NZ Day 1: Flying In

The theme for today was Oversize Baggage!

Look at the size of those containers. That’s two recumbent bicycles and all associated gear – a little over 200 pounds total. The airline hauled all that, plus the two of us with our backpacks, over 6500 miles across the Pacific Ocean in less than a day. The modern world is amazing.

Still, there were a few snags. The shuttle that arrived to take us to the airport could not fit the longest box, because a plastic divider was installed in the back, separating the seats from the luggage area. We’d called ahead multiple times and given the dispatcher the exact measurements, but the dispatcher apparently ignored all that and sent the standard van anyway. There wasn’t enough time to call another van, so I ran inside my house and fetched an electric screwdriver, and removed the plastic divider myself, handing the loose parts to the driver as I went. The driver didn’t mind; he was just happy that we had a solution to the problem. Extra points to him! Zero points to the dispatcher. Boo! Hiss!

Once we actually got the boxes to the Air New Zealand check-in counter, the attendants there could not believe we were allowed to bring such huge items as luggage. It wasn’t that they had any specific policy in mind that disallowed it, it’s just that the sight of those boxes made them want to say no. In fact, they assumed it was against the rules, until I called up NZ Air’s own baggage policy website on my phone and showed it to them, and read the relevant parts out loud.

The policy is this: A recumbent bike is an oversize sporting item. If it’s disassembled and packed into a container within 1.8 meters on the longest side and under 70 pounds, it is permissible. A bike divided into multiple boxes to fit within the per-container size and weight restrictions is still counted as a single item of luggage.

So, according to their rules, this is two items of luggage, each one oversize and overweight. We had no other checked items, so all we needed to pay was the oversize and overweight fee for each bicycle.

If you’re patient enough and make your case with confidence, and don’t mind waiting around for the inevitable discussion with the managers, and perhaps the managers’ managers, you’ll make it through at that price. If you’re paranoid, you can do what I did, and overpay the luggage fees in advance, but be warned: Even though the website says the ‘oversize’ and ‘overweight’ fees are interchangeable with the ‘extra bag’ fee, the person at the counter might claim otherwise, and ask you to pay them all over again, minutes before your flight, without letting you apply the extra value of one to the other. Then, your flight will leave too soon for you to get a refund for the ‘extra bag’ units you purchased, screwing you out of many hundreds of dollars.

I say, if it looks like that’s about to happen, pitch a genuine fit. That’s just plain wrong!!

Anyhoo, we got our gear checked, and spent the next 15 hours in a series of highly uncomfortable chairs, barely getting any sleep. You know the drill. Long-haul international flights!

Here’s the view passing over Auckland. Pretend the window glare is a hallucination due to lack of sleep!

This is us in SFO, then us in Auckland a zillion hours later. As uncouth Americans, we made sure that our first meal in New Zealand was a terrible one. We’re both utter zombies at this point. I’m running on about half an hour of sleep.

To catch our connecting flight we had to walk about half a mile outdoors between terminals. Not a fun thing to do while hugely sleep-deprived. I was muttering the whole time: “Honestly, New Zealand, what brought about this failure of urban planning? Is this some sort of hazing ritual for foreigners? HUrrrr. BRAAAAAAIIIIIINS.”

Anyway, we caught our connection – a charming little prop plane that flew nice and low, giving us an enticing view of the terrain we would soon explore – and then we had one more oversize luggage wrestling match, this time with the shuttle from the airport to our hotel. The only strategy that worked was to commandeer an empty shuttle and stuff the box down the passenger aisle, blocking the whole thing, then shove the smaller boxes into the luggage area, filling it up.

Luckily it was a slow day, and we only had two other people riding the shuttle. They were very gallant about the situation – even hopping out help us unload! We left a nice tip.

We checked in and I pulled the ripcord on my luggage. KABOOM! The view out the windows was lush and inviting. It rained three separate times while we cleaned up and organized ourselves; a warm tropical rain with sunbeams visible on the bay.

We napped for about half an hour, then spent almost all of the rest of the day doing this, in a sleepy haze. The time-lapse video stops after the first 75 minutes or so because the phone battery died, but we kept going for another five hours.


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