I just flew in from Taiwan, and, Boy! are my arms tired

This is the third of three blog posts detailing my recent trip to Taiwan. The trip was to do a training course introducing Taiwanese professors on how to use the Intel Manycore Testing Lab.  This first part details my flight and first day on the island nation.  The second part discusses the actual the training course. This part is about the misadventures of my return flights. Just me being cranky--again.

My trip home got started on the wrong foot. Michael Wrinn and I were told to expect a car to pick us up at the hotel at 7:30am for our 10:30am departure. At 7:45 we figured there was no car coming.  Michael ran across the street, got some cash at the ATM and we hailed a cab.

Along the way to the airport I found the view quite interesting. I'd arrived at midnight a few days before and missed seeing any of the countryside. There were many "pylons" along the outside of the highway (both sides) in various states of construction. Their purpose was a bit mysterious. One idea was an overhead extension to the highway we were travelling. Since the pylons were at the edges of the road and nothing was being placed in between the two traffic directions to support an upper deck for cars, we concluded that this must be some kind of train track. Perhaps a new high-speed train route between the airport and Hsinchu?

Once we got to the airport and paid for the cab, I had $800NTD and some change left over. I turned this in and got all but $8NTD exchanged. Check-in was okay. Heading to the gate, Michael found a vending machine that gave out pre-stamped postcards, so he bought one and sent it to his mother (what a good son). I used to send postcards from my "exotic" travels to my nieces and nephew. On this trip I didn't bring their address. Besides, they are living in Belgium right now, which is more exotic than anyplace I might be sent to. (Sorry S, Z, and E. Next time.)

The Flights

Boarding went well. No empty seats around me, but I didn't expect any. The 3+ hour trip to Tokyo's Narita airport was uneventful.  The pilot announced that Mt. Fuji was visible on the left side of the plane, but I was too far inside to catch a glimpse. I caught up to Michael in the boarding gate for his next leg to the US (my gate was two down). He got WiFi service in the hopes that he could chat with his family (what a good father and husband), but no one was online back home (close to 10pm in Oregon).

While Michael went in search of souvenirs I used the signal to check out flights from Chicago O'Hare down to Champaign. There were a few seats left on the 4:30pm flight with a price of just under $400 for the last minute one-way ticket.  Since I would be arriving at 2:17pm, I figured there would be time to make the plane. My original plan was to catch a shuttle service at 6pm that would get me back home around 10pm. I contemplated the questions about whether 7 hours of my time was worth $400.  Seven hours outside of the airport security areas; seven hours with little prospect for food and comfortable seats.

Since I possessed (but not with me) a coupon for a $300 credit with the proposed airline out of Chicago (awarded to me for voluntarily waiting for 7 hours in the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport), I figured, through some transitive property of airline ticket purchasing, that the total cost would only be $100 for saving me 7 hours of less than ideal travel conditions. So, I sent my wife an email to let her know that my plans may be changing after I got to Chicago and I'd let her know what happened.

Michael boarded his plane. I moved down to my gate and got on my plane about an hour later. This time I had a window seat in the hopes that I could get some sleep leaning my head against the bulkhead during the 12 hours we would be in the air. After getting settled, I looked in the seat pocket to find what movies were scheduled to be shown during this flight. Surprise! The February issue of the in-flight magazine still had not been replaced, 5 days into the month, with the March issue. [insert frustration emoticon here]

When the first feature got started, I didn't recognize it, but it turned out to be The King's Speech, which my wife had seen and highly recommended. So, I stayed up for that (and it was only about 5pm in the afternoon) and saved myself the box office fee at some future date. Unfortunately, during a vital scene filling in some details about the prince and his relations to his family, there was some big announcement not from the cockpit. This meant that the film kept going, but the soundtrack was overrun with the crew announcements (in two languages). Also, since this is a public flight, all the bad language had been expunged. Thus, during the scene where the prince is shouting out multiple f-bombs, there is no dialog at all; however, you can still hear his foot falls as he stomps around the room. It was a very weird scene. (I guess I will need to see it in the theater.) The next feature was the remake of True Grit. I'd seen this one already, but had wanted to see it again.  Unfortunately, I kept nodding off during the film, so I settled down and took a nap.  (I remember waking up briefly to see an episode of House, M.D. playing.) I woke up to the noodle service at about the halfway point of the flight and then got to see Morning Glory, which I had thought I would be seeing on the flight over to Taiwan. After that was Megamind (another one I'd thought to catch on my westward trek). But, more nodding off, so I slept some more. I spent the rest of my waking time reading until we landed.

