I woke up this morning, expecting a relatively easy, but long travel day.  Heading to a destination I’ve visited before, from home should be a pretty easy thing for a well-travelled guy like me.  In the end, I must say it wasn’t that hard.  But I did have a couple of really interesting events that I’d like to share with you.

The airport shuttle picked me up at the scheduled time.  Meaning of course, that the guy was there early.  In my book “If you’re not early, you’re LATE.”  I walked out my front door and there he was, with van that I had requested.  A normal car might not have fit all the gear I’m bringing with me on this trip.  Could be long one.  No return date set.  I suspect several months or maybe even half a year.  Think of everything YOU’D take for a trip that long!

While I struggle through the door, the guy just awkwardly stands there and watches.  I’d expect a little help, if even just to hold the door open.  I then load the first bag by myself into the back of the van.  The driver finally clues in that he should help and grabs the second bag.  Ok, maybe he’s not so bad.  Walking back to the door really slowly to see what he does, I hear a car door open.  He’s gotten in, leaving me to get the third bag.  Not working hard at getting a tip, are you fella?  I load the bag and open the door for myself.  Had he really been trying, he’d have done that too.  Oh well, in Eastern Europe service standards are pretty low.  Not much more can be expected.  But it sure is nice when it happens!

The ride to the airport is pretty uneventful.  I wouldn’t say he was a slow driver, but he wasn’t the ‘normal’ speed maniac that I seem to get from some of the shuttle companies.  His English is pretty bad, but he understands enough.  I can tell he’s really nervous.  Deciding not to push him into a conversation, I sit back to enjoy the ride.  Most of the time is forcing myself not to sleep.  Halfway into the drive I glance at my watch.  It’s barely 8 o’clock.  I’ve been on the move for 2 hours already.  I hate mornings.

Using the Business class check-in lane, because the airport doesn’t have the First class check-in that my Lufthansa Senator’s status allows me, I’m told that I need to put one of my bags into ‘oversized baggage’ at the end of the terminal (not very far aware, luckily!).  The bag contains a bicycle that doesn’t fold for travelling.  It’s pretty huge, but light enough to sling over my shoulder.  After paying a small fee and getting my boarding passes, I head off the VIP lounge.

Right on time we’re boarding the small regional jet that will take us to the airline’s main hub in Frankfurt.  We line up on the runway and I hear the engines go from a gentle idle to a huge ROAR as we begin to speed down the runway.  The nose lifts up and then comes crashing back down with a jolt.  The engine power is cut and I’m being pressed against my seatbelt under heavy braking.

I look out my window and see a few birds at eye level pass by, close to the nose of the aircraft.  Ok, I get it.  We either hit a bird or the pilots aborted to avoid them.

As frightened passengers are looking at each other for answers to what has happened, I tell those near me not to worry as I know what’s going on.  Or do I?

The aircraft is turning now, as we hit the taxiway on our way back to the passenger terminal.  The intercom comes alive and one of the flight attendants is screaming at us in German, then in English “Please remain in your seats with seatbelts fastened.  In a few moments the flight crew will explain what is happening.  Until then, please remain calm.”  30 seconds later we’re coming to stop at the terminal and lots of service vehicles are approaching the aircraft, including a fire truck with lights flashing.  They’re close enough that I can see the confused look in their eyes.  I can see them saying to themselves:  “Why are you back here?”

The pilot makes an announcement telling us that yes indeed, the aborted takeoff was to avoid a flock of birds that crossed the runway at low altitude just ahead of us.  He didn’t explain why it was so dangerous, but if you remember the water landing on the Hudson River a few years ago, that was due to engine failure after striking birds.  (You can read the Wiki article about it HERE.)  The pilot calmly explains that the aircraft must be fully inspected to be SURE that nothing came into contact with the plane.  Then about 30 minutes later he further explained that even though no damage was found, they needed to wait until the plane’s braking system had properly cooled before we could take off again.  All told, we were delayed over an hour.

No further drama here, a normal flight the second time around.  As we approached Frankfurt, they announced that they’d been in contact with the ground staff and informed us of a few gates changes, but also that no flights needed to be rebooked so long as we went directly to our departure gate.  As I exited the aircraft at the most remote parking area I’ve ever seen at Frankfurt, I remember thinking that I’d probably miss my connecting flight.  As I boarded the bus to the main terminal, I glanced at the time.  My second flight had already been boarding for about 10 minutes.  Damn!  I still had to go through Passport Control and possibly another security check before heading to my gate.  With less than half an hour, the odds of me making it were getting lower and lower.

I positioned myself right near the rear door of the bus, opting to stand so I’d be that much closer to where I needed to go when the bus stopped.  We arrive at the terminal and everybody piles out.  But the glass doors to the terminal don’t open.  We’re all trapped for a few minutes between the bus and the building.  The doors open and we all rush in.  I’m at the front of the pack by the time we get to the large monitors where everybody stops and gawks at the information they should already know:  Where to go!  As I walk up the escalator to save even more time, several people sprint by.  I don’t don’t see anyone else from my flight.  They’re far behind.

