It seemed like such a simple itinerary. LAX to Narita Airport in Tokyo – non-stop and a mere 11 hours.
The added bonus was that I was going to be able to take one of the brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliners. Score right? Well, not so fast.
The day started out OK. Security was relatively painless and I got to the gate in plenty of time. Having done my research, I knew I had no choice but to get a United Economy Plus seat and according to SeatGuru, I had gotten one of the only coveted green seats – a bulkhead aisle. The main new feature at least aesthetically, on the Dreamliner are the large viewing windows that also have electric shutters on them. I was pleasantly surprised how smooth and quiet the takeoff was.
I settled in to watching something on my iPad and looked forward to getting to Japan. About 30 mins into the flight, it was becoming quickly clear something was wrong. We had slowed down and seemed to be circling the Southern California coast line. Slightly more alarming, thanks to those large windows and my seat near the wing, we appeared to be dumping fuel. Finally, the captain came on the PA and explained that our landing gear wasn’t quite going up as hoped. He said they were consulting the manuals and were also flying at angle to see if they could locate the problem. That plus our fuel now forming these huge trails in the sky made it pretty clear were weren’t getting to Tokyo.
After 90 mins, we had finished dumping out all of the fuel and were assured that the landing would feel normal. Fortunately, that proved to be the case although it was an unusual stop with no rear thrusters used at all – just a simple brake stop in about 5 secs. As we taxied in, there were a large group of concerned looking suits who clearly were trying to figure out who to blame for what was surely going to be an expensive error.
They told us to stay on the plane and await for further notice. Everyone in my immediate area scoffed at the idea that they were going to fix the issue with us on the plane. Sure enough, after a total of 3 hours on the plane, we were told to exit but to stay around the gate. By this point, I was also pretty sure this plane wasn’t going anywhere today. They put the new departure time at 4PM (I had been there since 10AM) To my amusement, I looked up the flight status and saw something you pretty much never do – a leg that indicated LAX to LAX, which had been generated when we went back to LAX. Next came the next expected announcement. The flight was canceled and we were to proceed to baggage claim.
When we got to baggage claim, they said to rebook we had to go upstairs. I decided the best course of action was to get up there as quickly as possible. That proved to be a very wise decision as I was the 4th person in what grew to be about a 200 people line. I was still trying to figure out a way to at least get to Narita, where they would give me a hotel room since the trains to Osaka would have long ended. Armed with frequent text updates from my diligent friend James about possible routes, I spent about 30 minutes trying to figure out a way to get there. When my last ditch effort via Delta didn’t work, I gave up and decided to take the next flight tomorrow morning, which was our plane’s new departure. Fortunately, I was able to get my same seat.
The Fates decided they weren’t quite done with me and decided to throw in a rolling earthquake that night at home. When it started, I yelled “oh perfect!” since I would have missed this having already been en route to Japan. I was also concerned about possible larger ones happening and then pretty much assuring my Japan trip would be a wash. I pictured the scene in 2012 where the plane takes off as the entire city of LA gets swallowed into the ground. That lead to a fitful night’s sleep but I was ready to try again.