LAX to Chengdu in 24 Hours

From the hotel’s airport shuttle pickup in Los Angeles to our doorstep in Chengdu, Thad and I logged more than 10,000 miles in almost exactly twenty-four hours. (I suppose it could be worse- much worse. When I just used Google Maps to look up the distance, it told me that walking here would take 141 days and twelve hours. I must applaud Google for them rather exact timeline, as it narrows down the walking time to within half a day. That’s pretty darn accurate! Google also helpfully tells me that my journey on foot will require the usage of a ferry. I think “ferry” might be a bit of an understatement when it comes to a mode of transportation for crossing the world’s largest ocean. Just saying…)

Our itinerary consisted of one fourteen hour flight from LAX to Shanghai, a three hour layover (which became four) in Shanghai and then a three hour flight to Chengdu. What does one do with fourteen solid hours on an airplane? Well, to begin with, one (this one!) is as happy as a clam with her upgrade from the total riff-raff section of the flying metal tube to the semi-riff-raff section, thereby gaining a god-send of five extra inches! (I believe the upgrade was in response to the polite, yet firm, letter I sent to United about my previous travel experience trying to get from Idaho back to Washington DC. I never received anything in my email as a response to my complaint, but our seats just happened to get bumped from the very back of the plane to the oh-so-lovely United Economy Plus section. Those extra few inches are undeniably amazing!) So, with a bit of extra legroom, and still fourteen hours to kill, what is there to do? I passed by afternoon/evening/afternoon/evening (I’m pretty sure we never hit night or morning as we followed the sun) by watching all of the available episodes of New Girl and The Big Bang Theory, making a personalized playlist of as many pop songs as I could find (making the playlist on their system took nearly as long as actually listening to the whole thing!), coloring what has to be the world’s most complex (and now awesome!) picture of a rhinoceros and finishing not only my book about North Korea, but also my book club book. (I know I am *way* behind on book reviews.  Now that we are getting settled, hopefully I will get going on them again!)

What I really want to know is: How is it possible that our three hour flight from Shanghai to Chengdu felt longer than the fourteen hour one from the US to China?!? I don’t think I slept more than about half an hour coming across the ocean, but once I hit that China Air flight, all I wanted to do was sleep! But, of course, I no longer had my miraculous upgrade through United, so Thad and I crammed our long legs into the not very accommodating space between rows and tried, in vain, to sleep sitting straight up.

We were lucky that Thad’s timeline coming here put us in not only on a Friday night, but the Friday night of a three-day weekend. Having that extra day to combat jet-lag before showing up at work was fabulous for him. The weekend was spent wandering our new neighborhood, where Thad took some great pictures of daily life, as it is, in China.

I was thrilled to find that there is an H&M store in Chengdu now! I’ve never been in one in the US, but I promptly skittered in to the one here when I saw it and was thrilled to find clothes with Western sizing in them, some that might even fit me! I’ll be reminding Thad of that when birthdays roll around! We also drove past a Hooters, which is a new addition to Chengdu since we left last time. That one we will not be remembering when birthdays roll around!

After wandering town, both our very authentic-feeling neighborhood and the more touristy JinLi road area, I think we are both ready to settle in and get to work here. My new sidewalk is a bit bumpier than the one in Washington DC (it rained last night and I already stepped on a brick-bomb- the loose bricks that hold water under them, creating a booby trap that splashes muddy water everywhere when stepped upon), but it is good to finally be walking it!

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I’ve Displeased the United Airline Gods

I’ve come to a single conclusion today- United Airlines hates me.

My plan for today was simple: try to keep the mascara/eyeliner smears to a minimum as I said goodbye to family in Idaho, fly from Boise to Washington DC, via San Francisco and Chicago, and en route, work on a blog post about my two weeks running around the Treasure Valley. It was an ambitious plan, I’ll grant you that, but doable. Definitely doable. That is, until United stepped in and made one holy heck of a mess of the day!

(You’ll remember, when I flew home to surprise Mom last summer, I also ran in to issues with United Airlines. If you missed that lovely adventure, check it out here!)