All in all not the most uncomfortable international flight I'd ever had. Besides, I was back in America and just 3 hours from home. Or so I thought.

Wait, Weight, Waste

Being at the back of the plane I was one of the last ones off and, therefore, at the end of the line for US Immigration. Apparently another planeload of folks had disembarked just before us and were all ahead of our full plane load. With only two agents working the regular lines for citizens, the human caterpillar of returning people wended it's way through the switchback line at a veritable snail's pace. Once I got up to the front of that line, I was put over in one of two specialized agent's lines that had initially been exclusively dealing with diplomats and US servicemen. I shuttled over to another line that had fewer people in it, but looked over to the original lines and saw the three people that were behind me in the caterpillar line get through in a breeze. I had been put in a line that had non-citizen residents ahead of me. This required photos and fingerprint scans, which seemed to not work the first time.

After almost an hour and a half standing in lines for customs, I found myself at the counter of the airline that flew to Champaign. I bought my ticket and handed over my luggage. Unfortunately, having been in warm taxis, airports and planes for the last 20 hours I neglected to get my coat out of my suitcase before it was checked through. There was some light snow coming down, but I was able to avoid the outside weather for the most part.

I got through security with no problems and started toward my gate. On the way, I looked at the departure board and found the flight was being delayed for about 20 minutes (probably from the weather). Cool.  I didn't have to run to catch my flight. I called my wife and told her about my definite change of plans and that she should come to the airport to pick me up.

After arriving at the gate, we were told that our plane had arrived at the gate (a bit late), but that the steward for the flight was not there. However, his current flight had just landed and he would be over to our gate as soon as possible. We were able to get on the plane soon after he arrived. Once we were all sitting, the pilot announced that the luggage needed to be loaded. (What were they doing all that time the plane was sitting there?) After that was done, the pilot informed us that we needed to be de-iced and that process would commence as soon as the de-icing truck could get over to us.  Finally, after the de-icing was done, the pilot announced that the ground crew had wandered off and we would be able to get going once they arrived back at our gate. (At this time I realized that my original shuttle must have left the airport, so I was committed.) Forty minutes after we pushed back from the gate I was walking through the Champaign airport.

All tolled we sat in the terminal for about an hour waiting for the plane and delayed crew, then we sat on the plane for almost another hour for luggage, de-icing and getting pushed back from the gate. And, since I was under a tight deadline, I hadn't stopped to get anything to eat, though there turned out to be plenty of time.  Arrrghh.

Even with all those delays, I got back before the shuttle van would have been able to drop me off back where my trip started. My wife noticed a bruise on the back of my leg the next day and I expect that this came from the hour of sitting on the little commuter jet when we could have at least stood up and stretched while the de-icing was going on, but were tethered to our seats by the seat-belt sign.

Even after all of the hassle at the end, I was gald to be back. I slept for 12 hours and just lazed around the house the next day.

If you've read everything down to this point, thank you.  If you agree that this bit of whinging wasn't worth the time you spent, remember I did warn you.

One final note: my aggravation at the waiting in lines and waiting for airline personnel and waiting for airport personnel has mellowed in the two weeks since the completion of my Taiwan trip. Right now I'm just thankful that the event was scheduled when it was since we were in Tokyo just six days before the March 2011 earthquake that devastated Japan. I'm sure it would have been an even bigger nightmare if we had had to rebook our flights and come home on a completely different route.
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