OK, here we go. It’s time to switch modes from “happy and relaxed traveler” to “overstressed tourist teetering on the edge of a panic attack”, and it had the potential to get messy.
I really hate feeling stressed when I travel, but unfortunately I had exactly an hour and 15 minutes to make my connection to Beijing after arriving from San Diego, and I really didn’t know if I was going to make it. I have transited at NRT many times over the years, and past experience has taught me that it’s really a crapshoot in terms of the time it takes to get through the security check and back out into the main terminal. I’ve been through in 10 minutes before, and other times it took about an hour. I was praying with all my might that this would be one of the times that I could get through in 10 minutes or less.
Normally I wouldn’t be so stressed about this kind of thing, but onward connections from NRT at this time of evening are not so plentiful, and chances were good that if I missed this flight I would be overnighting in Narita. I love Japan dearly, but I wasn’t in the mood for a missed connection tonight. Or a panic attack.
Tokyo, Japan (NRT) – Beijing, China (PEK)
Friday, January 26, 2018
Duration: 3 hours 58 minutes
Seat: 3K (business class)
Would you rather watch the video? It uses less brain power than reading a full blog post, especially with the soundtrack courtesy of Epidemic Sound:
Do you ever have moments where you feel really stupid about making a big deal about something when it was completely unnecessary? I was feeling exactly that as I was standing out in the main terminal after passing through the security check exactly 14 minutes after stepping off of the flight from SAN. I had made it, with over an hour to spare. Panic attack averted.
Making the transition back to “happy and relaxed traveler” mode came naturally as I began the walk to the departure gate for this flight to Beijing, and it felt so good to purge the thought of having to stay the night here at Narita and figure out a plan for the rest of my journey the next day. As long as there were no flight cancellations or major delays, I was definitely on my way to Beijing tonight.
This is the first time that I’ve ever been in the JAL portion of Narita airport, and I got to say that it’s quite nice – especially in the new section which looks like it was built yesterday. Everything is drenched in glass and metal and just beautifully lit, which was a nice consolation prize for having to walk nearly a mile to reach it. Seriously, that was a long walk, and as luck would have it my flight was departing all the way at the very end from the very last gate. Well, at least I got to see every bit of this nice section of the airport.
As I was sitting there waiting for the flight begin boarding, I was thinking how nice it was to be back in Japan again (if only briefly). Everything is so clean, the people are so nice, and everything runs like clockwork – right down to the second. Yup…my flight to Beijing started boarding exactly as scheduled, and not a second before or after.
My expectations were really low as I was walking down the jet bridge to this Boeing 737-800. There would be no Shell Flat Neo or Sky Suite business class seats in this particular bird, but it didn’t really matter to me since this was kind of a short flight anyway and I just wanted to get to Beijing. Economy class would’ve been perfectly OK to be quite honest.
I was the second business class passenger to arrive, and within moments of sitting down, a flight attendant came by with a basket full of earplugs, toothbrushes, and eye masks. I politely declined and just sat there settling in and getting all my belongings put away so as not to annoy the person who would be occupying the seat next to me.
Much to my surprise and happiness, this was yet another business class cabin that ended up being less than half full once the boarding door was closed. There were 12 business class seats on this particular aircraft, and only five were occupied as best I could tell.
What the heck is going on today? My flight over from San Diego was really empty, and this one was probably even more so. It’s actually a bit worrying when that kind of thing happens, because I then start thinking about some major news (like a virus) or something that’s going on at the moment that I have absolutely no idea about. I honestly have no idea how I’m eventually going to die, but part of me really believes that it’s going to happen out of my own ignorance of current events.
If all the news stations suddenly said “don’t go outside because there’s a lethal killer virus that will kill you dead”, I’d likely miss it and be one of the first casualties. That’s how I roll.
Our pushback from the gate was just as timely as the boarding process, and after a short taxi out in the dark outer regions of NRT, the pilots found our departure runway and we were off.
The flight attendants came by with hot towels roughly 10 minutes after departure, and I asked about entry forms for China. Little did I know that they were thinking ahead, and there were forms in the seat back pockets waiting for all passengers. Nice!
Next up was the meal service. There were no menus distributed on this flight, but the lead flight attendant (Ayumi) came by and offered two choices: the Western option, or the Japanese. I totally forgot what the western option was, most likely because I wasn’t even going to consider it since I was on a Japanese airline and Japanese food on Japanese airlines is the only way to go. Period.
I also had no idea what the Japanese meal consisted of, but I knew it would be amazing – only because I love Japanese food so much. As long as there’s no natto (blech!), I’ll be very happy to eat it all – whatever it is.
Long story short, I ate it all despite not being all that hungry. It was really good, and no, I had absolutely no idea what some of that stuff was. Most Japanese food is really healthy though, and I do like eating clean, so it got two very big thumbs up from SANspotter.
Every now and then I get a little bit self-conscious about all of the pictures I take during a flight, especially during the meal service. Since this was a very light load up here in business class today, the flight attendants didn’t really have much to do and they spent much of the flight just kind of hovering around waiting to serve us. I could sense them watching me as I took pictures of my food, and it did make me feel little bit awkward, but I don’t mind so much since it’s such an important part of my trip reports.
Just as I was finishing up my ice cream, Ayumi stopped by and mentioned that she noticed that I was taking a lot of pictures, and thought that I might enjoy a gift that she had for me. It was a plastic model of a JAL 777, and I was pretty much speechless as she presented it to me. Is that really generous or what?
It was completely unexpected, and it really blew me away that she could be so kind. I guess it was pretty obvious that I was enjoying the flight immensely, and that kind of proactive gesture made it even better. That was definitely the highlight of the trip so far.
There’s really not a whole lot to say about the rest of this flight, as the jetlag was really starting to catch up with me and I couldn’t help but to start feeling incredibly sleepy as we passed right overtop of Seoul.
I slept on and off for the rest of the flight, waking up every now and then to tilt my head the other way to reduce the painful strain on my neck. These seats were not very comfortable, and it felt just like I was sleeping way back in the bowels of economy class. And we all know that economy class sleep is never good. Especially in the bowels.
The good news is that we arrived at Beijing right on time. The bad news was that it was completely dark outside and I couldn’t see a darn thing. Oh well. This wasn’t the first time I had ever flown into PEK, so I already knew that it was a huge airport that seems to go on for miles and miles. The taxi into the gate would likely take a while.
Yes, the taxi to the gate took a while. But that’s OK, because my first ever flights on JAL were now complete, and I was feeling really good about the experience. A long taxi time into the gate wasn’t going to sour my spirits any, but I think I may have been a bit too happy and satisfied because I inadvertently forgot to unplug my iPhone charger from the electrical outlet between the seats and I left it on the plane behind me. Damn.
There’s no scarier feeling in the world then arriving at a new destination with a phone that has less than 30% battery left and absolutely no way to charge it. At least I didn’t realize that I had lost the charger until I was in my hotel room later that night, so I was able to happily walk out of the airport and into a taxi with a huge smile on my face for arriving in Beijing comfortably and perfectly on time. Ignorance is bliss, right?