P-MAN VI Update #5

Hello Everyone!

Hello from 35,000 feet enroute to Manila. Manila? ‘That’s not on their itinerary’ you’re saying to yourself. You’re right, but I’ve got a story to tell and you’re going to find out about Manila soon enough. But first, lessons learned.

1. Just when you think everything is going so smooth, Murphy creeps in.
2. ID Badges work great in Japan.
3. Extra under shorts become primary under shorts and morph into old under shorts rapidly in the tropics.
4. You can negotiate with the guys with the guns. If you are really, truly respectful.
5. It’s great seeing old acquaintances.
6. San Miguel and Myers/mango juice doesn’t solve problems, but sure taste good with French fries.
7. If you don’t clear immigration, you can’t say you’ve visited a country.

So we got up at 0600 on the 14th in our home in Michigan. It was single digit temps, a little snow on the ground and more on the way. Rebecca bonded with the pets a little, I had a something to eat and off we went to the airport. The itinerary was to fly to Japan (NRT), then down to Guam (GUM) and spend the night. Then the next day, in the evening, fly to Palau (ROR). IF all went well, we would arrive in Palau the evening of the 16th. (Jaws theme at a very low volume please.)

Our plan was to each check one bag all the way to ROR, and carry on those things we would need for a day in Guam. And I was really traveling light in the clothes department. My carry on was my skydiving equipment, my laptop, camera, shave kit, and one day’s worth of extra clothing for our stay in Guam. Rebecca had a roll aboard bag with much more personal logistics stuff. If our checked bags make it, then I wouldn’t have to do laundry every day. And we’re still trying to determine if the equipment bag I sent with my jungle and scuba gear made it.

Looked very good for getting on. For those that don’t know, when you are an airline employee, you ride standby.

As we got to the gate, the blizzard started outside. No problem, the mighty 747-400 is an all weather airplane. Unfortunately, the runway is not. When you get enough snow on a runway, it is considered cluttered, or contaminated. Airplanes can still use it, but are weight restricted. What that meant to us was that standby passengers might not get on. That’s how you save weight.

A quick trip to say hi to the crew and I was reassured that we MIGHT not get bumped.

A little later, boarding passes in hand, we got on. In the wide seats. Sitting next to each other. With a glass of champagne in hand. A little deicing of the aircraft as there was still a blizzard taking place and off we went. 13 hours later, we arrived in Tokyo.

Not a wink of sleep for me, but I did see 3 movies, ate 3 meals and had 3 jars of sake.

One of the flight attendants that was working with us was someone I had flown with on the DC9. He was doing one more trip and then he and his wife were going to Bangkok (BKK). Hey! So are we. A date was set and he also gave us good intel on what to do, where to do it and what to see. His wife is with the U.S. Trade Commission in Shanghai, China and they travel extensively throughout the Orient.

Arrived at Narita Airport (NRT), and was directed to a shuttle bus to go to the Continental Terminal. Northwest is located in Terminal 1 and Continental in Terminal 2. It’s a bit of a drive. Last year, the bus did not depart until it was full. And I got to my connecting flight home with 15 minutes to spare. We had 70 minutes to get to our connecting gate and arrive in Guam (GUM) at 10pm, or we would have to wait until later and get into GUM at 1am. Any bit of extra sleep would be appreciated as I did not sleep and Rebecca did not get much more.

The bus departed quickly, arrived quickly and we followed the signs to Continental. And we hit a wall of humanity. The sign said “Continental Connection Counter on other side of security”. This line was going nowhere fast. Our flight now left in 50 minutes and we were not even going to be through security. Then a Continental rep came around asking for passengers from our flight. I showed her our standby tickets and she said the flight was closed out, and we would have to take the later flight. So go to the connection counter she said. Back in our line again. At least we have 3 hours 45 minutes. No problem.

She comes running up again. Wrong line! Seems we just have to walk past the security portal, not through it to get to the right spot to work with the ticket agents. And when we get to the other side of security, there’s another huge line for another entrance to security. But no line for Continental. Yahoo! This is going to be easy.

“Ah, so sorry Mr. Colmer. These tickets are no good. You must get new tickets. And you MUST do it at Northwest.” Do you remember that Northwest is in another terminal, way far away? (Jaws theme a little louder please)

It seems that back in Michigan, the NWA ticket counter wrote the ticket NRT-ROR, rather than NRT-GUM-ROR. When I asked about the fact it was two legs via Guam they said Continental will issue you two boarding passes. They even repeated this. I went away happy. Now, I wasn’t. The local agents for Continental cannot do anything for me. These tickets MUST be reissued by an NWA person.

