Getaway with Soleil: No Longer Flying Solo

               Before this week, I had flown to New Zealand three times. Each time I was alone and either left from San Francisco or Los Angeles after a long layover. I’d usually take the window seat, curl against the plane, watch a few movies, and try to sleep. Thirteen hours of general uninterrupted aloneness, except for the occasional service request, and I’d arrive in Auckland for whatever time I had with my family. This trip, however, was different.

            For the first time, I wasn’t flying alone. Soleil and I took our first flight together—ever—and it was an interesting thirteen hours from Vancouver to Auckland. There’s a certain art form to flights like this. Since Soleil is a bit of a nomad and I’ve made this journey before, we were both relatively comfortable in our own habits. Traveling together, however, made for some interesting discoveries, discomforts, and details.

            Take off was generally easy and we were in the air by 8:50pm PST. Even with a stick of gum, my ears were continually popping. In the past I’ve had lots of anxiety around flights, but it has gotten a bit better recently (probably from the continual traveling). Soleil and I had moved our seats on check-in in an attempt to have a row to ourselves, but, sadly, were unsuccessful. Luckily, our row partner was nice enough and it did feel like we had our own little bubble at times.

            On Air NZ, passengers are required to be masked during the flight, except during meals, and it was an interesting experience. During the height of the pandemic, I spent around five to seven hours masked with a few breaks. There’s a difference, however, between lecturing versus trying to sleep. I can’t say it was comfortable, but I’m hopeful it will allow for a safe vacation. The New Zealand government requires and provides two rapid tests post-flight for a test the day of and another one for five to six days after. Fingers crossed, Soleil and I are still in good health.

            Once we were well into the air, we tuned into the in-flight entertainment. I watched the first three episodes of Our Flag Means Death for the fourth time, because I will always love gay pirates. Soleil watched Kimi. The flight crew brought some complimentary water, and we snacked on a Coffee Crisp. I’d never had one before, but found the coffee flavor was a bit light and the wafers were lovely.

            Since I’d popped a Dramamine during take-off, the wooziness kicked in a bit by dinnertime. Another benefit of traveling with someone is Soleil and I were able to get both meal options and share them. Soleil ordered the steak with basmati rice and peas and green beans. I tried the chicken, mashed potato, and peas and carrots. Both meals came with warm rolls, cheese and crackers, and pasta salad. The pasta salad was probably my favorite part.

            Another first I tried on this trip was ordering wine on the plane. Air NZ has a good array of local wines for passengers to drink during the flight. I had a sauvignon blanc and Soleil tried the cabernet sauvignon. The flight crew came through again in short order and did two quick top offs on the plastic cup. So, not long after dinner, I was definitely feeling the alcohol and tried to get comfy for some sleep.

            I think I slept for six or seven hours on and off, but—to be honest—it wasn’t the best or worst sleep I’ve had on one of these flights. One of the perks of flying with someone was having a person to lean against, but, with my seat smack dab in the middle of the plane, it wasn’t easy to get that comfortable. My back and neck require a good massage for all the kinks I have now. At one point I think I was reenacting The Exorcist.

            One of the fun things about long haul flights is the people watching you can take part in. Obviously, there are the people in the row nearby, but also those in front and behind. My neighbor was quiet, but watched a few movies and seemed to have a better sleep than I did. A woman in front of us might have been a sociopath; she’d start a film, fast-forward through some of the action, play random parts, and switch to another with little rhyme or reason. Who skips through the action in Top Gun or the music in Mamma Mia 2?

            After my attempt at sleep, I watched Everything Everywhere All At Once over Soleil’s shoulder. It was just as visually stunning and spectacular as I remembered and, even without volume, I was enthralled by the story. Since it was morning at our origin time, breakfast was served around 2am. Again, we split the meal trays to try different things. I had the continental breakfast which included fresh fruit, yogurt, and a blueberry muffin. Soleil had the hot meal of an omelet, turkey sausage, potatoes, fruit cup, and yogurt. The fruit was the best part, and included a tasty bit of pear.

            Of course, with all the precautions and atmosphere, I was hyperaware of the woman who was continually puking for the last three or four hours of the flight. One of the downsides of sitting near a sick person or the toilet is how disgusting that experience can be. Fingers crossed that the woman was sick for some non-contagious reasons and that she’ll be on the mend soon.

            In the last hour of our flight, we filled out our arrival cards. I listened to Doja Cat during landing since I needed some energy at four in the morning and a distraction from mild anxiety. The plane landed safely, we disembarked, and one long trip through customs later, we’re with my family.

            That, however, is the beginning of a new adventure. This won’t be the last time during the Getaway that Soleil and I fly together. I can’t imagine they’ll all go well, but, for a first flight experience together, this one was another good experience and first. We’ll have to adjust to time differences and new schedules for our outings, but every day is a new opportunity for fun. We’re just starting.

            If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to Reading Malone’s Ko-fi page.

            If you’d like to follow the daily adventures, follow me on Instagram at @karleypardue (for posts, literary discoveries, writing) or @karleycooks (for culinary adventures).