The long 'walk' from LA to NZ

Last updated 05:00 18/02/2014

Flight nightmares that never leave you

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Have you had a long distance flight nightmare? We'd love to hear the story. Gerard O'Neil is unfortunate enough to have several...

I'm probably one of the few people in the world who has walked from Los Angeles to Auckland. It happened like this:

Soon before the boarding call for our flight to New Zealand I noticed the boarding staff beginning to look very concerned.

They went into a huddle, holding passenger lists, and sure enough soon came the announcement that our flight had been overbooked and the company was calling for volunteers to stay behind.

The terms offered were hotels, discounts on next flight, etc, and so various passengers took up the offer.

The boarding gates opened and I was just getting up when my name was called. When I presented myself at the counter a staff member took me aside and told me that they were desperate and needed to offload one more passenger.

As I was travelling alone they were going to offer me a special package if I stayed behind too.  From memory, it was a free return trip to the US plus hotel accommodation and spending vouchers.

I decided to accept the offer and was just beginning to fill out the forms in the deserted departure lounge when an flight attendent came running back to say that they had one spare seat and I could now board.

The one spare seat turned out to be right in front of the bulkhead in economy class. There was so little room that siting in the seat with my knees jammed up against the wall my feet could not touch the floor (I am 1.93 metres tall).

As soon as we reached flight altitude, I got up as I could not support the back pain any longer.

I spent the next 12 hours walking around the plane. I lost count of how many times the cabin crew apologised for my situation.

I only returned to my seat when it was time to land.


The most interesting long distance flight I think I ever took was from the middle of China back to Hong Kong. It was in the early '90s when China was just beginning to open up to the West.

I was happy to discover that our plane was a brand new Boeing. I was full of confidence until the cabin crew began to go through the safely instructions.

The video was in English, but it was obvious the crew had no idea what was being said as their gestures were totally out-of-sync with the video.

At pushback, passengers were still wandering around the plane. In fact, a number of them never took their seats, even during takeoff.

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As we climbed, a group of them began a game: Who could reach the bathrooms in the middle of the plane walking up the sloping floor.

When we made our descent into Hong Kong it was the same story - probably half the passengers did not take their seats.

Everyone was wandering around at will and then to my surprise, a very excited Chinese man pushed his way into the space in front of me and started taking photos out my window all the way down until landing.

One of the banes of flying long distance are inexperienced passengers. You can generally spot them when they board and take their seats. Within five minutes, they have usually managed to call the flight attendants at least twenty times as they experiment all the buttons on their arm rests.

Once I had the misfortune to sit behind one. For some reason during diner, the woman in front of me decided to change her seat position.

She reached behind her and pulled the support of my table up (obviously thinking it was her seat lever). The result was my dinner all over my lap.


When I travel long distance, I always take my own water supply. Once, however, this habit caused a slight accident.

Before the flight I had bought a new water bottle (an oversized type athletes use, with its own straw).

Soon after takeoff and while we were still climbing I had the urge to have a drink.

To my surprise when I took off the cap off, in a split second, all the contents of the bottle shot out and hit the overhead lockers, the pressure in the bottle being different to that of the cabin.

To my dismay, the water then rained down on the passenger sitting next to me. I didn't know what language he spoke, but I got the gist of what he was saying.

It took about five hours for his suit to dry.

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