A place to put random occurrences in my life...

Sunday, January 6, 2008

What an unforgettable start to our Thailand trip...

After a couple of months of trying to plan our wedding remotely, Thien and I realized that we had to visit Thailand - and more specifically Koh Samui - to really understand what we were dealing with. We figured that we could make a bit of a vacation out of it, and celebrate the New Year in Bangkok as well. To make things even better, Alex and Shari decided to go with us to help us with our decision.

Unfortunately, all of this thinking came about really late in the game and we had to scramble to get airline tickets as most routes were sold out. We eventually settled for a ticket that took us from San Diego to Los Angeles, onto Tokyo and finally to Bangkok. Actually, once we reached Bangkok, we had to take one more flight to Koh Samui. Total travel time, including waiting for our connections was approximately 33 hours!

After submitting to such a hellish flight schedule, we thought the toughest part of the trip would be sitting on our butts for such a long time. Ultimately, that was the easiest part of the trip...

Our first flight was scheduled to leave at 10:15 from San Diego. Since we were leaving from the Commuter Terminal, we thought that if we got there at 9:30, we would have more than enough time to check in. But we wanted to be prudent, so we agreed to leave our condo at 8:30 - and we only live 15 minutes from the airport. At around 8:15, Alex got a call from American Airlines telling him that our 10:15 flight was canceled - and that we should get to the airport ASAP as they couldn't provide us with any more information over the phone.

We ran outside and grabbed a cab on the street by 8:28, abandoning the cab that we had scheduled for 8:30. After struggling to get our luggage into the cab (mostly due to the size of Shari's bag), we were on our way. Unfortunately, the taxi driver was determined to go right on 10th - the wrong way on a one way street! All of us shouted at him, and he realized his mistake. He then tried to drive forward - right through a red light! Some more yelling, and he realized his second mistake.

On our way to the airport, I kept thinking of what we would do if we couldn't get to LA in time for our 12:00 connection. When booking the flights, we were told that all of the flights from Tokyo to Bangkok were full. And more importantly, I had taken the only available seats for any flights from Bangkok to Koh Samui - I was incredibly nervous thinking that if we somehow missed our connection in LA, we would have no way of making it to Koh Samui for this trip.

We finally made it to the airport, and while Alex and I paid the driver and got our luggage, the girls went inside to try to figure out our situation. When Alex and I entered the ticketing area a couple of minutes later, we were relieved to see that the girls were already at the counter, and were being helped. We were quickly told that there was a 9:30 flight and that there was plenty of room on it for us. That's when it became obvious to us that our flight was canceled due to a lack of people - they figured they could consolidate the two flights at the last minute. Only airlines can get away with canceling a flight during the holidays without a good "consumer" reason - something really needs to be done with the industry.

In any case, the boarding cards were printing and we were all feeling good. And then the lady behind the counter said, "Who's Shari Bard?". We were all a bit confused, but Shari quickly responded with, "That's me!". After some back and forth, we understood the issue - Shari's ticket was bought for Shari Bard but she had never changed her password and it still referenced her maiden name - Shari Wolf. Even though Shari had her license which showed her as Shari Wolf Bard, she was told that this was insufficient and that she needed to either get her marriage license or to get a notarized document showing the name change. As our flight was leaving in less than 30 minutes, this was more than just a bit nerve wracking.

Shari rushed home to grab her marriage license. Only problem was that she couldn't find it! Meanwhile we were back at the airport, being told to board. I was yelling at the gate agent telling her that there is no way she could close the flight out or give Shari's ticket away - while Alex was working his magic with the ticketing agent. I don't know how Alex made it happen, but somehow he managed to get Shari a boarding pass for the flight to LA, and it was now up to Shari to make it back to the airport. Finally, after much nail biting, Shari's taxi finally pulled up to the curb and Shari jumped out and ran with Alex to security. Of course, as luck would have it, she was selected for additional inspection, costing us another couple of minutes.

As we walked to the plane, Thien was leaving a voicemail for her mobile notary - we would still have to deal with the issue of Shari traveling internationally once we got to LA. Once we landed, Thien checked her voicemail and found that there was actually a notary at the airport. We called the number for the next 90 minutes straight - and no one ever answered - maybe it had something to do with the fact that we were calling on Christmas Eve. While Thien manned the phone, the rest of us were dealing with the gate agents, who had the same stance as the agents in San Diego - that Shari wouldn't be able to travel. And, to boot, they were extra peeved at the San Diego agents for allowing us to get this far - apparently it screwed up their systems even more.

After a while, we found that the issue was that our flights were on a code share with Japan Airlines. The flight to Tokyo was operated by American, but the flight from Tokyo to Bangkok was operated by Japan. If the American agent made the name change (which is what we needed to do), the reservation for the flight from Tokyo would get dropped in the Japan system - something having to do with the fact that it was within 24 hours of travel time. Shari and Alex raced over to the Japan Airlines desk in the neighboring terminal, while I continued to deal with the agent at our gate.

Alex and Shari did their thing and eventually came back to our gate, thinking that they had made the necessary changes. But it wasn't to be - according to our gate agent, Helen, the change made by the Japan Airlines staff didn't help and she still couldn't let Shari board. Helen was cursing us and saying that we had given her the biggest headache ever, but at the same time, she was feverishly working the keyboard, almost setting it on fire, trying to sort the issue out. We kept pleading with her, encouraging her, begging her, and she kept on cursing us - but her fingers never stopped moving along the keys.

Cutting the very long story short, Helen - in true miracle worker fashion - made the necessary changes and got Shari a boarding pass. The four of us were the very last people to board as the plane's door closed behind us. What an emotional start to the trip!

After 12 hours of flight, we landed in Tokyo and departed the plane. As we were walking out, we saw a printed sign for "Shari Bard". Our nerves tightened up, and all we could think was "Not again!". Shari made herself known to an agent, and he explained to her that everything was alright, except that she was booked on the wrong flight back from Bangkok! The good news is that they were aware of this issue and quickly made the necessary changes to get us on our way. Phew!

Another 7 plus hours, and we finally landed in Bangkok at just before midnight, the night of Christmas. We cleared customs quickly and made our way to baggage check. Given the stress of the day, it's easy to guess what happened at this point - that's right, all four of our bags were misplaced! We talked with the baggage agents and were informed that our bags had been left behind in Japan. They would show up on the same flight as we had taken, one day later.

Clearly this was a problem as we were heading on to Koh Samui and would not be able to pick up our bags in Bangkok the next day. We were told that our bags would follow us to Koh Samui, and that they would even be delivered to our hotel. As disappointing as the temporary loss of our bags was, the 12,000 Baht ($400) we were given as compensation, helped to generate some decent goodwill towards the airlines.

With another six hours to go before our flight to Koh Samui, and devoid of luggage, what else were we to do but go and get a foot massage - I highly recommend it:

We made it to Koh Samui, were we had to parade around in our sweat pants (or whatever we happened to wear on the flight), while dealing with quite a bit of rain. Luckily, the girls got their luggage the next morning, the guys got their luggage the next night, and the rain didn't return for the rest of our trip...

The really good news is that I have absolutely nothing to say about our return trip - that's just how pleasantly uneventful it was...

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