Thousands of Kiwis have flown Air New Zealand between Auckland and London. The national carrier provides an excellent service.

Its staff, both on the ground in Auckland and Heathrow, and all those in the air caring for passenger safety, welfare and comfort, do a fantastic job.

But may I offer a word of warning to anyone contemplating travelling this route for the first time.

Your dream flight is likely to contain a two hour nightmare in the form of a short stopover at Los Angeles airport, if my recent experiences are anything to go by.


Clutching our cabin luggage, we disembarked after a 12 hour flight and trudged towards the US border control centre.

On the way an official mingled with the crowd handing out blue transit cards to those passengers booked through to the UK.

"Hold onto these at all times..." So far so good, we need to be identified because we're not stopping.

We were then ushered into a vast hall to discover many hundreds of other passengers from any number of flights, most of whom were finishing their journey in Los Angeles or transferring to internal flights.

They were all going through the same processes of immigration. And here is where it all started to go ridiculously wrong.

Officials began dashing around waving their arms, indicating we must queue at a machine and follow its commands. There were dozens of these machines but hundreds of people waiting to use them.

Eventually my turn came and I fed my passport into it. Lists of questions appeared on the screen followed by a demand for my fingerprints.

After several attempts the machine issued a ticket with my photograph on it.

Having completed this task, I was waved at frantically by another official to join yet another queue further down the hall.

This next queue was so packed and so long, endlessly winding up and down between narrow tape barriers, that it was impossible to see the front of it or know its purpose. I shuffled for over an hour, seeming not to make any progress.

The hall soon got hotter and stuffier as more weary passengers arrived. Something must happen soon, I thought, or we'll either die of thirst or miss the plane.

Suddenly panic broke out among airport officials. Diving into the crowds they yelled instructions that blue transit card holders must evacuate the queues immediately.

"Blue cards, out, out," they yelled. "Quick, this way, follow me. Plane will not wait."

Blue card holders reacted with alarm. We pushed and shoved our way through the vast throng of people, ducking under barriers, tripping over trollies and stepping on toes, daring anyone to try and stop us. No polite apologies, just focused on not missing the plane.

"Hurry, hurry, come with us."

Like desperate people escaping the clutches of King Kong we broke into a trot, not letting the officials from our sight.

Eventually we were assembled at the desk of a large man dressed in black, his shirt festooned with badges and symbols of office, and with a gun dangling from his hip.

My turn came to step forward. Leisurely, he inspected my passport and asked where I was going. I bit my tongue, resisting the urge to reply, "at this rate, nowhere". Then he took an impression of my fingerprints, the second time this had happened in less than two hours.

I so much wanted to ask why all this was happening but again thought better of it. He was packing a gun after all.

Satisfied I was who I claimed to be, he directed me to the entrance of a long corridor.
"Follow the signs."

Five minutes later I passed through a door and entered another huge area where I encountered another hoard of passengers.

I looked at my watch, time was passing quickly. I needed a toilet but hadn't seen one since leaving the aircraft. I joined yet another queue, this time to submit my cabin luggage to inspection and X-ray.

"Empty pockets, wallets, coins, phones on the tray. Remove belts and braces, place your bags on the conveyor then move over to body X-ray." Inside the X-ray arch I am told to "spread em", meaning my feet, and to place my hands high on the wall.

"Okay, next," a gruff official shouts, presumably satisfied I posed no threat. I reassembled my belongings and clothing. Blue card passengers around me also hurried, anxious not to miss the flight.

We are like a band of contestants on some vile reality survival show except we are not here to compete, neither do we care to be treated like common criminals whom one suspects are treated better.

We are simply passengers wishing to travel from Auckland to London as quickly as possible. We have no interest in the United States, we do not wish to be there, nor do we wish to remain.

I arrived at the departure lounge just as the final few passengers were embarking for London.

Nowhere have I come across such inept management as at Los Angeles airport. Surely it is not beyond the wit of the greatest country on earth to direct transit passengers into a locked lounge with a toilet and a free coffee machine, instead of subjecting them to two hours of officious persecution?

Four weeks later, on the return journey, the whole circus was repeated.

Isn't there anything Air New Zealand can do to persuade the Americans to treat its transit customers better? If not, next time I visit London I shall use a different route, and I advise others to do the same.

• John Darkin is a retired bookseller and occasional writer living in Gisborne.