The waiting is the hardest part, which is exactly what I am doing as I write this in the Charlotte airport. My flight arrived from Philadelphia about noon and I now have 3 hours to wait to catch my shuttle to Asheville, which will take another 2 hours. All told, from door to door, this trip will cover about 39 hours. (Have to amend that. Now stuck in Charlotte because I screwed up and reserved the shuttle to Asheville for Tuesday, not Wednesday. On top of that I can’t find anywhere to buy a SIM card to call the shuttle service or my daughter. Looks like I will be at the Charlottte airport for at least several more hours.)
But until this latest screwup, this trip was perhaps the easiest and most hassle-free half-way-around-the-world journey that I’ve taken so far.
It started with Edi picking me up in Batam at 1/;30 pm Tuesday, and dropping me off at the Harbour By ferry terminal. The BatamFast ferry brought me to Singapore, where the immigration line was very short. A quick visit to the money changer to exchange my rupiah for Singapore and U.S. dollars and then a taxi to Changi Airport. Even the taxi stand was quiet. My taxi driver, however, was one of the talkative ones, enlightening me on Singapore’s growth and how expensive the city is.
At Changi, I was about 3 hours ahead of my departure time so I had time for some lakso, a noodle-based, fish soup. Not so good.
I was flying east to west this time around, so I was taking Qatar Airways for the first two legs. I have to give kudos to Qatar Airways; they do it like U.S. carriers used to about 20 years ago. Excellent customer service, no baggage fees, wet towel when seated, nighttime kit of socks, earplugs and blindfold, good-sized blanket and pillow – all comped. And the liquor was free, and it was top shelf, such as Hennessey VOP cognac.
The first plane to Doha, Qatar, was an Airbus 350-900, with comfortable, wide seats and good legroom, a new, well-functioning entertainment system in the seatbacks, and huge overhead bins that don’t encroach on your head space. Two points of dissent, however – the seats reclined too far, pushing the TV screens into your face; and the food was just ordinary, although creative.
The first leg was 7 hours long and there were two meals – a choice between chicken or beef for dinner and a snack closer to arrival time. The movies were current, with ?? and ??my coice for this leg of the trip. The plane was barely half full and I was left with a 3-seat row all to myself.
Doha’s terminal is new and modern, with plenty of duty-free shopping available. Immigration was routine, as it was at every stop on this trip.
After a 2-hour wait, I was on another Qatar Airways flight, this time on a Boeing 777 headed for Philadelphia. This leg would take 13 hours. Again, the flight was only half booked, so I had plenty of room to relax as much as possible on such a long flight in the confines of an airplane.
Again the alcohol was free, but it was sometime in the morning for my bio clock, so diet sodas and juices sufficed. They served two meals and a snack, none of which was anything special, but all of which certainly surpassed food on U.S. airlines. Oh, that’s right, you have to buy the food now on U.S. airlines.
Finally, finally, we arrived in Philadelphia, where I’ve never been in the airport and I was somewhat concerned about immigration and customs. I shouldn’t have been. This is where you have to claim your baggage, run it through customs and then recheck it. I breezed through the immigration line pretty quickly and Customs never even scanned my baggage, just let me through. The international entry area, in fact, was pretty quiet, but then it was only about 7 am Wednesday morning.
I should also mention that this is when I encountered the first rude employee behavior I’ve experienced in some time. Indonesians are just not rude, but I quickly learned that Americans can be.
There were only 2 ½ hours to wait for my Charlotte flight but it seemed like an eternity. I did have a gyro sandwich. $9.99! Welcome home, Ken, where the prices are high, especially at the airports. It was the first gyro I’ve had in a long time, however.
Unlike the previous two flights, this one was packed, with some standbys unable to get on. I slept through most of the 2-hour flight.
My shuttle bus to Asheville was scheduled to pick me up at 3 pm and drop me off in Asheville, after stopping in Greenville, by 5 pm. ?But as I said above, I’m still stuck in Charlotte.
I chose the Asheville shuttle instead of flying into Asheville because it saves about $400, and gets you into Asheville much earlier than the flight options from Singapore to Asheville.
I’m having a little trouble keeping my eyes open, as I might have logged 4-5 hours of sitting-up sleep the entire trip. Some coffee would be good right now.