A Very Long Travel Day --
Thursday 9 January was our long travel day home from our 80 day visit back in Thailand. It was a very long day after a really fun farewell dinner with our best friends in Bangkok on Wednesday night. We had a comfortable sleep of 7 hrs at our Bangkok hotel. Then we spent 3 hrs waking up & getting ready for our ride to the airport. The taxi arrived, loaded up our four large suitcases and one carry on back pack and we were on our way, leaving at about 10:15 am for our 2:40 pm first flight. Seems like plenty of time, right?
Well last time, because of a very long customs line, we ended up running quite a long way to our gate, arriving just in time, breathing hard & sweaty. We didn’t want to repeat that nightmare. So we arrived at the airport super early.
Turns out we had to wait on the outer edge of the main lobby until 11:40 am before we could even get in line to check in with our airline with all our bags! So by around noon we were finally on our way up the stairs to security, but we had already been waiting at the airport for about 1.5 hrs. At security I hate to have to remove my boots and lace them up again on the other end. But it was soon done and we were on our way to customs, our slow point last time.
In the customs area, there is one side for the Thai people, who only have to flash their national ID card & their passport and they’re on through, very fast. It’s a very slow gauntlet for us foreigners on the other side.
I walked into the room and saw the room was jammed with people, certainly on the order of 100, with a line that snaked back & forth across the large room to eventually reach one of five to seven different customs officers who would check our papers and fingerprints. Just like last time! I could see this easily taking 1-2 hrs. Maybe we would have another mad dash to the airplane? I barely fit into the back of the room, my spirits sinking.
Suddenly after only about five minutes, one of the workers pointed at me and said, “Follow her,” pointing at a woman in uniform who was heading toward a side door. Alarm bells were going off in my mind. Being singled out at customs didn’t seem like such a good thing. She opened the door and pointed for me to go through it. Yikes!
I walked through the door and suddenly found I was now the 8th person in one of two Fast Track lines! The other of these two lines had over 20 people in it and was labeled for first class passengers. The short line I was in was not labeled, other than to say Fast Track. Was this the deus ex machina line? My guess was that I had been selected for this line because of my age. Nearly all the people in the jam packed room looked younger than me!
Age is noticed in Thailand in a good way. It is expected that younger people will address older people with respect by adding the syllable “Pi” to the front of their name. Maybe I had stuck out as the oldest guy in the room, just like on micro.blog! Except in this case, it had been to my advantage. In perhaps 20 mins I had been inspected and was on my way, soon meeting up again with my wife, who had been waiting up ahead for me.
So off we went for a very long hike to our gate, D7 in the D1-D10 range, but this time we arrived much earlier than most! The seating area was down a level, but the metal gate to the stairs down to that seating was locked with no hint of when it would open. We had to wait in mystery for about 1.5 hrs, then someone came to unlock the gate and we got to go downstairs to wait to go aboard the plane. We were in the cheap seats, so we were in the 4th group of people to go aboard. In the end we were seated and ready for take-off with only about ten minutes to spare. Imagine that, we arrived at the airport 4.5 hrs before our flight, but still had only about ten minutes in our seats to spare before the flight began!
The flight to Taiwan was just about 3 hrs. We landed on time, but we were in the back of the plane and our next flight was scheduled to leave in 50 mins. We had to get out of the plane, hike a block or so, go down a flight, through another x-ray machine security routine, back up a flight of stairs, hike a bit more and then down another flight to our gate where we waited to board. This all took a lot more than 50 mins. We were still boarding the plane about half an hour after the scheduled departure time. I think this airline purposely schedules these flights to leave earlier than is possible because they know they can make up the time on the long flight to the US.
The long flight to Chicago took about 13 hrs. We were scheduled to arrive at 7:45 pm, but the pilot changed that to 7:15 pm when we took off and actually landed at 7:24 pm. The flight goes north from Taiwan to the east of Japan and Sakhalin Island, then east across the Aleutians and into Canada north of Vancouver, then east across the Canadian Rockies and into Chicago.
Most of this flight was with the seat belt sign on, a bumpy flight much of the way. At one point it got extra bumpy just as meal service had begun, so the stewardesses had to go sit down and we had to wait for our meal. They insisted that the window shades be left down for the entire flight. For a 13 hr flight, this seemed a little odd to me. We’re not supposed to look out the windows on such a long flight?
A 13 hour plane flight is too long. My wife didn’t sleep very well & we had to get up from our seats several times to let the guy in the window seat out to use the bathroom. But somehow we made it to Chicago, but with one surprise at the end. It was warm for January, in the low 50’s but with some wind from the west. Maybe a cross wind affected our landing. As we came in to land, it seemed to me that we were coming in a little fast. We bumped onto the runway, went forward and then suddenly seemed to veer a bit to the right down the runway, then a correcting veer back to the left. Then as the speed dropped we remained straight the rest of the way. My wife was feeling dizzy and sick the last 5-7 mins of the landing. The big guy in the window seat commented, “Well that didn’t seem right, I was afraid it was gonna tip over.” Fortunately it did not and we made it safely to the terminal. After we walked up the ramp from the plane and down some stairs in the terminal about an eight year old girl suddenly threw up about five feet ahead of us. I don’t think she had enjoyed the landing much either! I’m sure that was very embarrassing for her and we felt bad for her.
Getting out through customs and gathering our bags in Chicago took at least one hour and we then made a quick connection with the airport van service that came to pick us up and drive us home, about a 3.5 hrs drive. We pulled up to our house about ten minutes before midnight on Thursday, 9 January 2020.
From what I can put together, it looks like there were on the order of 37 to 38 hours of events in our Thursday, 9 January 2020. Sometimes a day can feel like a really long day, but in this case, I believe it really was a super long day!!