I thought I really was lucky when it came to my return flights from Malaysia to the US. Two days earlier and I would probably still be in Malaysia. Hurricane Irene had caused all the flights into Newark and Boston to be cancelled over the weekend, but I wasn't leaving until Tuesday. The airports were open, and Hurricane Irene had become tropical storm Irene, missing a direct hit on New York and Boston AND New Hampshire. I really was lucky.
I've become an expect at the extremely long flights from Asia to the US. I know how to manage things to minimize discomfort and sleep at least a bit of the time. I've had to fly economy more times that not, but Malaysia is really far, farther than Hong Kong, so I was very happy to be flying business. There's no such thing as a direct flight from the US to Kuala Lumpur, so that means you have to change planes somewhere along the way, and it usually involves a long layover waiting for your next flight. On the way to Malaysia that meant a 6 hour layover in Frankfort. On the way back, it meant a 9 hour layover at the Tokyo airport, Narita.
Strangely enough, I was able to kill several hours by walking every inch of terminal 1 in Narita, twice. I looked at all the passengers. I browsed throughout the duty free shops, the snack stores with scary candy and fish-flavored chips, the multitude of gates with far-flung destinations. I took a shower, ate snacks in the business lounge, read and played games on my IPad. Eventually 9 hours passed and it was time to get on my next flight.
This was a 12 hour Continental airlines flight from Narita to Newark, then another 2 hour layover and finally home to Boston. The flight from Narita to Newark proceeded without incident. Decent business class food, lie-flat seats. I can't say I slept soundly, but I did sleep some. I never sleep that well on airplanes, no matter what.
We landed in Newark at 4:30 in the afternoon. My body thought it was 4:30 in the morning, but never mind. Immigration, the officer marveled at my fat little passport. That was odd. I mean, it's not like she's never met a frequent traveler before! What would she say to Lee's gargantuan passport, or Sherry Ott's? She'd probably pass away in a dead faint. The customs officer asked me if I was traveling alone. "Just you and Louie, huh?" "Who?" I asked, puzzled. He pointed to my purse, a (good) fake Louie Vuitton. "Oh. haha." I was so tired I didn't really have the energy to get nervous (besides it was 3 years old). I suppose because I hardly reacted he just waved me through.
I went to the business lounge, got some water, brushed my teeth. My flight to Boston was supposed to leave at 6:45pm, so I had lots of time. I checked my email, called my mom. As I was talking to her I noticed the time. Five after 6. Oh hey, I better get going! As I was leaving the lounge I realized that the gate had changed and I had a longer walk than I had originally expected. Oh well, just walk a little faster. I've got a first class seat, no problem, right?
I got to the gate around 20 minutes before the flight was supposed to leave. They appeared to be still boarding so I rushed to the bathroom. Then I proceeded to the gate. The flight attendant took my boarding pass and waved it under the infrared light, but instead of the usual beep it buzzed. "go see the attendant at the gate desk please" she murmured tiredly. Hmmm, what could be wrong?
I soon found out. Finally I came face-to-face with the fallout from Irene. Even though the airports had been open since Monday, airlines were still struggling to have the right planes in the right places. They were using a smaller plane for this flight, which meant there were fewer seats than passengers. My first class seat was gone, and there weren't any seats left in coach either. Yikes. They were asking for volunteers to be bumped from the flight, and somehow this caused a comedy of confusion and distress for several of us forlorn passengers without seats. First a young man that had been ahead of me in line was ushered onto the flight. The man that had offered up his seat was talking agitatedly to the flight attendant. "Wait, if you can't guarantee me a seat on the next flight I can't do this. I have to be home tonight." The young man that had taken his seat was ushered back off the plane. They asked for volunteers again. Once more someone gave up his seat. The flight attendants consulted, and this time I was let on to the airplane and the poor young man was left standing disconsolately at the gate. I got the last seat on that airplane.
Do I feel a bit guilty? Well yes and no. I definitely was a bit late getting to the gate, but there was no reason for me to think that I would somehow lose my first class seat. I felt badly for the young man, but then again, we had paid plenty of money for those business class tickets, so it really was more fair to give that final seat to me.
Well now it's Saturday morning and I'm home, safe and sound in New Hampshire. That long, long journey is over, and my jet lag is starting to recede. It's been a great adventure, living in Malaysia for a month, but I'm glad to be home with Harper. It's late summer, there are still tomatoes in the garden, and the morning temps are dropping into the 50's.
So, was I lucky, or just careless and a little stupid, or maybe a bit of both? Lee's grandmother used to say " you make your own luck." I would mull over this bit of wisdom sometimes. I tend to agree with Granny to a certain extent, but not completely. The people whose houses and cars were washed away in the floods from Irene certainly didn't do anything that caused Irene to swerve farther west, leaving the coastline and New Hampshire safe. But did I cut it a little too close in heading for that gate? Oh yes, I know I did. I can blame exhaustion if I want, and a business class lounge that never made any announcements regarding my flight, but I know the rules. Lucky or not, I was very fortunate to get on that flight. I may or may not be lucky, but I am certainly grateful!