The first of my four alarms was set for 2.35am. Panicked I would oversleep and miss my flight, I added a fifth alarm at 3am just to be safe. How much time do I need to get to the airport? How long before a flight to Australia do I need to check in? How do we do this international travel thing again?
The last time I had to be up this early was on my final day as a Newstalk ZB breakfast newsreader – a job I finished in January 2020 to take up a full time position in the NZ Herald Travel team. Yep, that's right, I joined the Travel team in The Year Of The Pandemic. Finally, 14 months into the role, I have wiped the dust off my passport, fortunately still valid, last used on a trip to Jordan at the end of 2019.
I'd forgotten about the bubbly buzzy ball of energy of international travel – and the lack of sleep that accompanies an early flight. Turns out I wasn't the only one either, with passengers and cabin crew on NZ101 to Sydney telling me they'd barely slept a wink either.
The departure lounge at Auckland International Airport still felt sleepy compared to The Before Times. As I walked past duty free, staff practically jumped out in front of me with glee as they beckoned travellers to their stalls. For all the nerves I had prior to the flight, it was a bit like riding a bike, where wandering down to the departure gates felt familiar, almost as if no time had passed.
While I was buzzing with sleep-deprived excitement, it wasn't lost on me that other passengers were heading to an emotional family reunion. Some were visiting sick family members, and for them their reunion would also be mixed with a heartbreaking farewell.
On board, there was a champagne run to celebrate the bubble popping before breakfast was served; standard airplane fare of scrambled eggs, baked beans and a lonely breakfast sausage. I think the last time I ate baked beans was the last international flight I did – and they've never tasted so good as they did on this flight to Sydney.
Before disembarking, an overhead announcement ran through Covid safety messages. Each passenger had their temperatures taken before proceeding further into the terminal, and about a dozen health staff went through questionnaires with passengers regarding the required New South Wales Covid declaration form.
It took less than five minutes to get through to the arrivals gate. Digital signs displayed the silver fern and words of welcome to Kiwis, but the majority of those waiting for passengers were Australian journalists. There was a brief flurry of activity as the Love Actually moment unfolded with tearful family reunions, but it was over quickly and after 20 minutes, the airport returned to a sleepy, empty space, still devoid of the pre-Covid number of tourists.