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Trying to Get Home from China; or, the Trip to Hades Revisited

United Boeing 744

It was the best of weeks, it was the worst of weeks. And it was over. Time to go home…

Stan and I left the Venice Hotel early and caught a cab to the Shekou Ferry Terminal. Well, we sorta caught one. The cabline boss put us in it, anyway. But the driver was nowhere in sight! Several minutes of increasingly frantic searching by several hotel employees finally surfaced the guy; he had been down the street to get something for breakfast, I suppose. After all, what’s more important: Doing your job or eating? Okay, didn’t mean to stump you so early in the tale.

So we’re finally on our way. At that early hour there’s basically no traffic, so we zipped right along and got there early. Which, given how many lines you have to stand in, means just in time, really. Yes, we already had our tickets. Only, they’re not really tickets. They’re exchange vouchers. So: Get in one line, check in with the airlines; get in another, get the tickets; get in another, wait for clearance to go upstairs; you get the picture. Only three more lines after that, for Customs, Immigration and finally Boarding.

We were loaded on the first run of the morning for the Dou Men, a single-level ferry that seats about 300 or so. I last knew of this catamaran as part of the CKS fleet, but now it shows up in the Pengxing list. The ticket said CKS as well. I don’t know what that means, exactly.

Duk Ling

As we rode across the harbor I thought about how I hadn’t had a chance to visit Hong Kong this trip. Usually I try to get a day or two in the City and on the island, shopping and taking pictures. This trip was too dang short! Next time, I promise.

We were quite early for our flight, more than three hours before boarding. I didn’t mind, I’d just as soon spend my time strolling in Hong Kong International as sitting in a hotel room. We could have tried for a later run of the ferry, of course. But then, if there’s any slip, we could miss our flight out. The shopping’s fine in the airport, and there are plenty of decent eateries and such.

Stan and I had breakfast, then strolled the length of the terminal. No rush, no worries. We were scheduled out of Gate 65, in the northern branch of the big Y that is so distinctive in the airport’s design. I stopped by the little shop that carries model airplanes, but I didn’t see any that really attracted me. I also looked for a gift for PJ, but again, nothing stood out among the trinkets available. So we went to the gate.

There wasn’t any activity there, so we changed direction and went to grab an ice cream. I know, we just had breakfast. On the other hand, we’d been up for several hours, and we were not looking forward to fifteen hours in a skinny seat in the back of that big bus United flies. It did look, though, like we’d be departing on time. That’s a switch for me, recently. Could be worse.

Bill Cosby has a skit about “never challenge worse.” He’s right. We boarded normally, maybe even a few minutes early. Then we sat. And we sat. No announcements over the intercom. Then I noticed several ground crew walking through the airplane, looking in every nook and cranny using flashlights. Okay, I thought, a security sweep. No big deal.

Boy was I wrong.

Hong Kong Skyline

We finally get an announcement, and it’s bad news. Everybody off the plane! Take your stuff. Wait in the terminal. As we shuffled in line to deplane we got another notification. The crash axe was missing from the cockpit.

How can that happen? The cockpit is upstairs, controlled entry, and the axe (considered a necessary piece of safety gear) is in a special, locked place. Only employees and contract ground crew, and not many of those, are even allowed near that axe. How can it go missing? Somebody had to have moved it.

Next question: How could they not have checked for such an important item BEFORE loading 350 people on an airplane? Nutz.

We waited nearly an hour before they declared the missing axe to be off the plane and replaced with a new one. So now we had to all get back onboard. Easy, right? Wrong. Everybody had to take their shoes off (and their hats), get a full hand-wand check, all bags and belongings searched, and so on. Boy, was that a mess!

So we left Hong Kong three hours late because somebody didn’t do their job well earlier. And a checklist item was either overlooked, or isn’t in the checklist early enough. Somebody will likely get fired because of it, and it’s probably not even their fault, really. Bad, bad system.

Hong Kong Marina

Usually I’d say, no problem, I’m going home, everything’s okay. However, I knew I’d miss my connection, even though I had no checked luggage. Immigration and Customs always have large queues mid-day, and then there’s the little matter of getting from Terminal 5 to Terminal 3. United promised they’d have me rebooked, but given their track record to date on this outing (out of five chances to do good, they’ve scored exactly zero), I didn’t hold out much hope. I have a good backup plan, though. I’ve got Black Card status with American, and they fly my direction regularly.

Sure enough, I missed my connection to Austin. By only a bit, but a miss is as good as 1,000 miles (or so) in this case. I walked over to the American desk and asked if they could help me out. Alan, the agent, said that United had rebooked me, but not with American who I was ticketed with, but over to United! A really, really late flight on the dreaded puddle-jumper; operated by Mesa. I sighed and asked if he could hijack that booking back. He grinned and said, “With pleasure!” He got me on the 8 PM direct to Austin, on a Real Plane.

Boeing 757

I was set. Out to the lounge to get some lubricating anesthetic, on ice, and wait it out. The club was quiet, for a change, and I could watch airplanes. As good as it gets, at that point. The ride home was uneventful, even dodging the thunderstorms in north Texas in the dark didn’t cause any huhu. I caught a cab out front and was home by 11 P.M.

Next time, I fly American or I don’t go…

Enjoy the (Long, Long Trip) Heat!

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