Friday, December 04, 2009

Sometimes the one you expect to get you, doesn't get you.

I’m think I may have found an even more gut wrenching set of words than the traditional, “We need to talk” that haunts our collective memories. My latest candidate is, “Good morning sir, I am sorry to tell you that your 13:40 flight will now be departing at 17:00. Please read this memo for details.” Couple that with the fact that it’s 9:25 and you’re not traveling alone and I think you’ll agree – my phrase is just as bad if not worse.

All week long I was worried that I was going to have a hard time getting out of Dalian. Our pea soup fog didn’t seem to want to go away and from what I’d heard my first stop, Beijing, was even worse. I had friends who left on Wednesday morning who had to do a diving catch at the airport and divert to Seoul because the Beijing route was closed. So when the temperature dropped 20 degrees and the wind picked up on Wednesday night, I crossed my fingers and hoped that it was a good sign. And it was; Thursday came in and went out with the same weather and when I left my apartment at 6:10 this morning I could even see Jupiter twinkling between the high-rises. I was on my way home - the setting full moon gave me a point to reflect on as we drove to the airport.

There was nothing exceptional about the process in the Dalian airport except for getting shoved out of line by a particularly aggressive grandmother. The sign above our departing gate continued to show the wrong flight right up to the moment they opened the doors – I heard the security guard tell an untrusting passenger that the sign was broken. We rode the bus out to the plane and I found space for all of my stuff – everything was falling into place. I had a nice chat with a fellow from Mexico who was heading home on Air China. I expressed my profound empathy.

We arrived on time in Beijing at the closest gate to international check-in I’d ever had. No long hike, just a shortcut through baggage claim and up the escalator where the bleak news awaited me. “The information is here on this printed sheet sir.” Lots of mumbo jumbo about how sorry they were and how they were treating us to a free lunch and how we’d be entitled to a voucher, the use of which is always suspect. The gate agent tried to offer me an alternative – Beijing to Narita, Japan to Washington, DC to Albuquerque. I declined, figuring I’d rather just go to San Francisco and find my way home from there knowing full well that I could always catch a cab to Oakland and grab a trip home on Southwest. Zigzagging across the polar ice cap seemed to me to be quite a bit of extra work so I took my boarding passes and headed to the lounge where I seem to be spending an inordinate amount of my life these days.

On a whim I took a look at the United web site and discovered that I could almost certainly make a connection to Denver followed by one to Albuquerque a far better option than the around the world jaunt the other agent had tried to give me. I guess the Chinese don’t have a good sense of North American geography. I called the reservations desk and put my name on the back-up list. At least I had somewhat of a solution that didn’t involve Bay Area cabs rides and stops in Las Vegas. I also asked if they would be kind enough to hold the Albuquerque plane if I was close and she simply laughed at me.

So now my life is reduced to Vitamin C-squared – Cokes and candy bars – while I sit here watching the time pass by. Hopefully the plane will be at the gate and ready to go when I head down there. If not, my next short tale will almost certainly be from a hotel in Beijing. Lemonades from lemons, as we seem to say a bit too frequently.

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