In this day and age where overseas vacations and holidays seems a common enough thing, on my last excursion into Stockholm I could easily pick out the many teens and preteens who surely spent parts of this summer off in some much warmer land, while it still rained back home. It was not so common when I was young, in fact, it was through the financial aid of my grandmother that my family could have our first overseas trip back when I was 13. A trip that did actually go fairly smoothly, though I had dressed inappropriately for the destination.
Since then, I feel I have experienced most of the non-truly-terrifying problems and screw ups that can plague any seasoned traveler, or at least, that was what I thought until recently.
With my nerves on edge I set out for my longest journey yet, just a few weeks ago, to Japan, half way across the globe! We were flying with an airline whose name I shall not mention at present, but they make a big thing about how travelling with them is the shortest way to Asia and boast the shortest connecting times possible at their own hub airport.
So we felt no reason to worry much when we made it to the airport on a grey Tuesday morning, bags all packed and ready. Online check-in had glitched out on us, but the crowds at the airport were not much to be concerned about, so we felt relaxed, chatting about our hopes for the long and exciting trip that lay ahead of us. It was not until we got on the plane that things began to shift slightly.
As a fairly seasoned flyer I only paid half attention to the normal boarding routines and announcements, just half listening to the security demonstrations. But when we stayed put at the gate as time kept ticking on I began to worry. We only had about 40-45 minutes to connect at the next airport and we might only have ten minutes to spare, going by the times needed to complete all the security checks as given by the airline and this mysterious delay was eating into that, slowly, but surely.
I tried to read to pass the time, but it was hard to concentrate, with the anxiety starting to claw at my belly. Finally we were told that the reason for the weird delay was two pieces of “mysterious luggage” that had to be removed…And they were taking their time doing so. The minutes ticked on and when the plane finally, after a hellishly long wait, pushed away from the gate and we slowly, painfully slowly made our way to the runway, there was no way I could focus on my book at all. All my concentration was focused on our worried fellow travelers who, as soon as we were in the air called for the attention of the flight attendants on how things would go with their similarly tight connections.
At least we were not alone in being worried.
I tried to tell myself it was best to just give up on our connecting flight, and if there were no other flights to Tokyo today, well, surely we would be compensated for this lost day. But then we’d lose our already ordered airport transfer. And what about our other planned arrangements, scheduled for the day we’d now be arriving?
With only the barest and vaguest of information from the flights attendants we rushed out of the plane as soon as it arrived at our connecting airport, glancing at the departures board.
Our flight had not left yet.
Remember that scene from Home Alone 2, when the McCallisters rush off through a busy O’Hare airport to get to their flight? (Where Kevin gets separated from the others, again.) That was us that day, running madly, blood pumping and gasping with exhaustion, yet slowing down was not something you could do, now that we had, perhaps, seconds to spare until we were truly and properly stranded at this airport for a whole day.
I have to admit that my physical fitness is not on the same level as some in my travel party and I was almost weeping with exhaustion as we were nearing the end of our long run, in a way it was good I got stuck in one of those new fancy-pants automatic passport scanning gates for some agonizingly long seconds as it allowed me to catch my breath enough for the final sprint to our gate.
It was hell and agony and possibly the worst experience in recent memory, but we made it. We actually made it onto the plane bound for Tokyo.
The only concern now was our luggage.
I had experienced arriving before my luggage once before, on an outbound trip and it was not entirely pleasant, even if I was taken by friends to get the essentials I needed for one night without my things. But in Tokyo…Where could I go to get the things I had in my suitcase? Could I find a clothing store to temporarily replace things like a new bra, maybe an outfit, since I knew it would be pretty hot in Japan and the idea of wearing the dress I traveled in for another day did not feel entirely appealing?
The long plane ride managed to distract me from too much worry, especially when we were given complex forms in vague English to fill out, similarly to old forms I used to have to complete to travel to the US. Except…a bit harder to understand.
When we finally landed at Narita airport, the slight worry about the luggage was only at the back of my mind, as I let the excitement of actually being in Japan take over. After very little trouble at border control, it was time to make a show of waiting for our bags for a bit. That was the level of confidence I had then for actually receiving any of our luggage.
Imagine my surprise then, when my suitcase was among the first batch of luggage that came rolling out on the belt! Then another suitcase belonging to us showed up, and another…and another. The relief made me feel almost euphoric, but wait…We get to the last bags and the ones belonging to my brothers had not showed up.
Our luck could only stretch so far it seemed and the reason for some of our bags not showing might have been explained by something discovered by the attendant at Narita airport…The check in girl at Stockholm had tagged all of our bags wrong. Was it possible then, that my brothers bags had been the mysterious luggage offloaded? Either way, I felt with my brothers. Oh, yes, I did.
All we could do was to make the most of it, determined to make the most of our first afternoon in Japan, this new and very different country. And I told myself that now, now I had truly experienced all the worst that airline travel can bring you.