IMR: 1999: September: 13 —  Monday, 9:11 a.m. NZT
Gate 4, Auckland International Airport, Auckland, New Zealand

[ Gate Four ]Although our flight isn't supposed to leave until almost noon, our van drivers told us we had to leave the hotel at 7 a.m. because the streets were supposed to be packed solid. The APEC leaders' meeting — the core of all the international nonsense going on in this city — officially starts today.

Except that the New Zealand Herald and local news shows have done such an overwhelmingly good job at warning residents of the chaos to come, there's probably no more than two dozen Aucklanders left apart from the APEC delegates.

So even after taking the long way around the city to the airport (to avoid the crunch), we got here inside of 40 minutes and had three hours to kill. I grabbed the "breakfast combo" at the airport Sbarro's, but not surprisingly, it was dreadful. The sausage had the consistency of slightly hardened tofu and tasted only slightly saltier.

God bless duty-free shopping. But airport merchants have to know what a scam they've got going. You've got a whole building crowded with people about to leave the country with pockets full of currency that'll be useless back home, desperate to spend it.

Even if it's on the ugliest stuffed kiwi this side of the international date line.

(No, I didn't. But almost.)

While I was browsing one store, a woman came up and asked me out of the blue for help picking out a T-shirt for a friend in the states.

"I really don't know what they go for there, and I couldn't help but notice your American accent," she said.

I'm going to miss that.

Monday, 1:35 p.m. NZT
Gate 4, Auckland International Airport, Auckland, New Zealand

Remember that aborted landing in Tonga?

Well, now I know what an aborted take-off is like, too.

As it was, we boarded our plane about twenty minutes late, as the crew apparently needed extra time to clean up after the passengers that had just arrived. I was gnashing my teeth over keeping mom waiting at Honolulu International past midnight. Little did I know.

[ Planes ]We rolled out to the runway in the pouring rain, and David pointed out the window. Waiting a few feet from the terminal was a line of jets parked bumper to bumper, each one of them bearing an official seal of a foreign government.

Philippines. Korea. Canada. Malaysia. Brunei Darussalam. Most had a sad looking guard stationed under the wing, the boarding stairs left in place.

"Cool," I said, as we rounded the last turn and the engines powered up. Soon enough we were charging down the runway, and I watched with only slight amusement how the jets sucked in the rain with a churning white cloud.

Then, suddenly, the thrust cut out, and quickly the engines were grinding in reverse. Brakes were applied, and within moments we pulled off the runway and stopped in what I imagine was the "breakdown lane" for jumbo jets. We sat in silence for a few minutes, watching other, properly-functioning aircraft shoot past us.

"Sorry about that folks," said the first officer, again with that confidence-building Kiwi accent. "We've had a minor indication on one of our engines, so to be safe we're going to be consulting with engineering to see what to do next. We appreciate your patience and understanding."

As if we had a choice. As if deciding to be impatient and disruptive wasn't going to land us in jail. I pretended to be trying to sleep, but I was a bit too wound up.

A few minutes later, the first mate again: "Ladies and gentlemen, we've consulted with the engineers, and as it's very minor, so we're going to reset ourselves and try again."

"There's that damn word again," I muttered. "'Try.'"

So we turned around, rolled back into position, and once again I closed my eyes and listened to the deafening rumble of the two GE jet engines launching us down the runway.

And once again, barely three seconds later, thrust was cut, and we pulled off to the side again. Everyone moaned, but in no small sense, I was relieved that this particular pilot wasn't quite as gutsy as the one that brought us in.

We returned to the gate for the engineers to board. The crew started passing out headsets, hoping to placate us with some American TV. But a few moments later, the whole plane went dark, and for the first time I heard absolute silence while on a commercial jetliner.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we have the engineers checking on the problem now, and as I suppose you've noticed, we're also experiencing a temporary loss of power, but we'll get that fixed soon. Thank you for your patience and understanding."

It started getting warm, what with the air conditioning out, but just before I was expecting someone to just leap up and start screaming, the lights flickered back on, and the deep hum of airplane consciousness returned.

We watched a full episode of "Spin City," conveniently redubbed to have a New Zealand accent, and part of an episode of "Working."

The voice again: "Ladies and gentlemen, it's going to take a bit longer than we thought, but the good news is we do have another plane that will be taking you to Honolulu. It will depart at 2:30 p.m., so you will need to be at gate four by 2 o'clock. Thank you for your patience and understanding."

We disembarked at gate seven, the airport staff looking rather surprised to find a plane arriving there. Basically, we took a somewhat circular trip on a Boeng 767 to travel approximately 100 yards.

So here we are, wondering which among us is cursed by the air traffic gods, watching the old lady who drives the little golf cart take a gaggle of blonde high school soccer girls on a joyride up and down the terminal.

Sunday, 5:13 p.m. HST
Seat 9J, Flight 10, Air New Zealand, Approx. 320 km Southwest of Hawai`i

I know it's irrational, but I'm almost sick with fear.

Perfectly normal takeoff, perfectly normal ascent, and now we're tooling along at 822 km/h at 10,500 feet (or so says the fancy readout on the screens) with only mild turbulence. Yet my heart is still going, and I have to keep telling myself to breathe.

Can one develop a fear of flying after racking up thousands of miles of air travel?

I have to force myself to believe all's well with the world. I've got the canned "alternative" station jamming on the headphones ("No Mercy" by Khaleel), I'm chowing down on Arnott's pizza-flavored "Shapes," sucking down the last bottle of water I brought with me from Hawai`i, and I'm typing away, even with nothing really useful to say.

It's working a little.

The in-air movie is "Notting Hill." Maybe that will help settle my stomach?

Fat chance.

© Ryan Kawailani Ozawa · E-Mail: · Created: 13 September 1999 · Last Modified: 15 September 1999