11 January 2009

The Long Journey Home

Thirty hours is a long time to travel, and I was not looking forward to the return trip to Singapore. I was happy to be heading back after a fantastic three weeks in the US, but even when I held on to the prospect of getting the upgrade (I didn’t), I was still less than excited for the trip. I am a big believer in the journey, as much as the destination, but I have done this trip enough to know it is something you just grit your teeth and get through.

So, I didn’t think much when my day started (a bit late) at 5.00 am in Dallas (7.00 pm in Singapore) on Saturday, January 3. The flight to Chicago is on United Express, with tiny seats only made worse by my neighbor’s inability to fit completely in her seat. But, the flight was over in less than two hours, and even the 25 degree weather I endured while walking across the outside bridge to the jetway (it was in the 50s in Dallas and the 80s in Singapore, so I had already packed my coat) was tolerable.

But, that’s when the trouble started. I wasn’t far enough up on the upgrade list and was relegated to the back of the plane (well, to Economy Plus, which does offer more legroom). Before we could taxi away from the gate, however, a passenger suffered an apparent heart event, as the flight attendant quickly grabbed the AED and ran to the back. Soon, Chicago paramedics were on board. Thankfully, the man retained consciousness and was able to communicate to his attendants as he was removed from the airplane. We were delayed from departing for more than an hour, but it was nice to know he was apparently okay and in good hands.

The flight from Chicago to Hong Kong goes almost directly over the North Pole and then down over Siberia, Mongolia, and China. It is discouraging when you look at the inflight map and see that you are already over Siberia but still have more than six hours to go! We finally touched down around 6.30 pm Hong Kong time (same as Singapore), so I had been up for nearly a day and traveling for about 22 hours. Little did I know that I was only halfway home.

The Singapore flight was delayed more than two hours, rescheduled for a 10.30 departure. So, I relaxed for several hours in the lounge, falling in and out of sleep (I have a hard time sleeping on planes). Finally, time to board. About 50 of us got on the plane before we were asked to disembark, as an engine test was required before we could take off. This apparently had occurred in San Francisco, the plane’s origination point. We all got off, and they ran the test, which took about ten minutes. Then everyone got on the plane, and we headed out. After a stop-and-go taxi of an hour, the captain came on the loudspeaker and told us we had to return to the gate, as the problem had not been solved. So, back to the gate! It took a while, as we had taxi’d to the apparent farthest point on the tarmac from our gate. Once we got back, the captain said that we would need to stay on the plane while the maintenance team identified the problem and fixed it. This would allow us to more quickly depart once the repairs were completed. But, after another couple of hours, the ground crew determined that the problem was more substantial than previously thought, and the flight was canceled. That meant everybody off, through Immigration, to baggage claim, through Customs and to the airport hotel. This at nearly 4.00 am! I will admit that the process was pretty efficient, once we walked the 15 minutes to Immigration (the shuttle train had not started running for the day). I was in my hotel room by 5.30 and asleep by 6.00 am. After six hours of rest, I was back to the departure gates, where United put me on a Cathay Pacific flight back to Singapore, departing at 2.20 pm. I would get back to Singapore about 6.00 pm and to my house at 7.00, 48 hours after I woke up in Dallas.

I was not looking forward to 30 hours of travel, as my original itinerary called for. Forty-eight was nearly a killer. It was nice to get horizontal for six hours, but I would rather avoid this type of experience again.

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