A tale of
two, three, four five cities
By Ian Darwin
I recently spent a week working in Singapore, and the week went pretty well. I did get around a bit on the MRT and I did eat local food most of the week. I went to the Jurong Lookout Tower but it wasn't as spectacular as I hoped My one real regret is that I didn't get out to the urban rainforest, but they close the park at 6 and it required a long MRT and two bus segments, so there's no way I'd have gotten there in time. And the Monday before, after setup, I was too jet-lagged to make the trek.
Then there was the return trip.
Nominally about 24 hours, it actually took about 48 hours. I left the hotel at about 6 AM to get to Changi about 0630 for an 0830 departure on the first leg I was booked on, ANA from Changi to Tokyo Narita. It actually left about 20 minutes late. Then, at Narita, there was congestion, so we circled for about 15-20 minutes before landing. Then, by the time we get to the gate and deplane, there are about 9 minutes to clear customs and security and make it to the gate for AC 002 Narita-Vancouver-Toronto. Needless to say the ANA people will not let us make a run for it, as they don't want the hassle of shipping our bags on separately. So they pull us nine Toronto travellers aside upon deplaning. After considerable waiting around, they announce that they will rebook us on later flights, and pay for hotel overnight but not meals. One of our number is a regular business-class traveler from Toronto who has like 600,000 Aeroplan miles in his account. He goes and argues with them, and they agree to fund dinner and breakfast. Then I request that they pay for phone calls home, which they eventually agree to, to a max of 1,000Yen (about US$10) - not much, but enough for a couple of short calls (my one-minute call was billed about 240Yen). Then, after yet more waiting, they announce that some of us will be booked on AC002 on Sunday, and the rest of us (3 or 4, including me) will be booked on JAL to Chicago and United to Toronto, leaving at noon Sunday. Now I don't relish going via Chicago, but they say that the AC flight is full. Eventually they give us paper flight-ticket vouchers (hand-written on a form) and meal vouchers, and put us on a bus to the "Narita View Hotel". The hotel is adequate, the meals are edible although dinner is a bit skimpy; breakfast is an open buffet.
Sunday morning, three or four of us head to the airport early and get there at 10, to check in for the noon flight. Actually, I go to JAL Ticket Office and request that I get rebooked on the AC flight, so I only have to deal with customs & immigration once. After an hour(!), they admit that there are seats on the AC flight, and have got me one. So I must wait at this ticket office until an ANA rep shows up (ANA and JAL are in different terminal buildings at Narita). Meanwhile, another of our number has gone through JAL's check-in line and is apparently told that there's been a mistake, she should be on AC 002!! So the two of us are reunited when she appears in tow behind - guess who - the ANA rep that was coming over for me. He then goes to move our luggage over, and we head back to the Terminal 1 to find the ANA ticket office. We meet the ANA rep there, and exchange our paper ticket vouchers for real old-style paper tickets (computer generated). Mine has a hand-written sticker changing the date from Saturday to Sunday, but the other person's does not, so she returns it and they put the sticker on it. We still don't have seats assigned. Meanwhile, the third person in our category gets put on the Chicago flight.
Check-in opens at 2:30, so I show up at 2. Needless to say, with all the changes, the self-service check-in machine says it can't handle me, so I go stand in line (it does work for some of the folks who were originally re-booked onto Sunday's AC002). By the time I get to an agent, there is one aisle seat left (also an emergency row), so I take it.
The flight ultimately takes off with two empty seats - our third could have been put on board, but he's already well on his way to Chicago.
Vancouver, which was so nice on the outbound flight, is a mess when you have to clear customs. I'm told that Vancouver airport is permanently "under construction", so hopefully this mess will be gone in time for the 2010 Olympics. You get sent into this dingy, windowless little room, which I'm sure I've seen in one of my nightmares about never-ending travel. There is a conveyor belt here, but it it isn't moving, so neither is the lineup. An agent disappears on foot into the depths of the conveyor. She returns, resets it, and it runs... for 3 seconds. After 10 or 15 minutes of this, the supervisor says "well, just take your bags on the elevator with you, there's another belt on the 4th floor." Well, thanks for the wasted 15 minutes! So we feed our bags into the conveyor, go through security again, and get to the gate just minutes before boarding is due to start.
In Toronto, we clear customs and go to pick up baggage. There is an announcement that people on "the delayed flights from Singapore and Bangkok" have to go to the AC Luggage Desk. Turns out this was the same flight we had taken a day earlier - today's version was also delayed, but not as much! This time, the people got onto the Tokyo-Toronto flight but their baggage did not. Somebody remarks that the Singapore-Narita connection part of this flight is very regularly delayed. My bag shows up on the luggage carousel, thankfully.
Well, kind of a long story. But my advice is this: don't accept reservations with a stopover in Tokyo Narita with a one-hour connection home to North America, as there's a good chance of having your travel plans majorly derailed.