What I did yesterday to get to Asia is the traveler equivalent of a really intense yoga pose, one that strives to snap your kneecaps into several pieces.
I awkwardly hefted about 70lbs of luggage onto the SEPTA and handed over my ticket voucher, which the conductor looked at like I had handed him a candy wrapper and expected to pay with that. “Keep the change,” I said, and he informed me that I was not funny. But I digress. The woman at the Amtrak ticket counter looked at my train voucher the same way, but I think my dead, lifeless eyes convinced her to give it to me regardless. Why did I have dead, lifeless eyes at that point, you ask? Well, I finally deciphered the DotMatrix itinerary and, with a newfound appreciation for laser printers, discovered that while my first flight landed in Hong Kong around 7pm local time, my next flight didn’t leave for Nanjing until 10am the next day.
Ok, so no problem I told myself after a few deep breaths; I’ll just ask about accommodations when I get to Newark.
Except that the Amtrak train was late as usual, and the mini train to get from there to the airport was busted. (Luckily I finally figured out how to wield my luggage: put the 22 lb duffle bag on top of the 48 lb rolling bag, get a running start, and hope it makes the gap off the train to the platform. And not to forget my backpack on the train seat, naturally.)
So I got to my Newark check in at 2:20 pm; if you didn’t know, you’re typically supposed to be at the airport for an international flight, oh… three hours or so before it leaves. Give or take. The upstairs line was full, so I got ushered down to the ‘Elite Members’ baggage check–apparently they took pity on we ‘Plebian Members’ and let us use their gilded kiosks. The girl behind me was also going to Hong Kong and mentioned as such to a Continental employee whose job title I can only assume is King of the Line and Kiosks and Making You Feel Like An Idiot. He politely told her that she was entirely too late to make her Hong Kong flight, she should have been there hours ago, and even if she did get past security her bags would be lost and trampled by angry buffalo for good measure. (Well, not really; but you could tell by the tone of his voice he had a personal disdain for People who Run Late.)
This girl freaks, jumps ahead of me and everyone else to check bags and I at least guiltily ask the guys in front of me if I can cut before I follow suit. This girl manages to check in and sprint away just in front of me and I manage to do the same all while the kiosk lady is telling me to take a deep breath and get a beer on the flight. Must have been the vein in my forehead that tipped her off, I’m not sure.
I just made it through security in time and since I had gone–accidentally, albeit–through the Elite baggage check in, my ticket was printed out with their gold stamp so I was able to sneak into he Elite line and get on the plane super early and snuggle into seat B19. I literally, however, had no time to do anything but inform my Chinese hosts about my flight changes–let alone get on Google and look for a Hong Kong hotel or ask if Continental was going to flip the bill for this mess up. And then, as I was pointedly ignoring the women on either side of me, I hear the dreaded words:
“Hey, dude, I’ll call you when we land; someone’s in my seat.”
Well, I smirk to myself, how embarrassing. I’m glad I’ve never done that, being such an experienced traveler and all.
“Miss, what’s your ticket number? I have B19.”
I blink. This guy is actually talking to me. Like I took his seat or something. “Uh.” I fish out my ticket. “B19 too.”
“…crap. So should I sit on your lap or you on mine?”
“Whatever we do, I call the TV remote.”
Well, nothing much for me to do about this I suppose: “Uh, hey, listen; if there’s a problem, I honestly wouldn’t mind staying the night in Newark since–”
“No no no, we’ll get this sorted out.” The guy grabs my ticket and marches back up to the plane doors.
“If you get first class, I’ll hunt you down!” No lie, those were my exact words. I’m like Nostradamus, but with a slightly lower accuracy rating, I think.
A few minutes later, a woman in a suit comes back with my ticket and smiles at me, and I’m already reaching for my bag. It’s never good when someone in a suit has your ticket. “Miss Weldon?”
She lowers her voice: “I’m very sorry; we sold this flight out and overbooked.”
“Ah, gotcha.” I’ve already got one strap of my backpack on. Newark’s not so bad, for being in New Jersey I guess.
“So since you’re the passenger with the higher miles and reward status, I’d like to invite you up to business class. Free of charge, of course.”
And that, dear readers, is why joining any perks club–be it your grocery store swipey card thingy or an airplanes frequent flyer program–is going to pay off one day. Being the last person to check in for a flight doesn’t hurt either. Or maybe the amount of crap I dealt with that day finally overfilled the brim and it was time for something good to happen for a change.
My jaw drops. “Really?” Stuff like this never happens to me. I think the most fortuitous freak occurrence the last four years of my life was that I got a free drink at Starbucks in college once.
She nods, and the woman beside me actually gives me a congratulatory pat on the back like I’m some kind of folk hero. I’m lead past the iron curtain separating Business from Economy; the nobles from the serfs, the Beatles from the Monkies. For 15 hours, I was treated like a human being on a plane, and it was completely worth every little hiccup in my trip beforehand. Whether being treated like a human being is worth the usual $1500 price tag is another matter entirely.
Yes, I know; Descartes is rolling in his grave. He never had to pay for checked baggage, though.
They let me take any seat I want, so I select a window in an empty row to myself in the back. I regale one stewardess–did you know they introduce themselves and shake your hand in Business class!?–with my story and later get extra coconut shrimp for my hardships. For no reason at all other than that I am there, I am given a little gray travel case of the essentials–lip balm, toothbrush, ear plugs and, of course, socks. Yes. I was given a pair of socks.
There is a six course meal and my jaw has still not closed from the shock. When it does, I am smiling and serine and I think I’ve somehow achieved inner peace. Or at least staved off a transit meltdown of epic proportions.
1) Cocktails and warmed nuts.
“What do you want to drink, miss?”
“Ummm.” I feel incredibly underdressed for business class. “What do you have?”
“Well, in that case, I’ll get a water.”
I don’t order food well under pressure.
2) Fresh bread and appetizers such as my extra coconut shrimp
I select garlic bread, and my affection for the bourgeois grows with each bite.
“Would you like Champagne vinaigrette or bleu cheese?”
This is probably the test where they know if you’re really supposed to be in Business class. “Champagne vinaigrette,” I answer smugly, knowing that ‘bleu cheese’ will have the pilot eject me from my seat and down onto Greenland.
4) Main course; from the menu of selections with large words I can‘t pronounce, I choose the Chinese noodles with dumplings because I should probably get used to them sooner rather than later.
“Would you like wine?”
It must be a sign that I’m watching Sideways at this point. “Yes. Please.”
Through my headphones, John Malkovich is telling his character’s love interest about pinot noir. “Pinot noir, please.”
If you say so.
5) Cheese and fruit
I’m starting to actually feel full. I also need a wine refill. How did I ever fly without wine? I need to start bringing a flagon of wine with me on long flights.
A huge cart of vanilla ice cream with jars of fudge, cherries, peanuts and caramel wheels up to me. I take one look at the stewardess: “I’m going to die if I eat another bite.”
She laughs, and I make a mental note not to page her if I actually do start to croak. “More wine?”
Silly question. “Please.”
The lights go off a few minutes later, and I spend the majority of my time in Business class with my feet up on an ottoman, sipping pinot noir while watching a smathering of House, Family Guy and Blades of Glory. You can take the girl out of Economy, but you can’t take the Economy out of the girl. When I discover that my chair lies fully horizontal the perfect length of my body, I am ruined from sitting in Economy for the rest of my life. I hug my little gray travel case to my chest and, for the first time in ages, fall asleep on a plane, dead to the world.
Mine will be a mighty tumble back to reality when I get on the next flight in row 48G.
When we landed, the stewardess I’d made friends with pointed me out to the Hong Kong concierge and I told her about my canceled flight. Long story short, I kept all of my canceled flight receipts and proved that my Philly-Newark flight had ended abruptly, and I was put up in the airport hotel which makes the Taj Mahal look ‘somewhat dingy’.
Ignore my crappy luggage that the TSA rifled through a left a note in. I wondered my clothes weren’t in alphabetical order any more…!
A man plays piano in that UFO. That is a completely serious sentence.
I got a complimentary buffet ticket; ignore the raw fish and look at the soup. That is sweet red bean soup, and it tastes like you are drinking nectar. I had about six bowls of it. Probably explains the stomach ache I got later, but gluttony is a harsh mistress.
Hong Kong, to the delightful surprise of many, is not a city in China. It’s a separate country with it’s own currency and flag and everything. Happily, if you intend to visit Hong Kong for less than 90 days–or if your airline says ‘Surprise! You’re going to Hong Kong!’–you do not need a visitors visa to get in the country. Also, the taxis come in three colors–red, green and blue. The red ones go everywhere and the other two are confined to different zones of Hong Kong.
There are a lot of British influences here since England leased Hong Kong from China much in the same way your bum roommate leases a part of your apartment but never pays for the electricity.
For instance, there are a few signs for afternoon tea time and this is the first Asian hotel I’ve been in where they give sugar for tea. Also, the plugs aren’t compatible with the Chinese type–Hong Kong and Britain have the same type of plugs.
From my room I can’t see the actual city, but when we landed I got a beautiful glimpse of Macau, which was part of Portugal’s stomping grounds long ago. It looked neon and lit up like Las Vegas; I wouldn’t mind going there sometime.
Anyway. I’m just waiting for my flight to Nanjing, dreading my tumble back into Economy class. How spoiled I’ve been…
EDIT: Just got bumped up to bumped up to business class again on my flight to Nanjing. Very, very bizarre.