Posted by: Teacher Peter | June 28, 2010

The Story So Far….Part 1: Chutes and Ladders

For you viewers just joining us, here’s the story so far:

Wednesday, June 23rd, 10am we board a plane from MSP to Chicago O’hare.

(Note: all times and dates are local time.)

12pm We board a plane from O’hare to Tokyo–but it never takes off! We sit on the runway for 6 hours while the United Flight staff tell us a variety of excuses, all of which could be categorized as “human error” or “stupidity.” After so much time on the runway, a weather system comes through Chicago ( shocker!) and we have to deplane. United assures us that they will hold our checked luggage on the plane to ensure that it gets sent to its proper destination (foreshadowing).

Thursday, June 24th, 11am

Almost 24 hours later, we try to take off from Chicago O’Hare to Tokyo, again. However, now that we are a day late, we don’t know how we’re going to get from Tokyo to Taipei. By “we” , I mean more than Kristin and I. On the first flight we met two other co-workers from our Language School. By the end of our 6 hours of being sequestered in Chicago, there are now 8 of us total who are all flying to work at the same school. One of our co-workers, M, is able to call United and get us a NEW flight from Tokyo to Taipei. They can’t print us boarding passes until we land in Tokyo but they assure us it will be easy and that our luggage will be put on our new flight.

On board the 12 hour flight to Tokyo, we are given a letter of apology and a form to fill out for some mysterious Token of Sorryness from United. United flight staff take these forms from us but we do not know if they’re ever mailed. Nothing short of $1200 U.S. would make me feel better about the experience.

1pm, Friday, June 25th,

We land in Tokyo Narita. I’m looking forward to almost 6 hours of downtime before we join a 6:50pm flight to Taipei. Little do we know, that peace will never come. As we arrive, we see a customer service table for United 881 from Chicago. All 8 of us already have new flight reservations so we all skip it. We all go through security screening for people connecting to International flights. As soon as we’re through security, Japanese airport workers ask for everyone from flight 881 to follow them. They don’t explain why or give us any more info. Kristin, J, and myself follow them. They bring us right back to the customer service table we had decided to skip earlier.

We wait in that line for about an hour. There are 350 people on flight 881 and only 2 customer service reps. Everyone is a day late and in a hurry to get to their destination so it’s not easy to get someone’s attention. When we finally do, they tell us we don’t need to wait in this line, we can go right through security for connecting flights because we already have a reservation. The first time we went through security it took us 5 minutes. There is a huge crowd by the time we line up to go through the second time and it takes about an hour. We are not happy about this. Welcome to “Chutes and Ladders: Airport Edition”. Let the games begin!

Once we are through security, we start looking for Japan Airlines. J has a reservation on All Nippon Air or ANA. We have a reservation on either Air Japan or Japan Air. We go with J to the ANA customer service desk. There are about 6 reps to deal with about 25 people so we think the line will go fast. It does not. I ask an airport worker if there are more than two Japanese Airlines. By looking at the signs it seems that ANA and JAL are the only two. All the airport workers speak very good English so I don’t even have to use my rusty Japanese. I am disappointed but relieved.

We wait in the line with J for about 20 minutes while we get snacks and figure out our next move. A worker from ANA comes up to us in line to help us. I tell her our flight number and she confirms that there is no ANA flight with that number. We are in terminal 1, we must take a bus to terminal 2 to talk to JAL. We were told by United that we may have to manually get our luggage from United and re-check it on our new flight. There is now no time for that.

I think it’s about 3:30pm when we get to the JAL ticketing agent. There are maybe 10 reps for 15 customers so I hope the line will move quickly. It does. Good news: the JAL flight number and departure time matches what I have in my notes from United. Good news: I have two confirmation numbers and one reservation number as well as all our boarding passes and checked bags receipt. Bad News: JAL has no record that United ever made a reservation for us 14 plus hours ago.

By now, Kristin and I are both fatigued, jet-lagged, dehydrated, and very hungry. I am mad that I never had a chance to stop for sushi but I am too tired to care. The JAL workers are so nice that it’s pretty hard to be upset. Also, I get to practice my Japanese a little bit. They ask us to have a seat while they figure things out.

I am very impressed with Japanese flight workers. They are very good at looking busy. They rush around, make phone calls, and generally look like they’re working really hard to solve your problem. Much different than what I tend to see in U.S. airports.

We sit for maybe 30 minutes while we watch a woman with a leg in a cast sit across from us. She is arguing with a JAL representative because apparently she was in a wheelchair ( and clearly needs it) and they took her out of a wheelchair and now they have no wheelchairs for her to use.

The JAL rep is very calm and polite. She gets a wheelchair for the woman and comes to talk to us. She tells us they have booked us on a Delta flight to Taipei. It’s in terminal 1 (where we just came from). The bus leaves in 10 minutes. She tells us to follow her and runs off with our passports and all our paperwork so we have to follow. It’s almost 5pm by now and the flight boards at 6:30pm so we follow her.

When we get back to terminal 1 we DO NOT have to go through security again. (Thank god for small favors.) Apparently, terminal 1 and 2 are connected in such a way that they don’t think people can bring dangerous materials on board. In any case, when we get to the gate at 5:50pm , who do we see but our friend, J, who was sent over to Delta from ANA. I have maybe 20 minutes to grab snacks before boarding so I run off in search of food while Kristin watches the bags.

As I’m searching for food, I find Ke and E, two other co-workers from the Language School who got sent to our Delta flight as well. Our other 3 colleagues have already flown on a different flight. I don’t find anything I want to eat but buy some things anyway. When I get back, J has bought cups of  frothy tasty Japanese beers for all of us! I am very happy when I board our plane to Taipei.

Our flight to Taipei is WONDERFUL!

1. It takes off. 2. It takes off on time. 3. We each have our own personal entertainment systems. Y’know that Twilight Zone where the guy finally has eternity to read all the books he wants and then he breaks his glasses? Well, the only downside was that we had access to about 360 hours of films that I wanted to see and only a 3 hour flight.

Kristin and I have a nice conversation with a high school kid who is part of a group doing missionary work in Taiwan. Apparently, this is pretty common.

We land at 9:30pm, Friday, June 23rd in Taipei. We are looking forward to going right to bed. Little do we know that we will not be able to sleep until 3am.

Next up, Part 2: Lost Luggage


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