Monday, January 14, 2008

January 7, 2008 - Hudson

On our last morning in Hudson we had a bunch of errands to do. We went to the post office to mail one of the items that we had sold on eBay, the broken phone to the eBay seller, and a few packages back east. We also stopped into the AAA office and picked up new international drivers permits for the coming year. For our last meal in the States Mom served us lamb, which she admitted was like carrying coals to Newcastle.

At the airport, Mom and Dad stood by as we checked in our bags, just in case Continental, our domestic carrier, rejected the backpack containing the transformer or any of the other questionable stuff we were carrying. Continental accepted everything with amazed commentary about how one little backpack could be so heavy. Everything was going along pretty smoothly until they told us that the overage charge was going to be $146 per bag. Stop the presses. We described how their website had said that Continental was going to charge us $25 for each bag that weighed between 50 and 70 lbs, and how the website for Air New Zealand, our international carrier, described how Air New Zealand was was going to charge $30 per heavy bag, which should total $55 per overweight bag. Continental explained that all the airlines gotten together and created system for determining the overage charges for excess baggage checked in on multiple carriers. The result is that the combined fees could be greater than the sum of the two carriers' fees. Really? Well, we've got a system too. Here is your $25 per heavy bag. Just check us and the bags through to LAX, we'll pick them up there, and then check in separately with Air New Zealand.

The only potential problem with our plan was that we were going to have a tight layover at LAX. So, we were both a bit stressed as we headed through security at CLE. It was half an hour later, while we were waiting to board our flight to LA, that I realized that if I had really been on my game at the check-in counter, I would have had the two heavy bags checked only to LA and the two bags that were just under the 50lb limit checked all the way through. Since 9-11 an international flight won't take off if a passenger isn't on board but their baggage is. They will page the delinquent passenger several times before pulling the bags off and taking off without them and their luggage. If I had checked two of the bags through, I could have exploited this policy to buy us some time at LAX if we needed it.

As it turned out, our plan worked beautifully. We landed in LA on-time, and picked up our baggage at terminal 6 (somewhat surprised that they were all there), booked across the parking lot to terminal 2 (no time to wait for a shuttle bus), and arrived at the Air New Zealand check-in counter to find a relatively short line. Once we started to check in with Air New Zealand, we had another surprise that could have gone very badly for us, but ended up working out in our favor. The agent noticed right away that we didn't have return tickets from New Zealand. While she was still explaining how this was an issue, I was already pulling out a slew of paperwork for her to fax to the customs folks back in Auckland. She took our US Coast Guard registration and our inbound customs clearance forms from our arrival at Opua on Halloween, and headed into a back room to fax them to New Zealand. As she left, she told another agent to finish tagging our bags. Neither agent noticed or, if they did notice, cared that we had two bags with a plethora of bright orange "heavy" tags on them. When the bags were tagged, the second agent waved us over to the baggage folks who x-ray the bags before they get sent down the conveyor belt. With another round of "how did that little backpack get so heavy?" (gold bars, baby, gold bars) our bags were once again out of our hands. And all we had to pay was the $50 we handed over at the Continental counter at CLE, which is quite a bit less than the $292 that Continental had wanted to charge us to check both bags through to Auckland.

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