|12-13-2002, 10:19 AM||#1|
Join Date: Sep 2001
Continental: December 12, 2002 (AUS-IAH-NRT-IAH)
Continental: December 12, 2002 (AUS-IAH-NRT-IAH)__________________
December 12, 2002 AUS-IAH (Continental 340, 2E, 737-900, Beverage)
I was in the check-in line at AUS moments before 6am. I was expecting it to be pretty quiet, but there was a significant line of people with connections to Mexico that were carrying huge amounts of luggage. After less than 10 minutes of waiting, I was checked in without incident. I checked two bags and noticed that the luggage tag (and claim tag) both had a “VIP” designator on them. I have no idea what that means or what the result is, but it probably isn’t a bad thing.
My flight was scheduled to depart at 7:23am, so I headed to the Presidents Club for some breakfast before departure. I chatted with the usual, very friendly “early morning” staff at the P Club and then got something to eat while watching CNN give weather reports indicating severe thunderstorms in the Houston area. I was suddenly quite glad that I was on the 7:23am flight to IAH instead of the 9am that doesn’t allow much room for error.
About 25 minutes prior to departure, I headed down to the gate and boarded without incident. We pushed back on schedule, but taxied forever and waited in line for departure. The captain made an announcement explaining that visibility was so impaired that some of the smaller aircraft were not going to be able to take off and we’d have to wait for our chance, but we’d be able to. Visibility seemed about 250 feet at this point.
We took off about 30 minutes late and visibility quickly dropped to 0 once we got 50 feet in the air. The ride got quite rocky pretty quickly. The usual 28 minute shuttle between AUS and IAH became an hour of extremely turbulent flying.
I managed to nap during the flight and I don’t think that there was even a beverage service due to the turbulence.
On final to IAH, visibility was almost 0 until just a few hundred feet above touch-down, which is always an interesting experience. Usually, in the next generation 737s, landing is very graceful and the reverse thrusters are operated just barely above idle, seemingly almost out of practice more than for function. When we slammed down onto the ground, the reverse thrusters were thrown into action harder than ever and we rolled for a significant distance with major reverse thrusting until we took the second exit from the runway and taxied to the C terminal.
The walk from C North to D is not that long, although the Presidents Club is a while beyond D5, the gate for my NRT departure. I had about 45 minutes to catch up on voice mail, email, call (and wake up) my business partner in Australia (Karl), and chat in #ityt before heading to the gate.
December 12, 2002 IAH-NRT (Continental 7, 3E, 777-200ER, Lunch, Dinner(?), Breakfast)
At the gate, I was disappointed because I couldn’t snap a picture of the 777-200ER that would service my IAH-NRT flight. D5 is an awkward corner gate that has practically no visibility of the aircraft from the terminal. You can see the top of the aircraft from the people movers connecting C->D and you can see the tail if you walk towards D6, but that’s it.
As I approached the gate, the red coat announced that rows 1-10 were boarding. I boarded the aircraft third and quickly took my seat. Once I was settled, the flight service coordinator almost immediately came by to introduce himself and provide my amenity kit, menu, and welcome me to the flight. I chatted with my seatmate for 20 minutes or so until the BusinessFirst concierge came by to ask about how the check-in went, to verify that my Onepass number was in my PNR, and to see if I needed any information to help me navigate Narita, which I declined.
As this is my first BF experience in over a year, I noticed for the first time that the shaving kit had been replaced by a little card saying that you can ask your flight attendant for a shaving kit. Interesting.
Prior to closing the door, I forwarded my mobile phone to my one in Japan. For the next 18 hours or so, people calling my mobile number will be greeted in Japanese – whee. I chatted with Karl a bit on my RIM before turning it off until I touch back down in the US since there will be no Mobitex coverage in JP.
We sat at D5 killing time while I heard baggage being shuffled around below. I think that lots of late connections were causing the delay. At about 11:20am (40min after scheduled departure), we pushed back from D5 and taxied to the runway. There was practically no wait and we promptly screamed down takeoff roll and pulled up into the turbulent weather that I had arrived in. Once we approached the cruising altitude, things smoothed out, though.
