Wednesday, June 11, 2008

My 16-hour trans-Pacific voyage

I left Vancouver at 12:45 on a direct flight to Incheon, just outside of Seoul. The flight was great. Entertainment-on-demand is a real bonus (I watched 4 movies!). I was surprised as we left Vancouver to see coast line out the window for about 2.5 hours. I had expected the plane to set off directly across the Pacific Ocean, but instead we seemed to be travelling north. I checked out our route, and was amazed to see our flight path took us up all the way to Alaska and across the Bearing Straight.

We landed in Incheon almost an hour late, which meant I was pretty sure I wouldn't make the connecting flight. I needed to get my luggage (which is always the very last off the plane), clear customs, buy a ticket for and find a bus to Gimpo airport, check in at Gimpo and find my new departure gate. I had exactly 95 minutes to accomplish all these things. I knew that the airports were about 30 minutes apart travelling by bus. It seemed likely that I would be sleeping in a hotel in Seoul.

I couldn't think of what to do other than follow the plan I originally had. What else was I going to do? Getting off the plane and simply getting to the customs area took 21 minutes. "Perfect," I thought to myself sarcastically. Luckily, customs was easy. The customs man and I didn't even speak. I handed him my passport, he smiled, scanned it, typed a couple quick things on his keyboard, nodded and that was that. Exactly 30 minutes later, my luggage barrelled down the conveyor belt, second from last. I looked at the digital clock. 44 minutes till my next plane was scheduled to leave. I found the bus, loaded all my baggage and snagged a seat in the front row. Yesssss! I planned to spring from the bus once it stopped and run madly through Gimpo airport. I spent the 30-minute bus ride rehearsing how I would plead with the check-in personnel to let me on the plane, seeing that I would be arriving at Gimpo within about 14 minutes of take-off. I also soaked up the scenery and relished in amazement of my surroundings. "I am in Asia," I kept telling my brain, "Asia!"

Gimpo airport, domestic terminal, 9 minutes till take off. The bus let us off directly in front of the Air Korea check in counter, but on the wrong level. I dashed for a cart, loaded up my bags and pushed my way into a crowed elevator. "Come on, come on, come on...". The doors open, and there's nobody in line. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? "Am I too late?" I panted, out of breath, as I handed the woman my passport. She looked at me a little sideways, and told me she didn't speak much English. She then carried on to check me in as casually as if I was the normal 2 hours early. She pointed me towards the gate, which was 50 feet away, took my bags and said with a smile, "Have a good trip."

And that was that. No problem. Easy. Perfect.

As I walked calmly towards my departure gate with 3 minutes to spare, I wanted to yell really loudly, "I love Korea! I LOVE Korea. I LOVE Gimpo!" The impulse probably came from having not spoken to people very much over the past 16 hours. Or maybe the idea that I was surrounded by people who would probably not understand me, and not think of me as any less or more crazy because of an English outburst. Who knows. Maybe it was the fact that it was sunny and beautiful, I hadn't slept a wink in the last 21 hours and I had made it. I was just 55 minutes away from seeing my family. As I boarded the flight, I felt like I was on top of the world. A new and exciting world.

No comments: