Monday, January 23, 2006

Total Insanity

I will get back to blogging about food soon, but I just had to make a quick post about the Narita airport crisis. I mean, crisis is really the right word for that situation. It all started when 5 inches of snow fell on Tokyo an January 21st. Flights were canceled on that Saturday and service did not pick up on Sunday. There were close to 10,000 people who had to stay over at the airport, sleeping on the floor and waiting for food and water to be given out without showers or clean clothes. Many non-Japanese travelers didn't even have the option to leave the gate area, because they had already passed through immigration. The latest report says that there were 51 canceled flights on Saturday and 68 canceled flights on Sunday.

On Saturday night, I ended up spending the night in the Japan Airlines business class lounge. It was crowded with people on chairs and the floor. I had to buy a set of clothes to change into, and since I am a frequent traveler at Narita, I knew to reserve a spot for myself to take a shower at the Refresh Room (~$5 for 30 min). I survived and it was acceptable because - yes, it was weather-related and although I wished they had hotel rooms for us somewhere, I was OK about this whole situation. BUT when my Sunday flight also got canceled, I knew I couldn't do this again. The lounge was filling up at an alarming rate, there food service was dwindling, and the resources of the airport was really stretched to its limits. And really, it hadn't snowed in 24 hrs and most other airlines were flying out just fine. After seeing the chaotic response process from Japan Airlines, I decided that there was no way they were going to recover from this to fly me out on the third try either.

So instead, I spent close to 5 hrs last night trying to get out of the airport. I had picked up two travel companions - two American businessmen from IBM. They were magically able to secure two rooms at a hotel about 10 minutes away from the airport when everything else was completely booked - not even Japan Airlines could find rooms. We hit some snags in the hotel reservation process too, but the problem was nothing compared to what we found when trying to find a cab to get out of the airport. We stood in line outside in 30 degree F weather for close to 3 hours. We had a great rotation system going, where one of us stood outside for 5 min while the other two rested, which allowed us to have 10 min inside to warm up after 5 min of bitter, teeth-chattering chill.  It was hard, but the reward was sweet - a was hard, but the reward was sweet - a revitalizing hot shower and clean sheets!  I had a change of clothes with me by this time, because during the process of leaving the gates, I found my checked bag tossed to the side in the baggage claim area. When I saw it, I ran to it, took some essentials out, and left it there, since I was still planning on flying with them at that point.

I am now back in the Bay Area, released from my ordeal. But my bag is MIA, and I did not fly with Japan Airlines. I will likely never fly with Japan Airlines again - if they had it their way, I would have spent a total of 59 consecutive hours in the airport terminal with no clean clothes and limited food and water. Although I was one of the lucky few to get out, there are many who did exactly that. From the stories I heard today on the United flight from fellow Japan Airlines JL 002 survivors, my 5 hr escape in the bitter cold was a blessing. I guess things went from bad to ugly at the gates with violence breaking out and police being called. If you know of a blog or some other post about the Narita crisis, please let me know!

I was here and here~~~!


yamo said...

otsukaresama deshita!
did other airlines have the same problem?

The Papa Bear said...

Wow, from the few email messages that you'd sent me, I just didn't know how bad the situation realll was. I'm glad you were resourceful to find your way out of it quickly.

Alice said...


The crazy thing is, JAL was the ONLY airline still struggling the after after snow stopped falling! Yeah, the first night was weather-related, so other airlines were having trouble too, but the second night? Total operational meltdown on JAL's side. For example, they got us on board when they had already decided to cancel the flight the second night! We boarded at 7:15 PM, and when my mother called JAL to find out about my flight at 7:20 PM, they told her it had been canceled! To us on board, they were telling us that they were waiting for 20 passengers with bags on board that were missing - we sat there for 4 hrs before they told us they were canceling the flight and forced us off the plane!

Total operational meltdown is the only thing I can think of when I try to describe what happened. Angry passengers were throwing cups and such at managers, check-in counter ladies were in tears, smokers started lighting up everywhere - oh boy, it was BAAAAD!

yoko said...

Oh, you were there! You wre ...I used a picture and an article of that news just today!

yamo said...

That sucks. My father works for JAL, but at SFO ^^;

修子 said...


Chris said...

Σ( ̄□ ̄;)!!



Amy said...

That is just awful. I heard on the news here that JAL admitted the cause of the cancelations on Sunday was "human error" and paid 50,000 yen to each passenger affected. I hope you got compensated.