Noilly Prattle: Return Flight from Hades

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Return Flight from Hades

Murphy's Law says that if anything can go wrong, it will. On my recent return flights and trains from Boston to Okayama, Murphy's Law kicked in big time. Anyone who travels a lot by air will tell you that the best kind of flights are the uneventful ones. But, once in a while you hit the other kind. And, though I digress, I simply have to tell you that flying in the United States has got to be the worst place in which to do it. The system is antiquated, inefficient, labyrinthine and overcrowded. Security is ridiculously tedious, burdensome, intrusive, time consuming and probably wouldn't catch a determined “terrorist”.

Also, a word about low-cost “budget” carriers with cute sounding names like TrueBlue, Airotica (movie All that Jazz), Southbest and that one that was contemplating pay toilets and fees for mixed junk food snacks, Shitbag (credit for that one goes to Conan O'Brien), you pays your money and you takes your chances.

So, the flight from hell.

Doubletree by Hilton
Beantown by the bay
I had a flight scheduled at 11:09 from Logan to JFK. Security lines being what they are in the good ole USA I drove to Boston, dropped off the rent-a-car the day before my flight and stayed at a hotel near UMass Boston to give myself enough time to get to the airport two and half or so hours earlier than departure time the next morning. The Hilton was a typical mid-range, decent, designer colors, seen-one-you've-seen-'em all hotel. Nice thing about it was you could walk along the beach that was about half a kilometer behind the hotel, which I did after checking in in the late afternoon.

nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon
So far so good.

I boarded the hotel shuttle that left the hotel on the dot at 8 a.m. and arrived at Logan in plenty of time. I started to queue up in a long line for Jet Blue and noticed that the other people already seemed to have boarding passes and I asked someone where he got it. He informed me about the electronic check in machines. So, I went back to Square 1 and did the electronic check-in thingie where nothing is touched by human hands. The machine kindly found my reservation and spit out a paper boarding pass. I started to go back to the previous line but noticed that a sign said “baggage drop off”, so, smart boy that I am, I reasoned to myself that I had no bags to check in so I probably didn't need to waste any time in this particular line. On a hunch, I walked to another long queue (about half a kilometer long) that turned out to be the security check line—the right line for people with only carry on.

After the usual take-almost-everything-off-and-put-everything-in-the-plastic-trays, walk through the full-body scanner (hopefully in good shape for your close-up), put everything back on and/or repack, head for the departure gate, realize you forgot your crutch, go back, breathe a sigh of relief when you find it still there, pick it up and then, at last, proceed to the departure “lounge” in plenty of time for your flight.

the little airplane that couldn't
After priority boarding (remember the crutch?) and seated on the aircraft (they don't call them airplanes any more) the flight attendant casually announces that because of a “leak” we have to deplane. As I was leaving I asked, more or less mockingly, what was leaking? She shrugged and said: “I don't know.”

Return to the “lounge”, and after the usual formulaic apologies and we're-trying-to-fix-the-problem and thank-you-for-your-patience and we'll-keep-you-updated and please-don't-ask-me-any-questions-I-can't-answer and more apologies, the look and smell of anxiety escalating to panic about missed connections begins. Then the dreaded announcement: “Your attention please, ladies and gentlemen, the good news is we found the leak, the bad news is we don't have a replacement part here and will have to fly one in from New York—where they have one. We are sorry but this plane ain't gonna get off the ground. We are going to try to find another plane to replace it—but who knows. Thank you for your patience and understanding." Now in full panic mode people queue up to get evasive answers and lots of clicking of computer keys—yours truly included.

I had a 3 o'clock connecting flight from JFK to Osaka. Around noon there was an announcement that they had arranged for another flight leaving from another gate so everybody started heading for the new gate with renewed hope. Of course, once arrived at the new gate, there was still no aircraft at the end of the loading tunnel. We waited a while longer until a chirpy voice announced that your flight has landed and will soon arrive at the gate; thank you again for your patience and cooperation. We finally boarded the new aircraft and left the gate after 1 p.m. with assurances that we could get to JFK by 2 p.m. and that “it was feasible that I could make my 3 o'clock connection with the caveat that 'it's New York, you know' and if there are no hitches with Murphy's Law”. Cute!

the big airplane that could, turbulently
After landing at JFK a little after 2 o'clock I sprinted (carrying the crutch) what seemed like at least a kilometer from the Jet Blue arrival gate to the Airtrain that connects the 8 terminals at JFK. Fortunately, the train went backwards from Gate 5/6 to 4 saving me precious seconds. Got off the Airtrain, took the wrong escalator down to Arrivals, spun around and retraced my steps, took the escalator up to international Departures, asked where China Airlines check in was, raced there to the other end of the building, saw all the check in windows empty except one, went there and almost out of breath and extremely stressed explained about the mess at Logan and asked if I could still make the flight.

The staff at China Airlines were wonderful, efficient and professional. They knew about the Jet Blue screw up and quickly checked another guy and me in and escorted us through the front of the security queue and got us to the departure gate in time for boarding—which turned out to be delayed for half an hour. I kid you not.

the view from the back seat
the barely visible green line
is the flight path (great circle route)
The non-stop flight from JFK to Osaka is a very long one, some 14 hours flying over Canada, Alaska, Sakhalin approaching Japan from the northeast. On top of the long hours, movies, airline survival food and sleeping pills, this flight was unusually turbulent, the turbulence being enhanced by sitting in the first to the last row in the aircraft. But we finally landed at Osaka's Kansai International Airport around 7 p.m. when some kind of allergy kicked in where I started sneezing and my nose and eyes started leaking and no handkerchief.

The last straw of this memorable day was that the usual train from the airport to Shin-Osaka Shinkansen (bullet train) station was out of service due to heavy rain. Fortunately, a more local and time consuming train was running but required a change of trains. I finally arrived back home at 11 p.m. where road buddy was waiting to pick me up and drag home the remains. Took two Ibuprofen, a sleeping pill and an allergy pill and conked out.

Hell hath no fury like an eventful flight.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Welcome home...I don't envy your story but sounds like the resourefulness in your character, as usual, won out!