I ordered the steak and the vinaigrette sauce on the salad. The FA came by offering an appetizer of either sushi or smoke salmon. I hesitated when asked for my selection, so she asked if I would just like, “a little of both.” I agreed, and was served a full dish of each.
There was a bit too much of the vinaigrette sauce on the salad for my taste and the steak was a bit fatty. However, my ice cream sundae with “the works” was everything that I have come to expect. (“The only thing vanilla about BusinessFirst is your made-to-order sundae”)
While the FA made my sundae, I asked her if many people tell her that she looks eerily similar to Gwyneth Paltrow. She kind of sighed and responded, “yes, all the time.” I asked why she sighed and insisted that it should be taken as a compliment. She explained that it only happens when she’s not wearing a lot of makeup, which I guess should be good too – who knows. . .
I watched “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City” while eating lunch. It was first season material that I hadn’t seen in quite a while, so it was actually pretty entertaining. Unfortunately, none of the other in-flight entertainment selections looked too exciting.
About an hour after the lunch service (maybe 2.5 hours into flight), I was trying to fall asleep and we suddenly hit some pretty heavy turbulence that kept getting worse and worse. The FAs came down the aisles repeating in an almost shouting tone, “Seatbelts! Now! Tight!” As it got even worse, the captain came on the intercom and said, “Ladies and gentlemen …. this is the captain speaking … the aircraft is under control…. please [interrupted for ~10 seconds] . . . uh, standby.” I found that kind of funny since it had never occurred to me that the aircraft wasn’t under control. The turbulence became so violent that I was pretty worried that I was going to be sick. Part of me also wished that I was in a window seat so that I could look back and see how much the wings were swaying up and down. After about 10 minutes or so and a lot of descending, things finally calmed down. Fun stuff.
I fell asleep for three or four hours, which was my first real rest in about 24 hours. The new BusinessFirst seat is nice, but not designed for people as tall as I am. I had to readjust myself quite a bit to make sure that my head was as high as I could go on the seat so that my feat would be as close as possible to fitting on the footrest. I had to press my feet down on the footrest, which makes you feel like you’re standing since the “lie-flat seat” is at a slight incline. The alternative is to let my feet hang off, which is less pleasant. Complaining aside, it was very nice to be able to lie on my side (or even on my front) and be able to sleep pretty comfortably. I woke up refreshed.
When I woke up, I saw that my drinks had been cleared and replaced with a water bottle. I was wondering about the water bottles; my BF experience has been that they’re left for you on your seat before you arrive on the plane. I drank the entire bottle in about 10 minutes.
As I write this, it’s 10am JST/7pm CST. I’m getting hungry again and tempted to wander back and grab some “SkySnacks’ (Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies, etc). However, I think that I’ll wait until the mid-flight meal that I don’t think I slept through. We’re about 5 hours from Narita, flying over the Bering Sea, and approaching the International Date Line.
I fired up my computer and watched “The Talented Mr Ripley,” which coincidentally is a Gwyneth Paltrow movie.
Perhaps I slept longer than I realized because it seems that I missed the mid-flight meal and was being served the pre-landing breakfast before I knew it. I should have asked the FA to wake me up for it because I was pretty hungry and getting tired of munching on Milanos. I selected the quiche for breakfast, which was very excellent, and also had a delicious fruit plate and several cinnamon rolls with coffee and orange juice.
I know that I’m lame for ordering from the western menu.
Overall, the service was excellent. Finishing a water bottle meant that another one would show up before you knew it. Taking a sip of a drink meant that it would be refilled in a few minutes. Everyone was very friendly and helpful. It was a pleasure.
Apparently my Gwyneth Paltrow comment didn’t bother the FA as much as she let on because prior to landing, she dropped by and chatted with me about what I was doing in Japan. She has a ~24h layover before doing the return flight (CO7 NRT-IAH). It turns out that she primarily does IAH to AMS/LGW/HNL and only gets stuck doing the NRT run once a year. I believe that it’s the longest flight out of IAH, which would explain why it isn’t preferable. She seemed to be good friends with the other girl that was servicing the front BF cabin, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re in the same boat.
All in all, the flight felt quite quick – nothing like 15 hours on a plane. It felt more like a US transcon or something. No biggie, really, but it was probably a combination of the good service, sleep, and comfort of the 777 that made the time fly.
