Thursday, September 04, 2008

On our way to Seoul

This was the second time I have taken the Seoul route instead of my regular path via Shanghai. And based on my recent experience with the normal way of getting to Dalian, I was hoping to break my string of delays and cancellations. I did, with an on-time departure flashing in the face of the oh, too regular update on the departure board of “US857 to Shanghai – Delayed.”

This was my first time in Economy Plus in many, many trips and I had forgotten just what you give up by not flying in Business. Actually, while the difference in service levels is huge, the way you feel getting off a 12 hour flight is not so much better than it makes the expense of the better class worthwhile. I like it, but it’s not a life changer. The Business cabin offers one thing in addition to more room and better food, and that is serenity. The regular cabin is just so much more noisy and busy.

We had a 2 seat aisle all to ourselves which was nice, as it meant we had complete control of all the comings and goings. For me, this is a key element in an enjoyable travel experience; not being trapped behind other fliers and not having trapped travelers constantly asking to get out is simply very nice. The aisle seat across from me was open and we debated whether I should stake it our early, an act of territoriality that would guarantee our mutual ability to really stretch out underway. While wracked with indecision, the little Grandma sitting behind me beat me to the punch and moved in there, putting an end to any expansionist aims I might have entertained. But she paid the price of embarrassment when at the very last instant – while they were about to close the doors – the owner of the seat showed up and thus Grandma was told to return to her original seat. I’m glad I was spared that mortification.

The new passenger though was a mom traveling with the most contrary baby I have ever encountered. We knew we were in for trouble when the tyke shot the flight attendant helping to seat her a look that was so steeped in rancor that it really belonged on a 57 year old man. And then she started screaming, an activity that continued off and on for the entire 11 hours despite mom pouring Baby Benadryl down her throat. Perhaps an infant IV would have been more effective. This kid was interesting, she wasn’t screaming due to frustration or distress; she screamed in short little bursts that really had nothing to do with any discomfort or external stimuli. She screamed to hear herself scream. And she also growled, which I found very interesting.

We got up in the air and on our way and settled in for the haul. My Lovely Wife was vexed with an inoperable reading light and ear buds, paving the way for my next excoriating survey for my friends at United. We worked around that well enough, watched some movies, had some cat naps and were both violently awakened by the overpowering stench of bathroom cleaner. It was as though the blue stuff from the toilet tanks was flowing down the aisle and it was so bad that the only thing I could come up with was that United was now piping air freshener into the cabin to overcome the funk of the riders. It would come in waves and then dissipate, only to flow again in a few minutes. I held on to that theory until I asked an attendant and she denied it but agreed with me that someone in the vicinity was using some product. It’s possible I suppose that someone had one of those jars of stinky crystals found in bathrooms across Middle America, but to what end. I noticed that the people in the rows nearby pricked up their ears while I was asking the crew, and believe it or not, it did diminish after that.

We had our Ramen break about mid-flight, something I genuinely look forward to on these flights. My Lovely Wife was not so moved, stating that this was the first time she had eaten it since college, and during those intervening years had never felt moved to break that hiatus.

Arriving on time we finessed our way through checkpoints requiring boarding passes (which we did not have) and wandered around checking the goods in the fancy boutiques before settling in the fanciest Star Alliance lounge I have ever visited. And so we sit, waiting for the next hop over to the mainland and our next adventure, house hunting in China.

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