The summer States sojourn saga

Big Tooth Reservoir, as seen from the Pikes Peak Cogway, Manitou Springs, Colorado. (Photo by me)

Big Tooth Reservoir, as seen from the Pikes Peak Cogway, Manitou Springs, Colorado. (Photo by me)

JISHOU, HUNAN — As promised, here’s a summary of this year’s sojourn in the USA, accompanied by a few photos to document the adventure.

Before I get started, I’d like to welcome Medium readers to Wheat-dogg’s World. Today I discovered there was a WordPress plugin to post to Medium automatically. If all goes well, this post will be the first to appear on my Medium feed.

For new readers, I should explain that I’m an American teaching English in Hunan, China. Every year, my university pays for a round-trip ticket to the USA, and I usually go back in the summertime for about four weeks to visit my family and friends, and sometimes even work in some touristy things, like visiting Pikes Peak. (See photo above.)

As I live in what you could call flyover country in China, traveling abroad requires a trip to a regional airport and a flight to an international hub, like Shanghai or Beijing. If you factor in all the taxi, bus, subway and plane segments, it takes about a day to get from Jishou to where any member of my family lives in the USA. (As yet, no one lives near an international hub airport.)

This year, however, that now fairly routine trip took much longer.

This is what was supposed to happen, and what did.

Waiting for the bus to Changsha at the Jishou north terminal. (Photo by me)

Waiting for the bus to Changsha at the Jishou north terminal. (Photo by me)

July 16: Take bus to Changsha (5 hours). Stay overnight.
July 17: Fly to Beijing (3 hours). Stay overnight in transit hotel.
July 18: Fly to Chicago (13 hours).

So far, so good. For only the second time, I did not fly United or American, but Hainan Airlines, a Chinese outfit that has aggressively expanded its service to add many direct international flights. Our transport was a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which was very comfortable. The food was good, and the seats comfortable with decent legroom. (See photo below.) More importantly, the flights were acceptably on time — noteworthy for China.

[One year, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was conducting air exercises and had essentially shut down commercial air traffic for hours at a time each day. My flight to Shanghai was four hours late, so I missed my international flight. It was also delayed the next day, and I ended up sleeping on a cot overnight in DFW, since I had missed my regional connecting flight.]

On board the Hainan Airlines 787 Dreamliner bound for Chicago. (Photo by me)

On board the Hainan Airlines 787 Dreamliner bound for Chicago. (Photo by me)

Here’s where things went awry. Severe weather on the East Coast had grounded many flights, including the plane I was waiting for. And waiting for. And waiting for. Finally, that flight was canceled, and United booked me on the morning flight on the 19th.

No way was I going to try to sleep overnight in O’Hare Airport. United offered discounts for a selection of nearby hotels. No free hotel, because (so sorry, dear traveler) bad weather is not our fault, so here’s a discount code to give the hotel clerk. And airlines wonder why travelers gripe about poor service. I was expecting a free room, but as jetlagged as I was, I didn’t feel like debating the issue. I booked a room at the airport Hilton at a 40% discount, so it was not so bad.

Anyway, I arrived at my daughter’s abode the next day — three days after I left my flat at Jishou University.

My stops while in the USA included Cedar Rapids, Denver, Boulder, Manitou Springs, Colorado Springs, and Elizabethtown, KY. It went all too quickly, and then I had go back.

Flying from Denver to Louisville, KY, in the evening.

Flying from Denver to Louisville, KY, in the evening.

The return trip went about as well as the inbound.

August 18: Fly from Louisville to Chicago-O’Hare (1 hour). Hahahahaha! No. (See below).
August 18: Fly from Chicago to Beijing (13 hours), arrive the 19th and stay in the transit hotel. Nope.
August 20: Fly to Changsha (3 hours), stay overnight.
August 21: Take the bus to Jishou (five hours). Collapse in bed.

Once again, stormy weather grounded or delayed flights, so once a-effing-gain my plane was delayed three hours. Or maybe it was four. Whatever, I missed my international flight by minutes, although I had hopes I could manage it. Arrival at O’Hare was silky smooth, aside from the delay. Quickly got off my American Airlines plane, grabbed my bag, caught the shuttle train to Terminal 5, and found … no one at the Hainan Airlines check in counter. Not a soul. They closed the check-in counter 45 minutes before boarding time, and even if I could have gotten through security with my bags and no printed boarding pass, the boarding gate was closed, too.

Their customer service informed me the next flight was the next day, but the only seats available were in business class and they would charge me for that ticket. ($1,946, to be exact). There were economy seats on the following day’s flight, but that would have required two nights in a Chicago hotel. So, I said thank you, let me think about it.

O'Hare Airport, my home away from home a least once a year.

O’Hare Airport, my home away from home a least once a year.

I did not fly back with Hainan Airlines.

American had a flight for $504 from DFW to Beijing the next day. So, I booked that flight, a night at a cheaper hotel than the Hilton (thanks, hotels.com!) and an early morning connecting flight to Dallas-Fort Worth with a five-hour window. This time, I made the international flight without a hitch, and even arrived in Beijing early enough to catch my original flight to Changsha on the 20th. (Instead of sleeping overnight in Beijing, I slept in Chicago.) From then on, everything went to plan.

It’s these kind of delays and inconveniences that make traveling a pain in the neck, and I can sympathize with people who swear off air travel and just stay home, or drive to their destination. Lying in bed the morning of my departure from Jishou, I faced my journey with a mixture of happiness, excitement and dread. This trip cost me more money than I had planned to spend, but the delays really only added one extra day to the itinerary.

So, my dread was pointless — what they call a “First-World problem.” I had the resources to deal with canceled and delayed flights, and unscheduled hotel stays. No biggie, in the grand scale of things.

So, if you’re one of those people who stay at home because traveling is a pain in the ass, get rid of that attitude. Pack a bag. Book a flight. And see what happens.

And hope for nice flying weather.

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