Nothing brings together a bunch of strangers like communal suffering, writes Danielle Murray.

All passengers are seated, waiting for the flight to take off. Just as we have been for the past hour. There is nothing to do - and so we talk.

Beside me is "Mr Tim" with the baseball cap and brown loafers, leader to a group of teenage students.

He is a high school teacher from Baltimore and I imagine him as the sort who inspires every kid in his class to want to learn. He never stops smiling. It is his third trip to New Zealand and he can't wait to return.

Nearby is a beautiful Nicole Kidman lookalike and her two lookalike daughters. Gosh, she is glam, I think - until I spot her clogs.


"Mama always said you could tell an awful lot about a person by the kind of shoes they wear," says Forrest Gump in my head. He does that now and then. I usually agree with his mama, so am feeling confused. The woman catches my eye and I am sure she can read my mind.

"These are for travelling," she says. "I wouldn't dare wear them in my real life."

Oh thank goodness, I almost say out loud. Like me, she is married to a Kiwi.

She tells me Auckland was home until her husband was transferred to Colorado last year. It hasn't been easy.

She says that Americans appear friendly but she's yet to make friends or been invited to dinner by her neighbours. She and the girls are in town to visit her in-laws before flying on to Sydney to see her family.

Nearby is Lucie, who is returning from Rome and whose main concern is her soon-to-be-missed connection to Christchurch.

It isn't her first bit of bad luck on this trip - she missed her flight in London when the Piccadilly line shut down after someone jumped the tracks.

Having already contacted her travel insurer, she's been told she won't be reimbursed for additional expenses because suicide - hers or anybody else's - is not covered by her policy. But money can't be too big a concern as she's wearing the same pair of nude heels I keep seeing on Kate Middleton. We talk until there is no more to say.

We finally take off. And doze - until we are told the aircraft needs to make a stop in Fiji, which should take no more than a few minutes. Three hours later, we are still in the plane, still on the ground and still unaware of what is going on. Once again, passengers mingle. And, we all agree, men walking on the wings outside your window is not a good sign.

Another announcement is made. We are being sent to local hotels until further notice.

Mr Tim's kids rejoice but the Nicoles are subdued and Lucie-with-the-Kate-shoes looks pinched.

I'm losing my cool because I really want to be home. Despite having lovely rooms in a lovely resort, we all flock to the lobby, eager for "further notice". We all have things to do and people to see. Somewhere else.

Mr Tim and his posse have just 17 days Downunder and their schedule is packed.

The Nicoles have a big day ahead. The girls are to attend a party at their old school on the last day of term. All their friends will be there.

Now, as the little one says to me tearfully, "Everything is ruined." And Lucie needs to get back to her dog.

We all have a story, I realise, and mine, compared to most, isn't all that good. So I am late ... So what?

It is a delay, not a disaster.

And in this airline-imposed exile, a bunch of strangers come together. Here we are, all stuck in the same situation so we might as well make the best of it.

Because of them, the experience isn't so bad. Sure, come arrival in Auckland, we will go our separate ways but for now, we are friends.

A day later, we arrive in Auckland.

I spot the Nicoles rushing off in a taxi and wave to Lucie as she is rebooked on the next flight to Christchurch.

And before I can ask Mr Tim if Tim is his first or last name, he and his group board a bus to go off on their big adventure.

As for me, I am finally home, and there really is no place like it.