As previously noted, I returned home from Kuala Lumpur last night. The trip involved three segments: KL to Shanghai, Shanghai to Chicago, and Chicago to Rochester, NY. The times in the air for each were approximately 4.5 hours, 13 hours, and 1.25 hours, respectively. The connection times were 2 hours and 3.5 hours. The time difference between home and KL is 12 hours. Today, I’m tired, especially since I couldn’t sleep past 4 am. This is an account of how the trip home went, particularly the first half.
My plan was to get up at 4:30 am in order to catch my 5:30 ride to KLIA, the very modern international airport that is about an hour outside Kuala Lumpur. At 4:16 I was awakened by a beep from my laptop when it went to sleep, 5 hours after I last used it. I got up, determined it wasn’t worth trying to go back to sleep, and turned off that particular computer feature.
I checked out, got my ride, got to the airport quickly since there wasn’t much traffic, and eventually found the check-in area. I was relatively early, but I think that’s always smart for these international flights. I travel through Chicago quite a bit on international flights and I know that when I am re-entering the US I need to pick up my luggage and recheck it after passport control and customs. I didn’t know that Shanghai Pudong airport has the same process. That means that unlike my trip to KL, I would be waiting for and seeing my checked bag quite a bit.
The Malaysia Airlines agent could not give me boarding passes for any leg of the journey other than the first, nor could he check my bag beyond Shanghai. I was really concerned about this because the Shanghai connection would involve getting off the plane, getting through Chinese passport control, retrieving my luggage, going to American Airlines check-in, getting my next boarding pass and checking my luggage, going through the outbound passport control, and then on to my flight. This seemed like a lot to do in two hours. I didn’t have a choice.
It was an easy job to get through the Malaysian passport control and I found the airport train to bring me to the C gates. Similarly, I found the lounge and waited for my flight. I went down early to the gate and though there was a line to get in, there were no holdups.
There was a bit of a problem with one of the monitors—I had never seen Symantec AntiVirus popping up a window on a Microsoft Windows-based machine at an airport—we boarded without issue. Nevertheless, I hope they are looking at using Linux in the future.
The flight to Shanghai Pudong went smoothly, though it was pouring rain when we landed. I don’t think I was the only one surprised when the 777 parked away from the gate. Some airports do this when the gates are all full, but it seemed like a real pain because of the rain. They opened up the aircraft door and then wouldn’t let us leave.
We were waiting for the ground agent to bring over disposable raincoats which she did, 10 minutes later. Passengers then proceeded to block the door while they awkwardly tried to get on this protection from the rain. I skipped mine since I figured I would be outside in the elements for all of 20 seconds.
I got to the first bus and it slowly filled up as passengers made it down the stairs and across the few feet to the vehicle. Eventually the doors closed and we set off, presumably for the terminal. Actually, the driver just moved around to the other side of the plane and parked. It seems that we would wait for all three buses to fill up and then go together. This did, and does, seem like a very inefficient way of moving people through the landing process.
We eventually moved off the tarmac after about 15 minutes, though the driver seemed to enjoy stopping for any possible reason. We were dumped en masse at a gate and rushed in to find hundreds of people waiting for passport control. I chose a line and eventually got to an immigration and passport officer. It’s never good when they pull you out of line, especially in a foreign country.
In this particular instance, I just needed to go to a special desk to get my passport stamped saying I was only connecting. It would have been easier if I had the boarding pass for the next flight, but they were helpful and gracious. I made my way down to baggage return.
There are fourteen baggage carousels with the exit right in the middle. Our luggage was on #14, right on the end. Luckily, so much time had elapsed that by then my bag was already there, spinning round and round. I grabbed it, made my way through customs and the throng of people meeting arrivals, and went upstairs to check in, again.
There was virtually no wait at American Airlines and I was even able to upgrade my seat to First Class. This is a perk of being a frequent traveler and one that I can rarely take advantage of on international flights. It was on the longest leg of the trip, so that was a win.
The rest of the trip was without incident, especially since I had so much time in Chicago. The United terminal at O’Hare is notorious for not having enough outlets, so I had to sit on the ground near a window close to a shoeshine station in order to plug in my Thinkpad. It’s hard to look like the sophisticated international traveler sometimes.
I’ll be happy to go to Shanghai some time in the future, but not for a connecting flight.