Two jetways were used to deplane the aircraft. I exited out of door 1 and rode the people movers through beautiful Narita “New Tokyo” airport. I said goodbye to my seatmate as we got off the people movers; I was going to immigration and he was connecting to SIN-KUL. Within about 10 minutes of deplaning, I was approaching immigration. I managed to enter Japan faster than I’ve ever entered the US. Much of this was luck, but there was no line when I showed up, so I immediately was able to approach an officer and with one look at me, no words were exchanged, *stamp* *stamp* *stamp* *staple*, and I walked on.
The bags were a bit slow to arrive in general. My duffel bag was one of the first few off, but my roll-aboard bag was much later. Interestingly enough, when it arrived, it was freezing cold and soaking wet. I’m lucky that the airline bag check tag managed to stay on, it was barely holding on.
The customs officer that I had didn’t really speak English, but handing over my documents and shaking my head a few times had me waved on in less than 15 seconds.
The shuttle places were just around the corner and, as luck would have it, the next TCAT shuttle was taking off in 4 minutes. A quick swipe of my AmEx (just ¥2900) and I was on my way.
I’m writing this now about an hour into my ride into Tokyo. We’re stuck in Friday evening traffic and it’s a less than exciting experience. My mobile phone is at the hotel. My RIM and tri-band GSM phone don’t work here. I feel extremely disconnected from the world. I haven’t had any calls, emails, or news updates in 18 hours or so.
|12-13-2002, 10:38 AM||#2|
Join Date: Sep 2001
I just checked my luggage claim thingey and I've got the VIP thing too on mine. Perhaps it's a BusinessFirst indicator?__________________
|12-15-2002, 10:10 AM||#5|
Join Date: Sep 2001
December 15, 2002 Tokyo – Hiroshima (Shinkansen 115, 10D)
Disclaimer: Please excuse my writing, but I am getting quite used to dropping a lot of words from my language that are confusing to Japanese
Nugget and I made it to the subway station by 7am to allow ample time to catch our 8:03am shinkansen to Hiroshima. Two subway rides later and we connected directly to Tokyo station.
My JR Pass served as the equivalent of the paper ticket/flight coupon portion of an airline boarding pass. Accordingly, it required some special attention to get into the terminal. This is likely to allow an opportunity for passport inspection as can be required per JR Pass rules, although the attendant likely realized that our extremely limited Japanese was likely indicative of a lack of the sophistication required to pull off such a scam that he would need to foil.
We navigated the station terminal at a reasonable and moderate pace, although we were humbled by Japanese whizzing by us; it provided a moment to gain even more respect for the Japanese visitors that we frequently see slowly navigating US airports. Narita airport has normal, clear English markings, so navigating it is trivial for me. The same can not be said of most international airports in the US for many foreigners.
After much indecisiveness, I bought an unknown kind of sandwich of dubious origin from a friendly vendor in the train station. Only hungry for caffeine, Nugget bought both hot and cold cans of coffee from a vending machine. I bought a small can of hot coffee and a bottle of coca cola, which provided a good opportunity to get rid of some of the ¥100 coins that I had been carrying around.
We waited for just two or three minutes before train arrived. I took a few pictures to pass the time and Nugget brought his digital video camera and grabbed footage of the train arriving. We try to be discreet with camera usage to avoid crossing the fine line between “American tourist” and “crazy, stupid American tourist.”
We boarded and got settled in for the 4.5h trip to Hiroshima. The train departed on-time, about 10 minutes after we boarded. Likely because of the usual Sunday morning quietness, the #8 green car that we were in was only 10-20% filled, depending on the segment.
I fired up my GPS for the first time in over a week. It recognized that I was no longer in North America and would need to reinitialize for the satellites in this part of the world. I skipped the “AutoLocate” and picked out Japan on the map for it to be aware of the region. However, immediately after I configured it, we went through a long tunnel and suspect that the GPS couldn’t find any satellites, figured I selected the wrong location on the map, and went into “stupid user” mode and did the lengthy AutoLocate. Before too long, though, we were able to track how far we were from Tokyo and our constant speed of 140mph (225km/h). We heard that the Nozomi (the Shinkansen train for our return portion of this trip) can reach 300km/h (186mph), which should be noticeably different. After a long day of travel and touring, it will be nice to make good time on the return portion.