I can move faster without luggage and by myself. So I left Rebecca and all the luggage at the Continental counter. Went to find the shuttle bus back to the NWA terminal. It was through security. Remember that mass of humanity at both entrances to the security portals? Still there. So I put on my sport jacket, NWA ID, and brought along my clipboard which had my tickets on it. Including my future travel back to Palau after skydiving in Thailand, or else I would be doing this all over again.

Well, if you have a sport coat, ID and clipboard you can go to the head of the line. Okay, it’s called cutting the line and bluffing everyone around you. But I got through and down to the bus stop. Next bus to NWA in 45 minutes. Not good. But a United bus leaves in 5 minutes. But you cannot get on it since you are going to NWA, even though it is the same entrance at the same terminal. And they have people with badges and clipboards to enforce this.

My badge was more colorful and my clipboard was bigger. Onto the bus, over to NWA. No ticket counter in the gate area. I must go to the ticket counters at the entrance to the main concourse. So I process through immigration as the ticket counters are ‘out there’ and not in here. Time is moving faster than the speed of light. All these obstacles are taking precious time that although we have lots of, we do have a limit.

I get to the safe haven of a Northwest ticket counter with NWA employees who have always taken great care of me. “Ah, Mr. Colmer. These tickets are all wrong. This is going to be very hard.” And now I have 3-4 Japanese employees, speaking Japanese very fast and fingers flying across the keyboard faster than they are conversing.

An hour later, I have 3 sets of tickets reissued. They’ve taken my credit card, done things with it I don’t know about so I’m certain I’ve paid double for these tickets. But I’m taken care of by a wonderful set of personnel who are happy to help a traveler in need.

I told you to buy NWA tickets last year. They’re still on sale. Go someplace. Or just buy the tickets and don’t use them. Thank you very much.

But I need to get back to Rebecca. And I can’t go the way I came. And my badge and clipboard are not helping. I now have to take a shuttle bus on this side of security to the other terminal, clear immigration there and find my loving bride. However, when you go this route, it doesn’t take you by the connection counter. When you start outside of security, you are kept separate from the ‘in-transit ‘ people. Rebecca is in transit, and I’m starting fresh.

I find the Continental check in counter, explain my dilemma and they say no problem. They issue me real boarding passes, and then a young Japanese woman with no clipboard and a small ID badge whisks me through immigration, through one security portal, backwards through the portal with all the big lines from before (no lines now) and I’m dropped off where Rebecca has been waiting patiently. For two hours. And eight minutes. She had all our stuff, but without her passport as I had it with me. It’s funny how you can have all the stuff, but feel naked without that little blue booklet issued by the State Department.

We now process through the security portal rapidly, board a shuttle train and arrive at our gate with time to spare. But what about our bags that were checked? We’re told that they PROBABLY went on the earlier flight, but if not, would be on this one. The bags are truly out of our hands. And they are still tagged to meet us in ROR.

In the boarding area we meet a wide spectrum of the Navy. We strike up a conversation with two young men who just finished boot camp and are enroute to their first duty assignments in the Navy. An older gentleman overhears all this and introduces himself. He spent 32 years in the Navy, flew A-3s, P-3s and finished up as an Admiral. He even was stationed for 9 years in Guam. His son lives there and he’s going for a visit.

We get on, nest and Rebecca sleeps and I’m wide awake. I read, watch the movie, eat what they serve and drink what they offer.

It’s 1:15 am on the 16th. We’re still on track. I have a hotel room booked on the beach and we’ll have a late checkout and make the evening flight to ROR at 7:40pm. We’ll have 3 full days in Palau before moving on to BKK. What could be simpler? (Jaws theme a little louder please)

We clear U.S. immigration and customs, call the hotel and the van picks us up. We get to our room, hop into bed and the clock says 2:20 am, January 16th. I’ve been up since 0600 on the 14th and even though there is that dateline thing we crossed, I’ve still been up quite awhile. Rebecca did get some sleep, but she’s quite tuckered out too. We rapidly go to sleep.

