Japan: Getting there

· travel ·

Part 1 of a series

I went to Japan for a symposium, to meet up with some researchers there and look around their lab. I travelled with one of my graduate students (who I'll call GS) and a post-doc (PD). GS and I were lucky with our journeys to the airport and got there in plenty of time, but PD got stuck in traffic coming in to Heathrow and consequently was very late checking in. The guy on the check-in desk decided it would be funny to pretend that her luggage was over the weight limit so that she would have to pay over £100 in weight penalties. Ha ha. Really, why do people do that? Anyway, the fact that she had to check in at the Business Class desk to skip the queues might be significant in this story.

Our flight to Frankfurt was rather late, and as we had very little time between connecting flights, we were a bit worried about not making our connection. As luck would have it, the Frankfurt-Osaka flight was also delayed, so we didn't have to sleep at Frankfurt airport until the next flight the following day. When PD checked in, they told her that she should confirm her seat on the connecting flight when she got to Frankfurt. The guy on the desk had a cheeky grin on his face, as if he had a secret. After tapping away on the keyboard for a bit, he presented PD with a new boarding card and told her she had been upgraded to Business Class. GS and I put on our best pleading, adorable puppy expressions, which the check-in guy noticed. "Sorry", he said, "not for you". We deflated and made a mental note to get PD to pay for the beer that night (or perhaps forever). Check-in guy broke out in a grin again. "Only kidding, you get upgraded too". Yay! I've never travelled Business Class before.

The flight was overbooked, and I'm fairly sure that several of the others in our Business Class section were also upgraded. I could tell because we were the ones playing excitedly with our seat controls, taking photographs of the linen tablecloths, and generally behaving like people unused to travelling in such style. The seats adjusted in just about every dimension possible (including being flat, though not horizontal). There was even a lumbar massager built in, and the headphones were fancy models with noise cancelling. It felt weird (but wonderful) to have so much free space.

In the middle of the night (or whatever it was), I looked over to the mother and her 3 year old son who were seated across the aisle. The mother was asleep and laid out flat, but her son was watching one of the movies without headphones. In the flickering glow of the screen, I could see him systematically playing with the seat control buttons, in a serious and scientific manner. It kept him pretty happy.

Despite the luxurious conditions, we still didn't really sleep, and as we arrived in the morning local time, we had to try to get through the whole day without succumbing to the urge to go to bed. Much of that day was concerned with taking three trains and a taxi to get to our final destination. I'll write about the train system later, but I will say that we were mighty lucky to have PD with us. She had worked in Japan for a couple of years, and without her knowledge of the system and Japanese, GS and I would never have been able to even buy the right tickets, let alone end up in the right place. My abiding memory of that day is of total disorientation. When I finally got to bed, I think I fell asleep almost as soon as I had got into bed.