We spent some of the trip trying to figure out our Japanese mobile phones. For two very technically capable people, it is incredible how incompetent we are with these phones. The Japanese buttons, foreign symbols, and unusual concepts make the interface practically unusable to us. On the night of my arrival, I disabled the “ring” on my phone in favor of vibrate and after ten attempts totaling over an hour of effort, I have been unable to restore a “ring.” Nugget is unable to place any international calls, only domestic, which thus far has consisted of a call to my mobile phone. When he needed to call American Express in the United States, he had to use my phone. Accordingly, it took me six attempts to get his number programmed into my speed dial directory. Incredible. My phone has IR, which presumably can interact with my normal “world” Ericsson t68i mobile phone that I own and brought with me, but I’ve been unable to synchronize the address book after many attempts. We are tempted to ask a friendly Japanese schoolgirl to help us with our phones, since they are more than capable and seemingly almost addicted to their (similar) phones. Subway rides are almost always head-down phone usage time. The funniest situation that we’ve witnessed is one crossing a busy intersection on a bicycle while typing into a mobile phone. Yahoo! News Photos has not lied to me about the popularity of mobile phones in Asia, that’s for certain.
We arrived in Hiroshima slightly before 1pm and decided to wander around a bit instead of taking a bus or taxi. This later proved to be exceptionally rewarding (this part of the report is being written on the train back to Tokyo).
We walked around Hiroshima a bit to get a feel for the city and managed to take a few pictures before walking to the atomic bomb memorial.
Unfortunately, I didn’t find the museum to be particularly moving or exceptionally interesting, which is contradictory to all the reports that I have heard. It was somewhat informative, but nothing beyond what I could read about except a little unwelcome Hiroshima political propaganda fed to me over the earphone audio system. It was certainly an experience, but was far more important to be able to say that I have been there.
We walked through the memorial park, grabbed a couple pictures, and then begin wandering aimlessly. We managed to walk into a shopping area and were able to find an excellent restaurant for a late lunch. Very friendly service, as usual, and I very much enjoyed my dish with rice, beef, egg, and cheese.
We stopped in an electronics store and very much enjoyed the experience of the fast-paced business and the Hiroshima public. I was willing to be tempted by a new digital camera, although we didn’t find a Canon that was better than what I already have, even though they are available elsewhere in Japan. Afterwards, we strolled through a very busy shopping area and browsed through a handful of interesting stores. It was fun to just stroll through the sea of people and take in the entire experience.
We managed to get slightly lost on the walk back from the shopping area and Hiroshima Station, although my guide book managed to save the day with a map. We made it back to the train station about an hour before departure and killed a bit of time people watching, which is always quite entertaining. The most interesting part was that we were being “watched” more than we were actually watching; westerners are far more “exotic” in Hiroshima than in Tokyo. Once we got off of the beaten path of museums and memorials, men and women both look at us as we walk by. Young girls smile and stare, and teenage girls sometimes wave; it’s certainly very fun.
I have seen maybe 10 westerners since arrival over two days ago. This evening, an American walked by us in the opposite direction near Hiroshima station and said, “hey!” when he saw us. I was caught off guard and wasn’t prepared to respond. Luckily, Nugget managed to respond with a “hey!” in a timely manner. We walked on and life continues. We think that we made his day.
December 15, 2002 Hiroshima – Tokyo (Shinkansen 134, 10D)
We boarded the 17:59 #134 Shinkansen back to Tokyo. Unfortunately, it was serviced by the same style equipment (not the Nozomi), so it wasn’t very exciting, although the green car seating was slightly different. I suspect that I likely looked up the earlier scheduled train online and saw that it was serviced by a Nozomi, hence the confusion. Nugget carries a crossover Ethernet cable with him, though, so we managed to plug our computers into each other to transfer music and videos. He is importing the video from his camera and I sent him an mp3 that offers very appropriate “train travel music,” as I call it (David Foster – St Elmo’s Fire).
Correction: Nugget has informed me that his Apple tibook is able to detect a regular Ethernet cable plugged into another computer, and automatically compensate for the crossover. He’s so fancy.
