long walk from the security checkpoint to the American Airlines gates.
1 pm PST, Jan 23 

I boarded the flight to DFW, opened my Kindle and read during the flight. I completed a book about Jody Arias, who went to prison for life for killing her ex-boyfriend. Not a beach read. I then began reading a book by her defense attorney, where he presented his side of the case. There’s nothing a good book can’t do to get you through a flight. The three-and-a-half-hour flight went by quickly. I wasn’t bored, as the trip’s excitement kept me going.

7 pm CST, Jan. 23 (5 PM PST, Jan 23)

Landed and taxied to a gate in terminal B.  Of the many many times I have been through DFW, this is only the second time I have been in the B terminal, as the terminal is used for shorter flights. A short walk took us to the D terminal, where our flight to Auckland would depart. As we walked, I laughed and told my wife we would pass by my favorite bathroom at DFW. I used to change planes in DFW when I worked as an engineer and flew at least once a month to the east coast.  

We did stop and use my favorite restroom.

After a quick snack, we found a quiet place to sit to await our flight. This was when I started feeling tired.

10 pm CST, Jan. 23 (8 pm PST, Jan. 23)

Almost done! I was excited about boarding as we are on the final leg to New Zealand, plus we were in an early boarding group.  The gate was crowded as all 285 passengers seemed to want to get onboard as soon as possible. 

Boarding in Dallas was unusual since instead of using our boarding passes, the gate used facial recognition to identify us. We looked into a camera, the light turned green and we were allowed on board. I felt like a spy entering my operations headquarters. Not sure how they got my picture or what photo they used in the database, most likely a passport photo.

Boeing 787 plane at Fort Dallas-Worth airport, 8 pm Jan. 23.

Our plane, a Boeing 787, was equipped with an onboard entertainment system with many movies and tv shows. I saw some old tv comedies that I liked.

Midnight, CST (10 PM PST, Jan 23)

I watched some old episodes of Friends, which I unapologetically love. Generation Z can bite it. I might’ve needed to bite it, though, because my wife informed me I was laughing too loud.

It was dark when we left Dallas and dark most of the flight. I could see Los Angeles city, including LAX.

I then dozed off for a few hours. Afterward, I watched a few episodes of The Big Bang Theory, one of my favorite old shows. You can see there’s a trend with me and sitcoms. 

Then I got really bored.

I didn’t feel like watching any more movies or tv shows nor to read. I just sat there. In my thoughts. About how to get through the longest flight I have ever been on. 

I wonder how people do this for a living.

Onboard entertainment system on American Airlines flight, 12 am Jan. 23.
8:30 am New Zealand Daylight Time, Jan. 25 (11:30 am PST, Jan. 24)

We landed about 8:30 am Auckland time, but it was two calendar days later as we crossed the International date line. This caused a quandary for me. I take some pills for various ailments I have in a container with the days of the week.  

Do I take Tuesdays pills as my body says it is Tuesday, or Wednesdays pills as the calendar says it is Wednesday? A conundrum of space and time never looked so mundane. I took Wednesday’s pills as I needed the extra day for when we return since we will cross the International Dateline going east, which adds a day.

Alan Lewis’ pill dispenser.

Clouds mostly obscured my first glimpse of New Zealand, but between them, I saw land! New Zealand here I come. The long flight was about over.

New Zealand seen from airplane, 8:30 am NZDT Jan. 25.

After deplaning, you have to walk through the duty-free shop on your way to immigration, luggage return and customs. In Europe, it is typical to go through shops and duty-free on departures, but this is the first time I have seen this on arrivals.

Walking through duty-free shop on the way to immigration and customs at Auckland airport, Jan. 25.

Immigration in Auckland was easy. They verify you using gates instead of checking your passport. After collecting luggage, you go through customs. There, an agent directs you to a lane, mine had a dog sniff my luggage. The dog is to detect any food. New Zealand is strict on bringing food in to protect from invasive species and diseases that affect plants. Other lanes had X-ray machines to scan the luggage.

8:30 am NZDT, Jan. 25 (11:30 am PST, Jan 24)

After being cleared by immigration and Customs, we took a taxi to our hotel arriving at 10 am. The long journey was finally over.

The trip was long, and emotions varied from excitement to anxiety to boredom. While everything worked out, I do not want to fly this long ever again. Up next, I’m going to cruise around New Zealand and tour southern Australia! 


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