26h from there to here … (aka ‘The Long Trek Home’)

After a last quick round of supermarket shopping we left our Japanese home at 11:35, forfeiting waiting for a taxi and just rolling our luggage all the way to Chitose Karasuyama where we boarded a rapid train to Shinjuku.

After a loooong goodbye from o-bachan and o-jichan, from there, instead of taking several other trains to go to Nipori to catch the Skyliner, we hopped on the Narita Express at 13:10 (about 800¥ more pp) but no more moving the luggage around and overall a nice train ride.

We arrived at Narita Terminal 1 at 14:27 and after a quick passport check, we were ready to pick up our one overly heavy suitcase which we had sent ahead the day before, full aware that we would re-destribute some of the weight to even out the load. No problem at all, actually, we could have brought 2 more suitcases each with 23kg full of stuff.

Check-in was easy. Like everywhere now, they first try to teach you how to use the machines, but as usual, with our colorful company and itinerary, the computer gave up and we were allowed to take a short line for direct check in. To my surprise (and Ritsu definetly has more experience in that field) we got invitations for the lounge, which was great. We did not have that much time, but it was still better than just hanging around the gate and in all the 3 weeks we did not get to eat edamame. And here they had plenty. They also had free wifi, but that was rather on the very slooooow side, but enough for a bit of this and that. Then some duty free shopping and I got a final Big Mac in (note to self, United Club Narita would not let you eat your McD food inside the lounge) and then it was already time to board.

As usual with Narita, everything went nice and smooth, 2 busloads of people, no big delays, and very shortly after I sat down, we started moving … ok, taxiing took 23 minutes … (17:10 – 17:33) .. but then it was finally time for lift off … and time to adjust the clocks .. Guanghzou is 1h behind .. so .. 16:33 …

I will keep writing this while flying and take and post pictures accordingly … Ritsu and Julius are sitting 2 rows behind me and are sleeping … lucky them!

Flight with ANA was pleasant, I had scored an extra legroom exit row seat, next to a tall Japanese guy who did not say a word. Food was some Japanese omelette with crab meat, cold noodles (cold on purpose) and while all was yummy, I was still full from the Big Mac. We arrived in China on time and I could not concur with all those bad reviews I had read on airlinequality.com (I.e. 2 reviews said the airport is too cold … yeah, maybe those people did not bother to check the climate and arrived in tank top and shorts, I saw several people like that. On the other hand I never got to experience the ‘overpriced food and drink’, ‘filthy bathrooms’ or ‘rude shopping staff’) … and we were immediately ushered to some special service counter regarding our transfer. Very helpful people with badges ‘I speak English’ (and then 2 or 3 stars, noting how well they spoke English, I guess) … while that was very nice (and I had thought this was an initiative from our airline, as they had promised us to upgrade us to BC), it turned out that this actually made things a bit more complicated.

Yes, it was nice that they took care of our luggage (it had to be collected and checked back in), but as we heard much later, we were supposed to get to the ET counter for our upgrade … we never got to that point. After a long wait, we were directly guided to our departure gate, where we were waiting for ET airline staff. The moment WE started standing at the counter, everyone else (mainly Ethiopians) got up and formed a line. (cue conga music here)

The local Chinese staff first looked very much like they had no idea, then they started taking people’s boarding passes and lead them to busses to hop on the plane (they started boarding at 23:30 .. with projected take off at 35 after midnight). We kept trying to explain our situation, I showed them the email I got from ET and that I wanted to talk to the station manager (Besides the fact that our economy class boarding passes were all separate seats: 13D, 12C, 11A … who though THAT was a good idea, for a family traveling with an 8 year old kid???)… I kept hearing ‘will be here in 20 minutes’ .. that turned into over 1 h … and I got really upset, but thanks to breathing exercises I did not explode.

Finally someone from ET came, if it was the station manager I did not know, his name tag was in Chinese only (and he did not look like a Wodwosen [very Ethiopian name, this guy looked rather Chinese]) … so .. they finally came around, even let us pick the seats and we were the last to board the plane … so .. 3 hours in China, just spent waiting and getting aggravated.

But alas! For a 12h flight being in business class was a blessing. We had pretty much the whole row 4 to ourselves (I think on one window was another passenger) and service was fairly ok (not that I think highly of BC on ET) … food was pretty decent, and the seats reclined very nicely so that we actually got quite some sleep in.

Little things that irked me: Why the heck have nice, big, personal 16:9 TV screens, but all the content is edited to 4:3 … and the headsets I had had a terrible buzz in one ear … at one point Julius’ screen stopped working … and I asked the FA if they need to reboot it. But the lady looked very puzzled and just recommended that J should move to a different seat (BC was only half full) . He had lots of fun with the IFE once we had slept enough and I caught him playing chess or doodling on some kind of paintshop app.

Thanks to all that, those 12 h went by fairly quickly and comfortably. We were greeted with a beautiful sunrise and landed in Addis just 15 minutes late. We were the first to get off board and for BC people they had an ‘all seating’ bus (although the distance from plane to terminal was laughably short) … while cattle class had standing only busses. Immigration was also no problem, all our luggage was there and our driver waited for us and we were home after wading through the Monday morning rush hour traffic.

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