After a breakfast of French toast at a Nampa diner (it is close to pre-flight pancakes, so it counts), Mom and Dad dropped me off at the Boise Airport just a bit after 10:30AM. My flight was for noon, so the timing was perfect. I got my bag checked in and headed through a security line that was nearly non-existent. It took me longer to get my belt and shoes off than it did for the line to move through the scanners. At my gate I was greeted with a notice that my flight to San Francisco had been delayed by an hour. Thinking this might cause issues with my connections the rest of the day, as they were all pretty tight, I went to the counter agent to ask about a possible “plan B.” Now, when it comes to inquisitive customers, I think I am a pretty laid-backed one, peppering my queries with pleases and thank-yous and lots of smiles, knowing that working with the public is not always a walk in the park. The gal at the counter, rather than considering I might be facing a dilemma, dismissively assured me that there would be no problem and sent me back to my gray plastic chair to await the cattle call of airline boarding.

With the Boise flight taking off an hour late, I touched down in San Francisco with just twenty minutes to make my Chicago connection.  There was still a chance of getting on that plane; that is until mine sat on the tarmac for another ten minutes, waiting for a gate assignment. Once we were docked (or whatever it is planes to do park) I skittered off the plane as quickly as possible and ran for my connecting area, a mere twenty gates away. Upon arrival, pink-faced from my people-weaving sprint, I was thrilled to see my plane sitting there, with the accordion walkway still pulled up to it, but one look at the attendant told me there would not be good news. Not only would she not allow me to board the plane (keep in mind, the lateness was on no part my fault!), but she hardly looked at me as she shooed me away, telling me I’d have to figure it out with the customer service counter.

Customer service- a term used rather broadly by United Airlines it seems. After waiting a ridiculous amount of time to even speak to a representative, the woman “helping” me seemed more interested in when her shift was over than how I was going to get home today. She initially told me the only choices were flights on Thursday or a flight that arrived at Dulles, so I asked her to check other airlines. She wasn’t happy that I knew they were required to do that, and grudgingly click-clacked on her keyboard until she came up with a red-eye flight that left SF at midnight.  With those options on the plate, I took the Dulles flight, which at least was non-stop, even if it did put me in an airport clear across town, after midnight, when the original airport was just a single Metro stop away from the mo-partment.  At this point, I tried asking where my checked luggage might be, but was told she didn’t know and couldn’t know and that I would have to take that up with baggage claim in DC. (With the movers coming the day after tomorrow, the lack of suitcase/personal items is a pretty big problem, but one that I can’t deal with at 30,000 feet, so it will just have to wait.)

With a freshly printed boarding pass in hand, I wandered to my new gate, only to find that that flight had also been delayed. With another hour delay on the docket, I at least had time to get some lunch. (Grilled cheese and fries- lunch of airport champions!)  When boarding time rolled around, we all herded on to the plane in a rather expedient manner, as everyone was eager to get in the air. Doors were shut, seatbelts were fastened, tray tables were locked and seats were in their upright positions- we were ready to fly. That is, until mechanics decided they needed to do something inside the plane, at which point doors were unsealed and almost another hour passed as we sat in our ever-so-comfortable airplane seats. Now, rather than arriving at Dulles a bit before 11PM, the flight will arrive well past midnight. (I am currently on said flight- looking out the window at what is maybe Colorado, or possibly Kansas.)

Why does this always happen to me?!?  I think Thad may be regretting flying to China with me next week, as it seems I can’t get an on-time flight to save my life. At this point, I figure if I can get home by 2AM, I can sleep for a few hours and be up when Thad leaves for work so that I can start the sorting/organizing process for the movers who are coming the following day. I always knew this last week in Washington would be hectic and a bit stressful, I just didn’t realize that United Airlines would compound the pressure by putting a time squeeze on in true anaconda-fashion. (I considered several Snakes on a Plane references to go with that metaphor, but have maturely decided against it. You’ll just have to go there in your own mind…)

Today is Wednesday. Next Tuesday I will be back on a United Airlines flight, headed for Los Angeles. All I can do is pray to the gods who control those “departure” monitors in the airport and hope for the best! (Maybe a sacrifice of a small clock or a watch would appease them…)

UPDATE:

The day may have been a near total disaster, but once I finally arrived in Washington DC, there were a few bits of good news:

  1. Somehow, my bag miraculously ended up on the same flight as me. That means that not only do I not have to worry about it arriving today while I am trying to get ready for our pack-out (which you can see I am clearly doing right now!), it meant that I had a toothbrush this morning when I finally rolled out of bed.
  2.  Super Shuttle was still running at 1AM, meaning I could get a ride home from Dulles! (A bonus- I got to sit the whole way. The last time I was out to Dulles, with Shannon and Joe, we took a packed Metro bus home. Standing with no real support was a great workout for our abs though!)
  3. Not only was the Super Shuttle running (at a cost of $30!), but I was the first drop-off out of nine people on board. That was about the best news I heard all day!!