Approaching the gate, there’s no destination or flight number on the board.  I stand there for several seconds wondering if I had heard wrong or if it had changed again.  I approach the nearest employee behind the desk and ask where the gate to Osaka is.  She says “HERE!  Quickly….boarding pass!!”  I now see that the gate is actually open, but they’re resetting for the next flight.  I board the plane, find my seat, sit down and hear the announcement  “Boarding completed.”  If there was anybody else from my first flight coming, they’ve missed it!

This flight’s aboard an older 747, the -400 model.  I’ve specially picked my seat because of the configuration by the emergency exit door.  There’s 2 seats right by the door.  In the next row, there are 3 seats.  I’ve picked the window seat in this second row, because of the extra legroom in front of you.  Although I’m quite far back, I’m facing the crewmember in the rearward facing ‘jumpseat’ because of the missing seat in the front row.  It’s quite a good seat because you’re not on an aisle, so you don’t have constant traffic brushing up against you and you still have the option of getting up any time you feel like it.  In my opinion, it’s nearly perfect.  (Numbers 33A and 33K, FYI.)

Just before takeoff the head purser of the flight comes over and introduces herself.  Something they always seem to do for their Gold Status members.  It doesn’t cost anything and it really does make you feel like you’re appreciated.  Nice touch Lufthansa (although not as nice as the handwritten birthday card I got from one of your VP’s this year.  That ROCKED!  Seriously, do I make them THAT much money?)  The same purser just happens to be working in my area of the plane.  She sits down in crew seat nearest me for takeoff.

The rest turned out to be a fairly dull flight, but I revel in it after all the excitement of the morning.  A few hours sleep, but for the most part I just watched movies.

As we prepare for landing, the same crewmember again sits facing me and straps herself in.  She gives me a knowing glance, which seems to say “I’m bored, but I know you’ve done this a million times too.”  I lean forward and say “I’ve always wanted to try that.”

“Try what?”

“Sitting backwards during a landing, in the jumpseat.”

“Come here!”

“Really?”  I ask.  “I didn’t think it would be allowed!”

“There’s and extra seat and you’ll be out of the way if I need to open the door.”

I could not contain my excitement.  I’m sure my smile was ear to ear as I hop out of my seat and plunk myself down into the folding seat.  She then gave me a quick but thorough briefing on where my life vest was, how to adjust the straps and where the oxygen mask would be should I need it.  I’m a bit overwhelmed, but I follow allow as best I can, asking her to repeat a few bits that I’m unsure about.

I can hear the flaps moving and she explains that the position we’re in is directly over the main landing gear.  On cue, we feel a few large ‘thumps’ as the doors open and the gear come down.

The seat has shoulder straps that the normal ones don’t have.  I’ve over-tightened them and literally cannot move.  I look out the door’s small window.  I can’t see anything other than wing.  There’s no reference to the ground.  Just as I’m thinking that I cannot predict when exactly we’re going to touch down, I feel the aircraft noise coming up.  The ‘flare’ that they do to ensure the rear wheels touch first.  I know we’re VERY close now.

My compliments to the pilot.  I can’t say it was a perfect ’10’, but was a solid ‘9’ for sure!  (to his credit, out of several hundred flights I can only recall one that I’d say was perfect.)  Very smooth.  Nice work!

After saying thanking the crewmember a few million times, I grabbed my gear and headed off the aircraft.  On the jetway, there were a few ANA staff (All Nippon Airways) with a list of names.  Usually if there are connecting flight issues, they’ll wait there with information.  There was a large sign with a list of passenger names that they wanted to talk to.  And there, was my name.  Uh-Oh.  I don’t have a connecting flight, so it must be something else.

Great.  Just great.  I’m informed that none of my luggage has made it onto the plane.  It’s all still sitting in Frankfurt.  There is only 1 flight per day, so I’ve got to wait a full 24hours to get my stuff.  Serves me right for not taking a change of clothes with me (I’ve been burned in the past, so I made a rule to always do this.  I broke the rule.  Damn.)  I’m instructed to file a form at the lost baggage area after immigration.  A young girl make sure that I have a comfortable seat and the squats next to me to take down my information.  I think it’s a little weird, but whatever.  I then see that the other employees here are doing the same.  Sitting the guests down and squatting lower than them to take the information.  Odd, but this IS Japan.  Odd is normal here.

After a few minutes of note-taking with me pointing out what style of bag it is, with colour and style charts, the girl tells me that I should go and look on the luggage belt because 2 of my bags DID make the flight.  I nearly sprint to the carousel.  Right away I spot both of the bags, with their orange “Priority” tags.  I pull them off the belt and then finish up with the paperwork.

An hour later I’m at ANA Crowne Plaza hotel.  My bad luck continues and I’m told at 08:00 that my room will not be ready until 15:00, which is the official check-in time.

All in all, a VERY interesting day.  It could have been worse!!



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