We're due to land in 1 hour, 31 minutes. This is weird. The teenagers and I haven't cleared this altitude in two years – 37,000 feet, flying Air New Zealand to Los Angeles.
We have been hoping to make this trip all year after someone we love in America was diagnosed with cancer in January.
They endured nearly two months of chemotherapy and radiation, getting sicker, redder and thinner each week.
Suddenly, the idea of waiting to travel until Covid dissipated like condensation on a single-glazed Kiwi window in winter seemed unwise.
Our person is doing okay now, but what if their cancer returns? It has been too long since we've seen them on anything but a phone or computer screen.
Too long since we've hugged or laughed face-to-face.
I last saw my dad in person when he and my stepmum stayed with us in Pāpāmoa three years ago.
My mum and her partner came in 2019. Heaps of ex-pat Kiwis sit in the same sad boat, having not seen their loved ones for years.
A small percentage of New Zealanders have won the isolation hotel lottery, enabling them to enter the country during the pandemic, or travel abroad and return. Our family hit the jackpot in October. Miss 17 cried tears of joy.
Statistics NZ numbers quoted by RNZ earlier this week showed Kiwis took 913 trips to visit family and friends during the nine weeks from July 23 - the day the Australian travel bubble ended. Kiwis took 351 business trips and 180 holiday trips overseas where people stayed in managed isolation hotels on their way back.
House of Travel Albany's owner Tim Malone - who runs the Facebook page Kiwis Coming Home - told RNZ most people booking trips out of the country had serious reasons.
"Quite often their family are in trouble overseas - diagnosed with cancer or a terminal illness of some sort...
"Those sort of things become desperate after a while," he said.
We are not heading to Tonga to drink cocktails on the beach (though it sounds lovely). Instead, we're winging to Ohio, to bask in grey skies, rain, snow and family.
Pandemic travel is not done on a whim. It's massively expensive, slow and fraught. Three travel Covid tests cost $600 before we left the country. We must retest before departing the States (hopefully for much cheaper). Managed isolation costs $1600 for the first person in a room and $230 per child. Merry Christmas, kids – you're each getting Covid tests, plus seven days of hotel room service.
I flip out before any trip, but pandemic travel has multiplied my freak factor. I worried our Tauranga-Auckland flight would be cancelled (it wasn't); I worried one of us would test positive for Covid (we didn't); I worried our flight to LA would be delayed and we would have to endure another pipe cleaner tickling our brains (that didn't happen, either).
What has happened has unfolded quickly (air travel) and at a glacial pace (pre-departure procedures). A gate agent spent 30 minutes checking us in at the Tauranga airport. "Have you filled out a health form?" she asked.
Panic. No. I didn't see that information online. She hands us three, seven-page US government forms. They ask if we have tested negative for Covid the past calendar day (we have) and whether we are fully vaccinated (we are). I tick the correct boxes and sign for myself and the teens.
Nearly everything at the Auckland airport was closed. No food court. No retail therapy to occupy the five hours before our flight.
Only the equivalent of a dairy and duty-free. A friend who lives near the airport picked us up and brought us to Onehunga for sushi.
One hour and one minute until we land. We have eaten two airline meals: a chicken and couscous dinner and a pancake breakfast with apple compote and vanilla syrup.
Maybe it's the extra salt, fat and sugar, but food tastes pretty good above the clouds.
Flying is familiar territory, with crying babies, shrieking toddlers and toilet queues. And it is new, with mask requirements, Covid fears and extra hand sanitiser.
You need a good reason to span the globe in this environment – to spend extra time and money to leave and re-enter New Zealand, risking sickness when no travel insurance pays Covid-related health expenses (some policies say they will, but only for countries the New Zealand Government deems safe to travel, which is nowhere, except the Cook Islands, starting 14 January).
We realise how lucky we are to make this trip and how safe New Zealand is compared to the States.
With extra masks, hand sanitiser and double jabs, we are wading into Covid-land.
In America, more than 100,000 people test positive for the virus each day, and only about 60 per cent of the eligible population (ages 5 and up) is vaccinated.
We will be careful, but much of this exercise rests in fate's hands.
Pandemic travel is not for the faint-hearted. But neither is life.