Friday, July 19, 2013

Befuddled in Bangkok

After overcoming a few travel hurdles, I'm in Bangkok.  I'm currently sitting on a very comfortable bed, air and cable tv on, enjoying watching the rain outside my window.  Here's a quick story of my trip so far.

My friend MLT was a real trooper and got up early on her day off to give me a ride to the airport.  I confess, I wasn't much company on the way.  I was scattered and left many sentences and thoughts dangling as my mind darted to something else.  Nerves.

My check in luggage was a bit overweight but the nice guy let it slide.  He got a good tip and we were both happy.

As I waited for my flight to Atlanta I had to smirk to myself.  The flight to JFK, which I'd almost booked, was delayed by five hours due to a mechanical issue.  I would have missed my connecting flight to Narita.  My travel mojo was working.

The flight from Orlando to Atlanta was easy and uneventful.  I realized as we flew in to Atlanta that I hadn't been to the airport since before going to Samoa.  It felt weird, since I've flown into Atlanta on a weekly basis for years.  I know that airport as well as I know my own house.

Or at least I did.  Seems while I was gone they built a whole new international terminal.  It's a doozy.  Spacious and nicely decorated.  I enjoyed an overpriced and very small shrimp taco before boarding as a luxury, since I knew we'd be fed shortly after take off.  But who could turn down that last shot at Mexican food?

Boarding was easy and I was in the exit row, with an empty seat next to me.  Good thing, since hadn't warned me that I had the seat which has the slide mechanism sticking out in front of it.  Since no one was in the next seat, though, I had plenty of room.

We started to taxi out right on time.  Perfect.  Travel mojo in high gear.  All was well for about 15 minutes, then we slowed.  Then we stopped.  Then we started turning around.  Never good, especially when the flight is going to take almost 14 hours.

The captain explained they'd mistakenly loaded 3 dogs into a compartment with flammable canisters and had to move one or the other.  And because we'd burned so much fuel during our 15 minute taxi, we needed to top up our tanks.

My seat was just behind the wing and I noticed a couple of guys standing under the tip of the wing, looking up.  Then pointing up.  Then a couple more guys wandered over.  And a "fuel spill" truck rolled in.  This was not looking good.  The captain came on and said they were refueling and we'd be on our way in 10 minutes.  Since I was watching the refueling truck, which was not connected to the plane, either the captain was ill informed or his pants were on fire.

The routine of the captain announcing "Ten more minutes!" while I watched more and more maintenance guys looking at the wing continued.  Long story short, we had a fuel leak.  After 3 1/2 hours, they thought they had it fixed, the doggies and canisters had been separated and we were off.

We were taxing along when we started to slow, then stop, then turn around.  I already knew I'd miss my connecting flight in Tokyo, now the question was whether we'd make it out of Atlanta that day.

We were turning around because the winds had shifted and they were turning the airport around to have planes land and take off from the opposite direction.  While we waited for that, the sky kept getting darker.  It was now late afternoon and everyone who lives in the South knows that mean summer thunderstorms.

We were second in line for take off when they shut down the airport because of the storm. People got up, wandered around the plane, chatted on their phones.  We were used to the drill by now.  The captain shut down the engines so we knew it would be awhile.

After about an hour, the Captain announced they were letting planes take off.  But the captain of the plane in front of us didn't want to go.  We were informed that the cockpit crew only had 10 minutes before they timed out - which would mean the flight was cancelled and we'd have to wait for the next day, flying standby on what was already probably a very full flight.  

The other plane took off and the next thing we knew we were hurtling down the runway, taking off into black, stormy skies.  It was a bit rough for the first couple of hours but not too bad.  I was surprised and disappointed that when i ordered a cocktail I had to use one of my free drink coupons.  Really, Delta - 4 1/2 hours late, missing my connection and you can't pop for an ounce of scotch?

When we landed in Narita (Tokyo) they announced that they'd held the flights for Manila, Guam and a couple of other places.  All of us going to Singapore or Bangkok were to check with the gate agent meeting the flight.