And rapidly get up at 6 am. Can’t sleep anymore due to our body clocks being very confused. Well, we did plan to play the day away. Now we have more day to play with. Great breakfast, check email, (we find out that Jennifer, and Pete the cameraman, from PostStar Productions are indeed going to be coming to Palau. At the time of our departure, the documentary crew was not going to film this year. Now they are and they are going to meet us in Guam for the evening flight. Can you hear the theme from Jaws even louder now?) and grab the cameras for a walk on the beach.

The bay our hotel is on is a nature preserve as well as a vacation playground. There are beautiful waters inside a reef system, crashing waves out a little farther, sandy beaches all the way around with rock/coral everywhere. Quite breathtaking. We walk all the way to the end of the beach, come back and plan to rest a little, grab a libation and some pool time and hook up with John and Joanne Malaca.

John is a fellow NWA employee and we met last year on the flight from Tokyo to Guam. He and his wife adopted me and toured me around their island. We’ve been exchanging emails and planned on getting together for lunch. We set the time as soon as we finished our walk.

We had some hours until lunch so out to the pool. Lots of sunscreen as we are as pale as bleached flour, found some shade and got a little tanning in before covering up. The pool is actually lots of pools and a waterslide. I made liberal use of the slide. Rebecca was my lifeguard. We took a dip in the bay, got cleaned up and met John and Joann in the lobby.

Rebecca was introduced to them for the first time and we got caught up on all the happenings in each of our lives. They said their teenage daughter was quite jazzed to do an internet search for her Dad and find my article from last year mentioning him. Here’s another one for her school project! We parted company with plans to meet up again when I pass through Guam on the 8th of February

5 p, time to go. At checkout, I casually asked if there were rooms available if we did not get out on the evening flight. No problem. We got to the airport way too early. Had a bowl of soba. Got to the gate. Very tight load. Lots of Continental employees trying to get on. It’s Friday. End of the work week and lots of people are going to Palau. There’s also a baseball tournament there. The Australian team is taking up a bunch of seats. So we check in and wait. Rebecca says we should go back to the hotel and wait until tomorrow. As a standby passenger, I feel you should standby until the bitter end. “Time to spare, go by air” I say.

Jennifer and Pete are due in 55 minutes before flight time. We might get to visit with them for a minute before we board. Boarding begins and they start calling all the non-revs (non-revenue employee passengers). We’re not called. We’re not called a lot. Then I hear, “There’s Flip!” (Big shark fin now visible above the waterline.) It’s Jennifer and Pete and they are the next to board. They have real tickets and reserved seats so they just need to get on. Hugs, handshakes and I tell them IF we don’t get on, we’ll be there tomorrow on the 0645 flight. Come get us.

As I see them going down the jetway, I realized “THEY JUST TOOK OUR SEATS!” If they hadn’t made the decision to come out and film, we would be on our planned flight. Long pause. Okay, we probably still wouldn’t have gotten on as 7 non-revs didn’t make it on. But don’t tell Jennifer and Pete yet. This might be way too much fun to play with them.

We talk with the gate agents and they say no problem rebooking us. Twice a week there is a second flight to Palau and it leaves at 0645 tomorrow. But what we did not know was that it first goes to Manila in the Philippines. The regular evening flight, which goes direct, is oversold. So if we want to get to Palau, we better go to Manila. And the goal is to get to Palau.

So back to the hotel, quick change so as to preserve my traveling clothes and down to the entertainment area. A couple of cocktails with our French fries and off to bed. I sleep soundly until 1am. I’m still out of synch with Guam time. Then I think of what all the possibilities are. For sure, Rebecca will have transited two countries that she’s never seen, and will not get to visit them: Japan and Philippines. Both countries I have lived in. I can also see us stuck in Manila, with no flights to Palau until later in the week. We could always go back to Guam, or go to Tokyo, but what about our luggage? Did it even make it to Palau? And although the goal is to get to Palau so Rebecca can see it, I have a commitment in Thailand on the 20th.

We got our boarding passes last night for the Manila flight so all we had to do was go through security and to the gate. Yesterday evening, we were selected for special screening. Why, I don’t know. The TSA said that as employees, we shouldn’t be subject to the special screens. When we asked Continental about this, they said the TSA wanted employees screened. We saw on our new boarding passes that once again, said special screening was called for.

“Sir, we want to open your parachute equipment. And we will.” This is what you don’t want to hear as a skydiver going through security. There have been a lot of horror stories about ripcords being cut, reserve parachutes being opened and who knows what else. I was not happy. Especially since I have never, ever had a problem with TSA wanting to inspect that closely before, or after 9/11. But these guys have the rule book and they have the guns.