About 2.5h into our ride back to Tokyo, Nugget figured out how to get a set of two seats to reverse and face the seats behind them. Combine the recline factor of the green car seats with being able to put your feet on some backward-facing seats and you’ve created a very comfortable combination. I’m writing my trip report and catching up on email while he sleeps (Apple tibook batteries aren’t as powerful as Compal, sigh)
All in all, it was quite a good day. The Shinkansen was very interesting and even though the Hiroshima a-bomb memorial wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be, the experience of being in a large city outside of Tokyo was quite rewarding.
It’s lots of fun to travel with Nugget, but I will certainly need to bring my laptop for train rides while traveling alone later in the week; I will certainly need an output for all my English thoughts.
|12-24-2002, 12:20 AM||#6|
Join Date: Sep 2001
December 24, 2002 NRT-IAH (Continental 6, 3D, 777-200ER, Dinner & Breakfast)
Just in time for Christmas with the family in Houston, I booked my return flight (CO6, return of CO7 that I took on the 12th) at 5pm on the 24th, which is Christmas Eve. Thanks to the time change and the international date line, I am scheduled to arrive in Houston at 2pm, 3 hours before I left Tokyo.
As I walked over to the Continental BusinessFirst line, I almost put my bags down to wait for a counter to open, but a very friendly agent at the Onepass Elite desk scurried over and waved me in her direction. Before I had a chance to walk out the entry maze, she disconnected all the ropes and walked me right through while helping me carry my bags. She quickly tagged both of my bags for IAH, attached first class tags to each, handed me my boarding pass, along with an invitation and map to the JAL Sakura Business lounge.
There were practically no lines at the otherwise busy Narita, so I breezed through security and immigration without a problem.
I’m writing this from the JAL Sakura Lounge in the main building. It offers quite a nice view of the tarmac (I’m writing this as I face a JAL 747 being catered and a DL DC10 taxiing) as well as a huge amount of lounge space, periodicals, and a pretty comprehensive amount of drinks, although the snacks are limited. I plugged my laptop into an Ethernet port and was instantly online without even an authorization screen.
My flight boards in two hours, so I’ve got plenty of time to relax. The airport limousine ride from TCAT was significantly shorter than I expected since there was no traffic today as opposed to Friday evening when I arrived. Luckily, my laptop has about 4.25h of power left (I used 1h of power on the way from TCAT), so I’ll be okay until I can recharge with empower on the triple seven.
The lounge faces one of the runways, which provides quite a bit of entertainment for any aviation enthusiast. It was being used for arrivals and was quite incredible to see widebody after widebody after widebody approach Narita. An AA 777 aborted the landing or missed the approach; I saw it approach at 4:29 and then again at 4:36. Each aircraft seemed to come in straight and then would bank right when ~150ft from touchdown. I’m not sure if that was the nature of the approach or if there was some windsheer or what, but it was a little peculiar.
After a few gentle reminders from the JAL Sakura and Continental folks, I made my way to D97 via the train to the satellite terminal. I arrived moments before boarding and only had time to pull out my boarding pass and passport before it was time hop on the triple seven that would skip over the pacific overnight. I was 10th onboard and was pretty startled to hear a flight attendant seemingly demand my seat number as I walked in the door in order to tell me which way to walk in case my veering left was in error. It was quite surprising to me; it doesn’t take very long to get used to extremely submissive service.
I took a few moments to get settled and then received my amenity kit and menu for the 12h flight to Houston:
The flight attendant serving my section, the only Japanese one serving the front BF cabin, came by and took my drink and meal orders. I ordered the chicken with the creamy herb dressing on the salad, which was a substitute for the blue cheese dressing listed on the menu.
After take-off, the warm nuts were served, followed by shrimp & sushi. The sushi was quite good, although the shrimp was forgettable with the exception of the sauce that it was served with. The salad was served almost immediately and I was glad that I requested the dressing on the side, since I only used about a quarter of what they provided for me. It was excellent, though, and not having the dish swimming in sauce made quite a difference from my outbound flight. The chicken was good, although significantly more than I could eat.
Before too long, the FAs came by with cheese, wine, and fruit. I asked for a small fruit plate and a bit of brie, both of which were quite good.
