I sat rigid, still and upright aboard a behemoth 747 United Airlines jetliner, which had just landed at Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport. Awaiting a chance to flee the beast’s innards, I nonchalantly turned on my iPhone. Messages filtered through with fury, the phone rumbling like a city besieged by aftershocks.
“I think you took my passport mate,” one of the text messages read. “In fact, I know you did.”
Profusely sweating, I peeled my moistened carcass from the worn seat to gain access to my carry-on luggage, which rested securely in the overhead bin. Believing it was a blunder too bizarre to commit, I frantically reached into the navy blue Swiss Army bag for any clue to the missing passport’s whereabouts.
Two days beforehand – factoring in time zones – I awoke from a comatose state at the break of dawn, still having to pack for the prospective journey back to Brisbane, Australia. After six luxurious days in Montego Bay, Jamaica, where I saw my brother blissfully wed, a cruel collision with reality loomed. Fragile and hung over, I wondered how I would conquer the Mount Everest of journeys.
Chucking clothes indiscriminately into the barren suitcase, I inadvertently – to his bemusement – disturbed my roommate. Steve Cavanagh stirred slowly, like a black bear rustled from hibernation.
“Enjoy your flights mate,” said a chuckling Cavanagh, his tone fraught with sarcasm. “I leave a day after you and get home before you.”
His sentiment reinforced my disenchantment. I was off to the airport to embark on an excruciatingly elongated voyage, encompassing pit stops in Charlotte, North Carolina and Los Angeles prior to the penultimate flight, a painstaking 14-hour transpacific journey to Sydney, Australia. Once in the Harbor City, a snappy one-hour flight to Brisbane remained.
Sleep deprived, I struggled to keep my eyes ajar as I arrived well before my first of four flights was scheduled to depart. Like a transient living it rough, I sprawled out on the cold tiled floor and slipped seamlessly out of consciousness.
Sangster International Airport’s public address system interrupted my deep sleep.
“US Airways flight 1228 destined for Charlotte, North Carolina is delayed for one hour and 30 minutes. Sorry for the delay and any inconvenience it may cause.”
Oh well, I thought, reckoning I had ample time upon arriving in North Carolina to catch the Los Angeles connection. I floated back into dreamland.
Wiping the rheum – eye gunk – from my sore, bloodshot eyes, I boarded the jetliner. The flight landed in North Carolina without incident, two words travelers never outgrow.
Tailwinds slashed 30 minutes off the commute, which I considered insignificant at the time. As the plane inched closer to the gate I overheard fellow passengers conversing, all of whom concerned with their connecting flights.
We entered the terminal building like a herd of sheep. Droves of disconcerted travelers, awaiting interrogation from a customs agent, stood in a winding queue you’d more likely see at Disney Land. Ambivalence soon morphed into uneasiness. Our feet shuffled forward inch by inch, as if bounded by shackles.
Finally I understood the need for concern. Was one hour enough to navigate through customs? I had serious doubts.