2006.01.21 Chicago, USA

Grandpa and David
Grandpa and David

I'm stuck in Chicago for one more day. This is a very good thing.

I was supposed to fly back to China this morning, on a cheap ticket with a horrible set of connections. The first flight was to head in the wrong direction: to Detroit. After connecting in Detroit I was to make another connection in Tokyo, then change planes once again, ultimately arriving in Guangzhou.

Guangzhou was my final destination with Northwest Airlines, though not a place I really wanted to wind up. When I bought the ticket its main advantage was proximity to Hong Kong, three hours away by bus. I'll be attending Aunt Eleanor's 25th wedding anniversary in Manila this Thursday so figured I had enough of a margin to get down to Hong Kong, spend some time with friends, then hop on a flight to the Philippines. (Manila is far better connected with Hong Kong than anywhere in mainland China.)

I was not looking forward to arrival in Guangzhou. After making all those connections, the Guangzhou plane was due in at 10:30 P.M.. I've been through Guangzhou many times before; my general impression of the city is that it is big, seedy, and ugly. The late arrival time would mean additional hassles. It would be too late to head directly down to Hong Kong--I'd have to find some hotel for the night. It would be too late to find a public bus out of the airport. I was already dreading the argument with some taxi driver who would demand to set an inflated fare rather than run the meter. I figured I'd be paying too much for both the ride into the city and the hotel room.

Before leaving Aunt Kathy's condo for the airport, I checked the flight status of the initial leg. The Detroit portion was on-time so I hopped on an L out to O'Hare. I accepted that I would have a long day of travel, capped off with an unpleasant arrival in Guangzhou.

Unexpectedly, a snowstorm in Tokyo came to my rescue. Northwest use Narita as a hub for most of their service in that region, today all passengers with destinations across Asia were told they would have to fly on a later date. The initial ticket-agent I worked with told me rescheduling would be impossible until later in the week. "I might be able to get you on the same flights this Wednesday," she tried. As that would get me into Guangzhou too late to meet my flight to the wedding anniversary, I declined.

Penny and Aunt Kathy
Penny and
Aunt Kathy

I felt bad for the ticket agents: there were a lot of angry customers, only three agents, and no flights. I remained friendly but maintained that a four-day delay was unacceptable. Eventually the first ticket-agent gave up; another worked with me for an hour, until finally coming up with a far better itinerary than my initial ticket.

I'm now booked on a non-stop flight from Chicago to Hong Kong. It leaves tomorrow on rival airline United. I don't understand how this arrangement works, but am happy to have one flight rather than three. Skipping the taxi, hotel, and bus to Hong Kong are bonuses I couldn't have hoped for.

So. I should have enough time to linger in Hong Kong, visiting Bonnie and Matthew at their new flat. That will allow me to stow the things I'm bringing back to Xinjiang, then travel light to the Philippines. Best of all, I get an extra day in America, a free day to spend with relatives. Sometimes things just work out.