Monday, September 27, 2021

dodging a bullet

In every flight check-in line, there is that guy in front of you who holds up the rest of the line for what appears to be the world’s most difficult ticketing problem.

Today, I was That Guy.

I thought yesterday that I had successfully reconnoitered all of the possible land mines that could blow my circumnavigation truck off the road this afternoon (sneaking out of the country). I was wrong. And I was not surprised.

There are probably no rational reasons why anyone would spend two days on an airplane landing in three different cities and not setting foot outside of an airport. I label this mission as idiosyncratic.

I felt sorry for the engaging young Japanese Airlines clerk who unwittingly drew the short straw when she asked me: “May I help you?” I told her what I was doing. That I was flying to Narita airport where I would catch a connecting Emirates flight to Dubai on the same day. I would not be going through Immigration or Customs. I was just transiting.

That obviously made no sense to her because she asked me for the results of my covid test, proof of health insurance, and the reservation number of the hotel where I was quarantining -- things I would need to enter Japan. I reminded her I was flying to Japan, but I was not entering Japan. A construct that would make far more sense in a transcendentalism seminar or a court decision (if there is any appreciable difference between the two) than in a pedestrian ticketing discussion. She asked for help from Agent Two, who walked her through the required computer entries.

About a month ago, a JAL agent told me on the telephone he would enter information showing my connecting flight, but he warned me JAL could not give me a boarding pass in Los Angeles. I would still need to do that in Tokyo. He was true to his word. The note was there.

I am glad he did what he did. Without it, I am certain it would have been “Game Over” at the outset.

The team at the computer had now grown to three agents and a supervisor. None of them had ever faced a similar booking problem. Fortunately, for each of their requests, I had an appropriate document in response.

I thought I was minutes away from receiving my boarding pass, when the supervisor came up with a fascinating scenario. I immediately recognized it, and I was a bit chagrined that I had not thought of it myself. She was concerned that I was using a foreign carrier to leave the United States and then returning to The States on another foreign carrier (essentially on the same day) without first stopping at an American airport.

It was the dreaded Jones Act. A piece of protectionist hoohaw that causes free-trade sceptics like  Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, and Joe Biden to join hands and sing kumbaya. I think of it being an impediment in cruise ship itineraries. But she knew better. It appears its nonsensical restrictions apply to air carriers, as well.

So, off she went for about fifteen minutes to discuss her hypothetical with an Emirates representative (because Emirates could pull the rug out from underneath me in either Tokyo or Dubai) and with an immigration officer (because he works for the agency that could enforce a violation – most likely, against the airlines for allowing such tomfoolery.).

When she returned with a glum look, I was positive the jig was up and the piper was about to be paid (and any other string of related clichés)
. In her absence I had tentatively booked an afternoon flight to Redmond. But I cancelled it. She said there was no problem.

About 20 minutes later, I had my boarding pass and headed through security.

I did not feel too bad being That Guy during the ticketing process because I held up exactly zero people -- even with four people helping me. The delta variant and Japan’s closure to foreigners (as if Japan had reverted to the days prior to Commodore Perry) make this flight looks as if it is made up of the survivors of the German Christian Democrats in Sunday’s election. There is one guy in first class. And only two of us in my section of business class. In total, there are only 54 passengers on a Boeing 777.

It was fortunate that I was not flying Westjet today. (Or, any day, for that matter.) I do not know why, but a line of Westjet passengers snaked out of the terminal and down the sidewalk. I would estimate that there were at least 200 very unhappy people just waiting to share a slice of nasty with anyone who got in their way. I would not have wanted to be That Guy with That Mob.

So, I am on my way to Tokyo, Days will get a little strange because we are about to cross the international dateline. But if I get the internet to work, I will post this essay while I am in the air.

The details of this segment my flight may wait until I get to Tokyo. Assuming I will have any internet time there once I track down how I am going to get a boarding pass.

We soldier on.

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