Sunday, September 19, 2021

back on the road

My calendar taunts me.

For the last few mornings, my telephone notifies me that I am on a cruise from Vancouver to Tokyo. It reminded me this morning that I am "at sea" -- and that I should have a nice day. I made up the "nice day" wish, but everything else is true.

Over a year ago, I joined my friends Roy and Nancy in signing up for a Celebrity cruise that would leave Vancouver on 10 September and arrive in Tokyo on 26 September. Those plans fell apart this spring. 

The continued strain that The Virus was putting on travel made a long cruise like that look unlikely. And unlikely it was.

First, Canada decided to close all of its ports to cruise ships for the remainder of 2021. The cruise line looked at the possibility of moving the start of the cruise to Seattle. But the wheels fell off of that Studebaker when Japan shut down its ports even while it struggled to keep airports open for the Olympics. As we all know, that plan ended up with Japan shutting its borders to tourists.

Our original plans were to stay in Tokyo for a couple of days. We would then board our respective flights to head home on 28 September -- having enjoyed the sybaritic pleasures of Tokyo for two days.

Just by chance, I discovered a homebound flight on Emirates that would take me from Tokyo to Dubai and then another flight from Dubai to Los Angeles. Effectively I would have made a trip around the world -- almost like an astronaut. The prospect fascinating me.

I booked one of Emirate's first-class suites. By now, I suspect that everyone knows that Emirate's suites are one of the crown jewels for international travel. But, best of all, I purchased the suite with my accumulated air miles on Alaska. To purchase it my savings would have meant selling a tidy share of my house.

When Celebrity cancelled the Tokyo cruise early in the summer, I did not cancel the Emirates reservation. Due to travel plan changes on two prior occasions, I was forced to give up the chance to experience the Emirates experience.

So, I decided to stall as long as I could. After I booked the flight, Alaska joined another airline alliance. There would be no further air mile purchases on Emirates. It was truly a use-it-or-regret-it choice.

The problem was how could I get to Tokyo. Cruise lines were no longer serving the country and the airport was closed to everyone with the exception of a limited number of special-visa holders. My papers were certainly not in order.

Then, it occurred to me. The restrictions clearly said that tourists could not enter the country. I did not need to enter the country; I just needed to enter the airport. Certainly connecting flights through Tokyo were still flying.

And, I was correct. With a little bit of research, I discovered that I could connect through Narita airport without even having a test for The Virus -- on two conditions. The first is that I cannot have a connecting flight at another Tokyo airport (like Haneda). The second condition is that the connecting flight has to be on the same day.

That sounded simple. All I needed to do was book a flight to Narita to arrive in sufficient time to catch my connecting Emirates flight.

That sounded simple enough. I gave myself a six-hour window and purchased a Japan Airlines business class ticket to Narita. That is when the fun began.

I asked if the two flights could be linked to show that I have a connecting flight that will qualify me to get on the airplane in Los Angeles. The answer was "no," but the agent helpfully volunteered to send an email to the check-in clerk in Los Angeles next week. Without meeting the "connecting flight" condition I would end up going nowhere.

I then checked with the Emirates customer service representative explaining my situation, that I cannot leave the secured area at Narita but I need to get a boarding pass for the second half of my journey. He had no suggestions other than to inform me there is no Emirates customer Service past security and, unlike other airports where the First Class lounge could help me, the Emirates lounge is closed in Narita.

So, there it is. The type of adventure that keeps my adrenaline burning. There is a good possibility that I will not be allowed onto the airplane in Los Angeles, and, that if I do, I may not be able to get on the Emirates flight in Tokyo. I may turn into Tom Hanks in The Terminal.

Is it worth the risk? Of course, it is. I refer you back to the "burning adrenaline" comment. What is the sense of doing anything if it can only go as planned?

If it works out, I will have flying experiences on which I can dine out on until I am tossed out with the rest of the refuse. If it doesn't, I will still have a tale to share. It is a writer's win-win adventure.

Even if there was not a story to be had, I would still do it. I need to start traveling again -- if only to prove to reluctant flyers that, with proper precautions, I am no more likely to contract The Virus on an airplane than I would at home. (Ignoring, for a moment, that my flight from Seattle in early March 2020 was most likely where I contracted my small bout with The Virus. But those were different times.)

It will also prepare me for a series of cruises I have already booked to take with Roy and Nancy over the next year.
  • January 2022 -- Caribbean - out of San Juan
  • February 2022 -- Antarctica -- out of Buenos Aires
  • April 2022 -- Los Angeles-Vancouver
  • September 2022 -- Vancouver-Tokyo 
  • January 2023 -- Dubai-Cape Town
It is a start. I still have a lot more ground to cover here in Mexico. Delta is starting to wane, but Mu is starting to wax. We will see if anything comes of it.

But all of this will wait until I finish my David Niven impression -- with or without Cantinflas. Saturday I will be on my way. 

Note -- I am starting to feel like the guy in one of the greatest send-ups of pretentious folk music in Christopher Guest's A Mighty Wind. Enjoy it. And then get up and start traveling.


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