As per my usual BF repertoire, I asked for “the works” on my sundae, which was as good as could be expected. Right after my sundae glass was picked up, I was offered coffee, tea, or an after-dinner liquor. I passed on all three and pulled out my amenity kit to prepare for a nap.
Three hours later, I woke up to the noise of 2B trying to figure out how to open the overhead compartment. Considering that he managed to get his things in there 5 hours ago, I can’t imagine how he could have forgotten by now. Alas.
The 2nd galley has a Christmas tree outfitted with lights and everything. It’s the first sign of Christmas that I’ve seen since leaving the hotel, which seems to cater to westerners a bit. It certainly doesn’t “feel” like Christmas Eve, though.
Unable to fall back asleep (thanks, 2B), I’m writing this about 6 hours out from Houston (8am CST). We’re past Honolulu and the map is mainly showing Alaska, although we’re starting to see a bit of the west coast. At an altitude of 3-6-0, we’re screaming at a ground speed of 757mph, which is pretty incredible.
|12-24-2002, 01:14 AM||#7|
Join Date: Dec 2002
Location: Seattle,WA (SEA) Terminal S, and CO B gates.
I just arrived from my trip SEA-EWR-FLL. I checked my bad tag and i also have a VIP thing on it. So it is not the platinums. It's either first class or elites.
|12-30-2002, 10:34 AM||#9|
Join Date: Sep 2001
|12-30-2002, 02:31 PM||#10|
Join Date: Dec 2002
Location: Seattle,WA (SEA) Terminal S, and CO B gates.
I think the VIP thing is for First Class/BusinessFirst passengers, cause like i said i had it on mine from SEA-EWR-FLL and i wasnt in businessfirst.
|01-01-2003, 10:41 AM||#11|
Join Date: Sep 2001
December 24, 2002 NRT-IAH (Continental 6, 3D, 777-200ER, Dinner & Breakfast) [Continued]__________________
I was lucky enough to have the only open seat in BF next to me, which means that I had an optimal place for my laptop and various other toys that I had out during the flight and would prefer to have within reach rather than in the cargo net in front of me. I managed to fall asleep again and was about an hour into some sound sleep when I was woken for our pre-landing breakfast.
The breakfast was a tad weird. We started with the normal coffee, tea, and orange juice service. The fruit plate was exactly the usual. However, the choices didn't reflect the menu. The FA brought by some pasta dish and asked if that's what I wanted, or if I would prefer a breakfast pizza. After nearly two weeks in Japan, I'd had more than enough noodles for a while and asked, "Is the breakfast pizza too weird?" She shrugged and went off and returned quickly to serve it to me. It was pretty weird. I pushed the pork away and then nibbled at the pizza for a bit before deciding that I'd had enough.
I pulled out my amenity kit and grabbed a bottled water for brushing my teeth and cleaning up in the lav prior to landing. I'm pretty scared of the water that comes out of the facuet in there -- enough to use my alcohol cleanser on my hands after using it and certainly would never put it in my mouth or on my face.
We touched down in Houston about an hour early and I was about the 5th off the 777-200ER
Since I was one of the first off the aircraft and the second US citizen off the plane, there was no wait for immigration. Since I'm used to a bit of a wait at IAH INS, I fumbled a bit to get my papers out in time. *wave passport* *stamp* *stamp* "Welcome home, merry christmas," the INS officer said as he immediately handed my papers back to me. No IAH arrival stamp on my passport, unfortunately, although there's always next week for that.
As the first passenger to make it down to the baggage claim, I was greeted by quite a few customs agents and a little customs dog. "Where are you travelling from, sir?"
"Please stand next to that carousel *pointing* and place all your bags on the floor."
The wait was less than a minute before bags started to come down. My first bag was the second off the aircraft and was sniffed by the dog along with my briefcase and Takashimaya shopping bag before my second bag came off. The woman standing in front of me was busted for bring agriculture back which I thought was pretty funny; it's the first time that I'd ever seen that. Of course, she completely denied having anything while the dog refused to stop pawing at her bag. Smooth.
No line for customs, either. I walked up, handed my papers to the officer, was immediately handed back my passport, and waved on.
I made it from 3D to the passenger pick-up outside terminal D in less than six or seven minutes. It couldn't have been much faster. I ended up making it home before the scheduled arrival of my flight at IAH.
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