In most airports that means one cranky agent trying to cope with rescheduling all the passengers.  Not in Tokyo.  There was a small cadre of gate agents waiting for us at the end of the jetway.  Singapore over there, Bangkok over here.  There was no line, just a scrum of tired but remarkably patient passengers trying to figure out how to get to where we wanted to go.  As I waited in the herd a young guy asked if I was going to Bangkok.  Yes, he was in the right place.  We chatted as we waited and I discovered he's from Chiang Mai, Thailand, a beautiful place and was in the US attending UVA.  We bonded and agreed to be travel buddies to make sure we both got on the next flight.

Amazingly, the Delta staff had printed all of our new travel docs and meal vouchers so the process was very quickly.  We were assigned two charming women who were on their 4th hour of overtime.  They promised to get us where we needed to go.  Which, it seemed, was the other Tokyo airport, about an hour away.

We collected our checked bags, went through customs and immigration and then hopped on the chartered luxury bus for the drive through drizzly Tokyo.  Before we left the terminal though, I did what my mama taught me and went to the bathroom.  It was one of the highlights of the trip so far!

The bathroom had many options.  Squatty potty.  Female urinal (not sure how you'd use that one).   And my favorite  - the automated, fully featured toilet.  The options included a bidet (big deal, been there, done that).  A bidet for your heinie (makes sense).  A blow dyer feature for your front or back parts.  You could press the "super strength" deodorizer if the need arose.  Or, if you were feeling shy, you could use the "flushing sound to cover the sounds of bodily functions."  Instead of actually flushing to cover those sounds, you just push a button and a recording of flushing sounds comes on.

When it came time to flush, I waited for the automatic swoosh.  It didn't happen.  How disappointing that this high tech toilet had to be flushed the old fashioned way.

Sadly, I didn't have time to experiment with any of the features other than the flushing sound.

After a ride to the other airport, during which we chatted and got to know each other, we were efficiently helped by another airline, who'd been put on alert that we were coming.  Luckily, they didn't comment on my overweight bag.

We were given meal vouchers and were determined to use them even though we knew that we'd be fed as soon as our flight took off in an hour.  Several small groups of us headed to the food court, which turned out to be one restaurant.  I used my money to get octopus balls two ways.  Both tasty, although I burned the bejeebers out of my tongue on the first one.

I left the crowd of fellow exhausted travelers, using the excuse I wanted to look at souvenirs.  I just didn't tell them I wanted to check out the toilets.  They were different at this airport but similar.  I tried all the features and am here to say that when I win the lottery, my house will be equipped with the fanciest toilets money can buy.

We quickly realized that although we had status on Delta, on the Star Alliance partner we were flying, we were the lowest of the low.  And because they'd added us at the last minute there were only center seats available.  My seat was tiny, with an obstruction under the seat in front of me so I couldn't extend my feet under the seat.  And, my thigh bones were too long to let me sit with my knees straight forward without my knees being jammed into the seat in front of me.  

That's how I sat for 6 1/2 hours.  I didn't need the blanket they'd thoughtfully provided because the temp was a sultry 90 degrees or so.  Hot enough that most of us were fanning ourselves until everyone else fell into sweaty dreamland.  I watched more movies and contemplated what I'd do to the engineers who'd determined that it was perfectly acceptable for my nose to be 13 inches away from the back of the seat in front of me.  I measured it.

Getting through immigration and customs in Bangkok was easy.  It involved a lot of walking but after sitting for so long it felt great to move.  I found the rep from the hotel I'd booked and explained that yes, I was supposed to have arrived the previous night and it was now 5 a.m. but here I was, more than ready to check in and get a shower.

The hotel, Thong Ta Spa and Resort, is lovely.  Ten minutes from the airport, with friendly front desk staff.  I opted to upgrade to the new building.  Big spender - that brought the price of the room up to $30.  I also booked a 2 hour Thai/Swedish massage, in my room.  Another $30.

While I waited for the massage, I went for a walk, excited to be back in Bangkok, smelling the spices and barbecue from the street vendors were were already set up although it wasn't even 8:00 a.m.  I couldn't resist getting a piece of barbecued chicken to take back for lunch.  A bargain at $1.00.

I spent a quiet day and am now getting ready for bed.  Yes, it's very early but that 4:00 a.m. wake up call is going to seem really early.  So far, this trip reminded me of why I do this.  I met some really interesting, well-traveled people, ate some food I'd never had before, and was taken outside my comfort zone.

One more flight - only 2 hours.  I'm ready!

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