We have been trying to figure out how to start this post for a few days now and keep saying ”we will write it when we get there”, well five days later it is time. The past four days have truely been a test of our creativity, flexibility and sense of adventure. The challenges of standby flying have certainly showed there teeth, all starting in Miniappolis, MN on Friday, December 16.
Our spirits spirits were high taking off Friday morning from Reagan National Airport where our plan was to be in Bangkok by Saturday night after routing through Tokyo (Nirita) Japan. The flights looked wide open the night before and we felt confident we’d make it with no issue; however, when we arrived in Minneapolis the flight booked up. As we watched the plane pull away from the gate we were dissappointed but kept our spirits high and told the gate agents we’d see them the next day. I had never been to ‘Mini’ and being just a few miles from the “Mall of America” we couldn’t turn down a rollercoaster ride inside a mall. Tom and Barb Schomer, some great friends of the Sittig’s, live in Mini so Fran gave them a call to see if they were in town and wanted to grab some dinner with us. After a few hours, Katie and I walked around the Mall of America, saw some amazing Legos, had dinner with great family friends and found ourselves at a diner called Dulono’s listening to a bluegrass band. One of the great things about standby is although you risk getting “bumped” it is what you do with your unexpected layovers that make them adventurous.
We woke up on Saturday, December 17th excited and confident we would get on the flight to Tokyo, but upon arrival saw the chances were getting slimmer by the minute. We milled around with several other non-revs and a few of the revenue passengers that didn’t get on and considered the options. With the flights not looking any better in the next few days we decided to keep moving west and head to Seattle. We hoped that since there was at least one positive seat showing (and several still available to sell) that was better than other any other departure city across the US (they showed overbooked already). Since we gained a couple of hours we landed with some time to wander and opted to change our Bangkok Marriott reservation to downtown Seattle. Not what we had in mind but, not a bad place to stay overnight. We had a nice dinner and laughed at the place we ended up at. A bit more stuffy than our usual style, but we laughed at our goofey bartender and the guy who pointed out that he looked exactly like guy from Fargo that ended up in the wood chipper. And hey, the view from our room was nice!
Third time a charm?! we rode the Light Rail Link back to the airport and hoped we would get on the flight to Tokyo, surely we would have better luck this time. But luck has not been on our side this weekend before Christmas and we found ourselves extremely disappointed again (at least we didn’t miss an $8k tour like another family flying standby, figure that one out).
After analyzing the flights and departure cities we decided that we needed to figure out an alternate route. The best option appeared to be Beijing China, at least that got us to Asia where we could continue on to Tokyo then Bangkok. After some quick research by Bud we realized that China requires a visa to get into the country, unless you have a purchased onward ticket – standby in China is not an option. So we decided to look for an Asian carrier that could also provide a more direct route. During all this we met another couple, Stefano and Britt, who were on their first trip together, first international trip and first standby experience all in one – we were all glad to be in this together but I think they were more glad to have someone take the lead.
The gate agent who made their itinerary change was under the impression that the standby listing would be considered an onward ticket and no additional flights were confirmed. As boarding time approached it came to our attention that without an actual confirmed onward ticket we could not board the plane. That left one option, buy a full fair ticket from Beijing to Bangkok. Now the challenge here is we still had not been cleared with a seat, it looked good but still a gamble to buy tickets. We were also required to provide proof to the gate agent who wasn’t sure a reservation would be enough. With 40 minutes to push back we got the word we would be cleared and the fury to buy tickets began. We borrowed a computer from a Chinese passenger who was about to board and started pulling up all the options we could, but couldn’t seem to get what we needed. So Katie called Bud in the middle of his birthday party to help out. In the mad dash and only 15 minutes before they shut the door we frantically relayed all four of our information over the phone. We boarded the flight with an email confirmation on my phone and enjoyed the 12 hour flight to Beijing in first class. Dinner and drinks were just what we needed before laying down flat in our cushy Boeing 777 seats and sleeping for 9 hours of the flight!!
We arrived in Beijing thinking we were okay, good to go, and everything smooth sailing; we had a confirmed ticket on Phillippine Airlines through Manila and on to Bangkok. Well, as we were taxiing in and looked at the email we noticed the reservation was made under “Katherine Sittig” not “Katherine Moore”, and the panic set in. There was nothing to be done and we had to forfeit the ticket and buy a new one at a significantly higher price! Yikes. So the adventure continues…
After three hours of chaos in the Beijing Airport the four of us boarded the plane and everyone was finally on the same page about where we were getting to where we were going. We arrived safely in the Philippines, when we got off the plane we immediately felt more relaxed and glad the people were so friendly. Only two flights left before reaching our final destination Chaing Mai, Thailand but everyone was feeling it and ready to be there. At this point we lost a few days in Bangkok but wasn’t cutting into the core of our trip so our spirits remained high.
I don’t know, seeing a sunrise over the Philippines is not all that bad….especially when you are with the person you love…
4 days, 7 flights and 27 hours of flight time later we finally made it – safe, sound and loving it.
Elephants are up next…
– Travel Moore