Saturday, December 20, 2008

My Travels With Hannah...

Yes, it is the moment many of you have been impatiently waiting for -- My first blog about Hannah.

On December 6th, Hannah and I met up at Bangkok Airport. This was roughly 48 hours after international flights started to fly back to Thailand after the government protesters took over the airport. However, luck wasn't totally on our side. Right around the time Hannah was leaving our family's house in New Jersey I got this email from Bangkok Air:

Dear MR Benjamin August ,
We would like to apologize for your inconvenience.Please be informed that your flight schedule has been changed for : Your updated itinerary are as below details :Booking Code :PPCXJJ Itinerary PG191 Class : B depart Bangkok (Suvarnabhumi Airport) on 06 Dec 2008 at 20:05 arrive Samui on 06 Dec 2008 at 21:10
(All time are local Thailand/Loas/Cambodia/Vietname= GMT+7,Singapore/China(Xishuangbanna,Xian)=GMT+8) Passenger Adult MR Benjamin AugustAdult MS Hannah August
Total Price :THB 6,140.00 According to the change, please kindly check your connecting time and do nothesitate to contact us if you have short connection. Minimum Connecting Time at Bangkok Airport : International to Domestic 2 hoursDomestic to International 2 hoursInternational to International 1.30 hoursDomestic to Domestic 1.30 hours If you have any query, please do not hesitate to contact us at hopefully to serve you soon.

This was a problem. My flight from HCMC to Bangkok was arriving at 7:15 so I had purposely booked Hannah and I for the 9PM flight. By moving our flight up an hour that would mean I had roughly 45 minutes to connect from the international terminal to the domestic terminal. If you read the bottom of the email the airline suggests two hours to make this connection. Worried that Hannah and I would miss our flight to the island I didn't hesitate to email the helpdesk. They didn't hesitate either in ignoring my email. I sent another email to another person I found on the internet and that person also avoided me. I called the Bangkok costumer help line and they too avoided me. I called the HCMC representitive office and they also ignored my call.

I tried to get in touch with Hannah but she had already left for the airport. I cc'd my mom on the email which was probably a bad idea. This put both my mother and father in a state of panic. I can only assume they thought Hannah would board our flight without me, go to Ko Samui alone and get kidnapped by a rogue Thai group. I believe my mother even tried to have my sister paged at the Newark Airport to tell her about our flight problem (Mom, is that right?).

Anyway, after failing to get in touch with anyone who works for Bangkok Air I made a few decisions:

1. I would arrive at the HCMC airport three hours early and talk to an airline rep there. Having done my homework, I saw that Bangkok Air had a flight going to Bangkok about the same time as my Air Asia flight.

2. I put on running shoes thinking I could sprint at the airport in Bangkok to somehow make my flight.

3. I gave myself confidence by thinking and saying to Hien in HCMC: "I'm not too worried. My sister arrives in Bangkok a few hours before me and I'm sure she'll see the flight has changed and try to get us back on the later flight. She's a really smart girl and will take care of it."

Well, here's how it played out:

I went to the HCMC airport and the Bangkok Airlines rep told me he can only deal with HCMC flights and I would have to fix my problem myself in Bangkok. Yeah, great customer service.

I then got to my boarding gate early for my Air Asia flight so I could get one of the closest seats to the door. Air Asia has open seating (like Southwest Airlines) so I figured I could get off first and run towards customs. I ended up getting the aisle seat on the fifth row. Not bad. When we landed and the doors opened I rushed off the plane while apologizing to other passengers that I had another flight to catch. My quick sprint suddenly stopped when I realized there was a transport vehicle waiting outside to take us from the tarmac to the customs area. I now had to wait for all the other passengers to board the vehicle. While everyone else boarded the vehicle I strategically placed myself by the doors so I could make another quick exit. When the vehicle eventually dropped us off I jumped out and sprinted towards the customs signs. My LHS track skills were evident as I arrived at least 200 yards/1 minute before anyone else.

I was sweating and out of breath as I handed the customs officer my passport -- probably not the first impression you want to make on them. The officer looked me over and after a long, deliberate flip through my passport he gave me a stamp and told me to proceed. I thanked him and took off. I ran past the baggage claim, past the "nothing to declare" signs and into the main part of the Bangkok airport.
Knowing I had a short time to make my flight, earlier in the day I looked at the airport map on the internet and knew exactly where I was going. I ran towards the domestic terminals, past a dozen machine gun carrying army guys who all gave me looks, up two escalators and into the domestic terminal. I immediately ran up to the tv screens with flight information and looked up my flight....which had been CANCELED!!!! Yes, canceled. They canceled my new flight they had just emailed me 24 hours earlier that I was being put on. What the f!!!
I quickly caught my breath and went looking for Hannah. I found her sitting on a chair, calm as could be and hit her on the head with my printed out itinerary and yelled: "Our flight is canceled!" Hannah looked at me and said, "Really? It said our flight was on time." I said, "Did you happen to check your email or look at the flight information?" "No." "Our flight was changed." "Really?" Yeah, so much for my "smart sister" taking care of it!

So Hannah and I went up to the Bangkok Airlines check in and was told by the woman that our flight had been cancelled....but that she'd put us on the 9PM flight. Yeah, the same flight I had booked us for! All that stress for nothing!!!!

Hannah and I checked in, gave each other hugs and eventually got on our plane. The flight was only an hour to the islands and was pretty uneventful...except for that small part when we were coming in for a landing, pretty low to the ground and close to the runway and all of a sudden our plane quickly pulled up back into the sky. Hannah and I looked at each other and started to laugh -- "uh, that isn't normal right?". Everyone on the plane gave each other concerned looks (and looks at us wondering why we were laughing) until the captain got on the PA system and said, "There is an electrical problem at the airport. We will land when it is fixed." Apparently the lights went out on the runway.

A few minutes later we landed and got our first taste of tropical air. We knew we were in for a good trip when we both came back from the airport bathrooms raving about the facilities. The men's bathroom had a fish tank over the urinals. Yeah, can you say paradise!!!