Thursday, September 4, 2008

From somewhere over the Pacific...

I’m currently sitting in seat 63A on a Boeing 747-400 en route to Hong Kong. It’s about 3:10 a.m. Denver time, and we’ve been airborne now for about fifteen minutes. So far, to say it’s been an adventure would be a grand understatement… “fiasco” would be a better word.

I flew Southwest Airlines for the first time on the Denver to Los Angeles leg. With unassigned seating and an odd boarding process, they still manage to load a plane in short order, but our flight departed right at an hour late. I had a 3 1/2-hour layover in L.A., though, so I wasn’t worried at all. Frankly, the less time I spend in LAX, the better. I must say, though, Terminal 1 there, where Southwest’s gates are, is much nicer than the other domestic terminals.

One of the big reasons I chose Southwest for my domestic leg is their policy of allowing two checked bags free of charge, and $25 for the third. This is much better than any other U.S. airline, plus, Southwest allows ticket changes without a penalty charge. So I checked my three bags and slept on nearly the whole flight. When I got to LAX baggage claim, two of my three bags arrived intact. The third, however, was completely destroyed. In all the countless flights I’ve taken worldwide, I have never, ever seen a bag so maimed. Needless to say, many of the contents inside were destroyed as well . All my snorkeling gear was completely gone. The pictures I snapped barely do justice to the damage this suitcase suffered. It looks like it got caught in some serious machinery and just got ripped, torn, and apparently friction-burned (the zipper was actually fused together and some of the nylon and plastic pieces were deformed). The jeans I had inside were similarly mangled. It goes without saying that I filed a claim. I think I was too tired to be particularly upset; after all, they’re just things, none of which were irreplaceable, and I expect Southwest will compensate me well. They provided me with a brand-new suitcase to replace the dead one, and there’s no question the new bag is in an entirely different league from the one that was destroyed, which was cheap to begin with, and probably about fifteen years old. So I figure I’ll ultimately come out okay on this. I even got a trolley provided free of charge (they’re normally $3.00 to rent – free at every airport in Asia, I might add), so I loaded up my pile of luggage and made my way to the international terminal.

Now one of the reasons I despise LAX so much is that its many terminals are in this massive, horseshoe-shaped building. Anytime you transfer from a domestic flight to an international one (which is a substantial percentage of flights there, I would suspect), you have to actually leave the building and walk outside for a considerable distance. This time, it was about a ten-minute walk to the international terminal, which is undergoing a much-needed renovation, so the whole thing is a gigantic mess.

I finally managed to make my way to the Cathay Pacific counters, where I was told by the two ladies at the counter that my third bag would cost a jaw-dropping $110 extra to fly to KL. I sweet-talked the agents a bit and told my sad tale of Southwest baggage-eating woe, and somehow, they said they’d waive the fee. So I got a very nice new suitcase and saved $110 out of the deal, and Southwest will doubtlessly wind up paying me a few hundred dollars for the ruined contents of my luggage. It’s made for a very interesting beginning to this adventure, to be sure. The counter agent also told me that my “hand carry” luggage was much too heavy. My bag weighed about 16 or 17 kg and they only allow a paltry 7 kg for economy class passengers, which is about 15 pounds. That’s insane… the carry-on bag itself probably weighs 5-6 pounds. So I rearranged a few things, put some things in my checked bags, and got it down to 11 kg and they continued to take pity on me and let me go.

When I boarded the plane, I was really happy to see that it’s one of the planes with Cathay Pacific’s newly refurbished interiors. The seats are in hard plastic “shells,” so when you recline, the shell stays fixed, but the seating part slides and reclines, so you never have the person in front of you crashing back into your lap. It’s brilliant. They also have these massive LCD personal displays in each seat and on-demand movies and such, so it’s like watching a DVD where you can pause, rewind, etc., rather than just watching what they play and when they play it. It’s really nice, and the seat even has a power outlet so I can use my laptop for longer than two hours – exceptionally rare to have an AC outlet in economy class!

They’re about to serve a light supper, then they’ll turn off the cabin lights and everyone will pass out. For my dinner, I’ll be having smoked salmon with potato salad, stir-fried beef with oyster sauce, steamed rice, and mixed vegetables, bread and butter, tea, and strawberry cheesecake for dessert (this is all from the menu). They also offer complimentary wine and spirits, so I’ll have some wine with the meal as well, a 2005 El Benteveo Malbec from Argentina. Our airlines in America could learn a lot from the Asian carriers!

Time to eat and then get some more sleep. More later!

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