Saturday, September 20, 2008

Things were fine until I started to go home.

Yokohama is two hours by bus from the Tokyo Narita Airport. From my hotel it was a 20 minute cab ride to YCATS, which is the Yokohama City Air Terminal Station. It runs buses every half hour or so to Narita.

My flight back to Los Angeles on Japan Airlines was leaving at 5:30 pm. So with back timing persicion I left the hotel about 12:00. That would give me time to get checked out, catch a cab to YCATS, spend two hours on the bus, spend the two hours you need to get through Japan immigration and get on the plane.

The cab is easy, the next bus is loading when I got to YCATS so there is no waiting at the City Terminal. It actually took a little less than two hours to get to Narita so I had more than enough time to cruise duty free.

Almost as soon as I arrive they announce a delayed take off by 40 minutes claiming a late arrival of the plane. That eventually turned into an hour and a half delay. Plenty more time to cruise duty free.

At 7:00 they change the gate and we take a bus to the plane. About a hundred yards from the plane the bus stops. They make an announcement in Japanese. The guy next to me takes pity and tells me that we are waiting for another bus before we can drive the rest of the way to the plane. Almost a half hour goes by with nothing happening, we can see the plane, and could walk easily. Finally another bus shows up and parks next to us. Another announcement in Japanese and people start getting off our bus to get on the other one.

I start to get up but my translator says, "That is just a bus for the people who are standing on this bus." They brought another bus to accommodate the people who didn't have a seat. We wait for all the standing people to find a seat on the other bus, wait for another ten minutes and drive to the plane.

I start to settle in immediately. I've got my drawing pad, my books, my Ipod and my ear plugs. I am ready to accept the long flight. But minutes turn into hours and we have not started to taxi yet.

There is an announcement in Japanese. As luck would have it my faithful translator is sitting in the row behind me. There is an electrical problem with the plane, they are going to fix it and we will take off.

Another hour goes by. There is another announcement. The problem is not fixed and it may be necessary to deplane so they can turn off all the electricity for a test. We are not at a gate, so they will find a gate for us to drive up to. Forty minutes go by.

We get to the gate and sit for a very long time. Nothing seems to be going on. I have been in situations like this before. I look at the time and add that to the long flight schedule. If we delay much longer, the crew can not take off. What most people don't realize is, if a plane is delayed so long that the crew will be in overtime before they land, they won't take off. I knew we were getting close to a cancellation.

An hour later my friend the translator tells me that the announcement just made says the flight is cancelled. If I had taken off when I left for the airport today, I would be landing in Los Angeles. That thought is not helpful.

I have been on cancelled flights before many times. In the States, I would get on my cell phone, call the airlines and start booking options. But my cell phone doesn't work here in Japan, and I am wondering how I will communicate with the ticket agents. I am feeling very blue at this moment.

As the events unfold I realize quite clearly that I am not in the United States. When we finally are allowed to exit the plane, there are literally hundreds of Japan Airlines Employees. Some are there just to say, "So Sorry for your inconvenience," as they bow deeply. Everything seems to have been taken care of. Arrangements for every person on the flight had been made before we even got off.

Each passenger is handed a printed page in both English and Japanese. It has the hotel we will be staying, the number of the bus that will take us there, the new flight, time, gate and seat of the flight we will be taking tomorrow. Since we had already cleared immigration we had to go back through customs, get our bags and head for the bus. All we need to do is show the stub to our boarding pass and it pays for everything. There were JAL employees every 50 yards to assist in anyway they could. Most spoke fluent English.

It was a very nice hotel where we were treated to dinner, breakfast the next morning, shuttle bus service back to the Airport and get this... a free phone call to anywhere in Japan or the United States. After a long, long day it was great to actually get some rest.

The plane took off without a problem at 1:30 pm the next day. Every JAL employee I met during the recheck in process expressed a personal apology. The pilot came on the intercom and apologized, each flight attendant apologized and the Purser came to everyone individually and with a very reverent bow to each person apologized again, "I am so sorry for your inconvenience." No one ever said, "WE" they said "I" am sorry." They had taken the burden on themselves personally. I have never had an easier flight cancellation, been treated better nor apologized to more than this experience. It was absolutely stress free. I couldn't believe it.

There were three or four people who decided to yell and complain loudly from the moment the plane was cancelled. They complained to the Ticket agents, they complained at immigration, they complained at the hotel. They complained to the bus driver. All of them were Americans. I was embarrassed and wanted to apologize to my hosts for there actions. I could not figure out what they were complaining about. JAL would not fly a plane until they knew it was safe, and everything else we needed to be comfortable was taken care of, before we even got off the plane.

I travel more than most, so I have been in every situation you can find yourself in at an airport. There are times to complain, there are times to be unhappy and there are times when throwing a fit is the only way to get an airline to listen. This was not one of those times. This was easy, generous, gracious and stress free. My suggestion to a few of my traveling companions is... lighten up. When people are helping you as fast as they can, shut up and enjoy. Save that drama for an American Airline Company when they don't take the responsibility personally. Save it for when they cancel your flight and say, "Good luck finding another way home."

I got home, a day late, but with the time change it was seven hours earlier the same morning that we took off. I just wish all my American travels could be so smooth.

As you were,

Monday - "Broadway Chairs ------"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

glad to have your stories back for my morning coffee.

ESPECIALLY love the 'coming soon' teaser...nothing like a good serial with my cereal.