Thursday, July 28, 2022

The Little Lost Lamb of Incheon

I really will get better at telling you about my trips, not just the transit to get there, I promise. 

But here's another tale of my transit adventures!

The trip: 10 days in Hoi An, Viet Nam, primarily for the purposes of having the tailors there make me a custom travel wardrobe, then off to join WiFi Tribe in Bali for a month, then another few weeks of something somewhere for my birthday (I currently have some bookings in Thailand, but they can all be cancelled if I decide to do something with someone in WiFi Tribe instead). 

[Then home for the playoffs (YES, this is the year, I don't care for your moaning and groaning about the series with the Astros) and to see all of the new babies my friends are having this summer, and then off again for 6-8 weeks leading into Christmas. But more about that later...]

Going from Seattle to Hoi An is not a one-shot flight, sadly. I opted to use some of the miles I have been steadily accruing on my travel card, and found a flight with a 20 hour overnight layover in Seoul. Covid protocols being what they are, I figured that it would be more trouble than it was worth to try and enter the country to get a hotel. But, this is Asia, I figured. Aren't they known for their capsule hotels? What I actually found at Incheon (the Seoul airport) was more of a micro hotel than a capsule - a tiny room with a proper standalone bed and my own shower, rather than the little coffin-like pod of a capsule hotel. Per the official information, because I was flying in on Korean Air I could reasonably expect to be in Terminal 2, so I booked my hotel room for my layover in the Terminal 2 hotel and went on my merry way. 

The flight from Seattle to Seoul was a nice one - another one much like my flight to my connection in Dubai back in 2015 in that we flew in daylight the whole time. I read and am pleased to confirm that Korean Air has great leg room even in the furthest reaches of economy. And the flight wasn't overly full, so as soon as the doors officially closed my seat mate popped over into a mostly empty row and I had my little two-seat row to myself. Excellent movie selection, no one to coordinate bathroom trips around, plenty of space. A surprisingly pleasant way to pass 11+ hours. Important to pause and note here: longtime readers may recall that I generally can't sleep on planes. This continued to hold true on this flight. 

Upon landing, however. 

To start with, I had not been given a boarding pass for my continuing flight (the one 20 hours later) when I received my boarding pass for my first flight. This meant it took me a heck of a long time to figure out where I wanted to go and how to get there. I assumed I wanted to go to Terminal 2, based on the information I had read before flying and the fact that my hotel was there. But there was a sign saying "Go through if you have a boarding pass." I did not have a boarding pass. There was a giant Korean Air desk with lots of terminals. No one, in the entire two hours I spent during this part of the saga, ever came to man that desk. Or pretty much any other information desk or Korean Air desk I found for a very long time. 

I wandered this way. I wandered that way. I was sometimes the only living creature in my stretch of hallway. I encountered the same handful of crew members who thought they had helped me and could't figure out how I suddenly showed up through a different door 20 minutes later. (This happened multiple times with multiple people) Through a combination of the weight of my luggage and my mask, I could not stop sweating profusely. It was super cute, I assure you. 

At some point it became clear to me that my actual transfer point was in the "Concourse" between Terminals 1 and 2, but if I got there I would not be allowed to come back to Terminal 2. But my hotel was in Terminal 2, and I was extremely tired and very much in need of that shower. I wasn't able to locate anyone who spoke enough English to explain the whole situation to. (I did spend a good chunk of time a couple of years ago starting to teach myself Korean, but never got much beyond learning the alphabet and a collection of random nouns) I had no boarding pass to show to anyone. I shuttled around that entire airport about three times. 

I finally ended up going through a security checkpoint and made it out of the weird transfer zone and into the Concourse, even though I knew my hotel was in Terminal 2, but at least I was finally somewhere. Concourse was weirdly deserted, no one was at any Information desks, the lounges were all closed, as were most of the shops and restaurants. But then finally, finally, I found an inhabited Information desk. I showed her my itinerary on my phone, and then I showed her my hotel reservation. She kindly explained what I had already worked out, that technically I couldn't get to my hotel. I asked rather desperately if there was also a hotel in Concourse, because the flight wasn't until tomorrow. No, no there's not. I think at this point I must have been giving off strong kicked puppy vibes, because she got on her phone and did lots of texting and calling and then walked me through a few gates so that I could circumvent the usual protocols and take a transfer train directly into Terminal 2. She did warn me that I would need to find another staff member to get me back to Concourse the next day, but just get on this train here and it will all be okay. And lo and behold, when I got off the train - I walked straight into Terminal 2. No checkpoints, no nothing. 

The story wraps up fairly smoothly from here. I did go straight for the Korean Air desk to try and get my boarding pass (and finally found one that was actually staffed with people - multiple people, even!), but they couldn't give one to me since the flight, while booked through them, w as being operated by Vietnam Air, and they only existed in Concourse and Terminal 1. So that was stressful, but at that point I figured it could be handled tomorrow, and please please just direct me to my hotel. 

At the check-in for the hotel she asked for my itinerary, and I braced myself to go another round when she determined that my connection left from a different terminal, but she just needed to confirm that I had a connection and wasn't just weirdly loitering around the airport. Then she handed my my key, told me checkout was at 11am not 7am like I had feared, gave me the WiFi password and pointed me to my room.

My beautiful blessed room (that I was very clever to have reserved in advance, because they were fully booked by the time I finally showed up at the front desk). Air conditioning, a big bed covered in those crisp white hotel sheets, and my very own gorgeous shower. I used it twice. 

The next morning involved a little more Lost Lamb wandering, but this time I had a printed out itinerary with a special Transfer stamp from the ladies at the Korean Air desk in Terminal 2 that I was able to use to get shepherded around several more checkpoints to get back to Concourse, located my gate, and hung out there until someone showed up and was able to print me my boarding pass. Where I started working on this blog post. 

Fun little benefit of all this drama, though. I was so exhausted by the time I finally got settled into my hotel room that I was able to sleep overnight, and I've been more or less on local time ever since. After the utter debacle that was my jet lag last winter in Dublin, I'll take a few stressful hours to buy me two more functional weeks of my trip!

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