I showed my airline ID, I talked about the nature of the safety sensitivities of the reserve, the integrity of the whole thing, asked to see the rules they were quoting, told them I wasn’t stopped yesterday by their own people (this went over well with the TSA manager there) but all with lots or respect and telling them repeatedly that I know they have to do what they have to do.

To make a long story short, I taught them a short course on parachute systems, showed them how to repack a main and explained why I was so concerned about opening the reserve. We’re all best buddies now and they were quite happy with me and me with them. I do have the manager’s card in my wallet now, just in case I have to do this again. I have 3 more transits of Guam. It turns out that this was this shift’s first parachute system to be screened.

It’s a full flight to Manila but we get two seats in the back. But not together. On our first flight from Detroit, we had a little difficulty getting someone to switch seats with us so we could sit together. One woman got airsick if she didn’t have this exact seat and one gentleman paid for this seat and by golly he was going to take it home with him. On the flight to Manila, a fellow traveler recognized we were separated and offered to switch with us without us even saying a word. How lovely.

There is some really good karma floating around right now. My laptop battery hasn’t worked properly in years. It seems to discharge very fast. Today, it’s working great. We’re almost to Manila and it hasn’t given out. And the warnings are working properly and it’s telling me to stop this now, and start again in Palau. So, if you get to read the next paragraph, it means we’re in Palau.

4+ hours later, we’re in the transit lounge in Manila. With only the little stub of a boarding pass in our possession. I had full tickets in NRT that were not good for travel and here I have a little stub and it’s a powerful document. 1 hour in the P.I. and we’re off again. I recognize some travelers split up and switch with them and another traveler realizes Rebecca and I are split up and we all get to sit with our loved ones. Some hours later, we land in Palau.

I’ve only been here twice before and always have arrived and departed in the dead of night. This trip was different, it was daylight. We got a wonderful tour of the Rock Islands, I got to see some of the places we explored on foot, including QB’s Isla de Hell, and Rebecca got to see the beauty of Palau before landing.

As we were in one of the last rows, we were one of the last off the airplane and last in line for immigration and customs. Made it through, and so did our bags from the night before. We had two welcoming committees to meet us. Esther, Joe’s wife (Joe is our stellar boat captain and guide for all our adventures) met us with flower leis and welcomed Rebecca on her first visit to Palau. Esther tells us that Joe has taken the team out on their first water adventure. We also were met by a driver from the hotel. I’ve always wanted to be met by a driver with a sign held up with my name on it.

Checked into the hotel, realize my jungle gear and scuba gear have not made it here yet (guaranteed two day delivery doesn’t mean much if the stuff NEVER shows), and grab a cab to track down Pat. They’re way out in the water so Rebecca and I go touring. We walk a bit in the heat. Feels great compared to Michigan. We take in the National Aquarium, and that’s where Pat and team meet up with us.

Quick change for everyone for dinner and out to the Palau Pacific Resort for Rebecca’s first Palauan sunset. It’s beautiful. Enroute we pick up Bill Belcher who is the official searcher from JPAC. We meet up with the Chief Petty Officer of the U.S. Navy Seabee detachment. I’ve been emailing a little to the Seabees keeping them a little in the loop about our coming and goings for BentProp. You never know when you need to go to movie night at the Seabee compound.

Out to dinner to the famous $5.00 sashimi plate and at the late time of 10pm, we fall into bed and fast asleep.

It’s now 0430 and I just can’t sleep anymore. I get to finish this second missive [no, Flip, it's up to number five now - Reid]. The team is heading to Babelthuap today to look at the supposed execution sites of some missing airmen, frogmen and missionaries. I am still without jungle gear and although it’s not really tough jungle, prudence dictates I stay out. Rebecca and I will be tourists for the day. It’s Sunday, the post office isn’t open so I can’t do anything about the lack of jungle gear. That will be my task for tomorrow. If I can’t find that bag, I’ll have to buy enough stuff in BKK to get me by. And I can always rent scuba gear here.

I’m waiting for Jennifer to wake up for the 0615 coffee pot meeting. Then a little breakfast and maybe we’ll find the owner of the hotel and maybe they’ve stashed my bag somewhere. Until next time, hello and good morning from Palau.

Blue Skies, Flip