Our section is called, and we join the line of people boarding the huge airliner. We find our row and discover that we are in a 3-seat section again, but this time we are not alone. Eloise takes the window seat (I think she wants as far away from the aisle as she can get this time), I'm in the middle, and a very nice young man is seated by the aisle. He has a ready smile, and is very quick to help us stow our bags.
We settle in and prepare to depart San Francisco. It is 1:15 p.m., our scheduled departure time. We wait, expecting to feel the gentle motion of the jet as it is pushed away from the gate, but nothing happens. The plane does not move. Minutes tick by, and it's getting warm and stuffy inside the airplane. People begin to speculate on the reason for the delay. We can see no empty seats that would indicate a delay to allow someone to make their connection, but then the plane is huge and we can't see the whole thing. It's getting very warm, and people are getting restless.
Finally, after about half an hour, the pilot's voice comes over the intercom and announces that there is a problem with the ventilation system in one of the lavatories, and it will take about twenty minutes to repair it. There is an audible collective sigh as we settle down for a longer wait.
Another half hour passes. We are now one hour late in departing. The pilot announces that a part is needed to complete the repair and it is being sent over by courier - another twenty minute delay. Apparently someone has asked the obvious question - why can't that lavatory just be locked and not used, and let us get on our way? The pilot explains that the ventilation in the lavatories is part of the overall smoke ventilation system for the entire aircraft, so it must be repaired and functional. Sigh. By now it is quite warm in the plane and several hundred people are getting hungry and restless.
The twenty-minute explanation is repeated once more, and this time no one believes him. Our disbelief is justified, as we wait, and then wait some more. Finally, at about 4:30, the announcement is made that the problem cannot be corrected (apparently not in our lifetime, anyway) and we are going to deplane and wait for another aircraft to be made available. We can expect to depart San Francisco at 6:45 p.m. This does not bode well for us to make our connection with Miat Airlines in Beijing.
Everyone gathers their belongings once again, and we leave the plane. Inside the terminal, we are given vouchers for food service and told from which gate our flight will eventually depart. Eloise and I hook up with three other women from our group and go in search of a restaurant. We don't find much. We finally end up at something that describes itself as a "deli". The sign should have read "Clip Joint". I spend $19.83 for a fair-to-middlin' sandwich, a tiny fruit cup, two cookies and a bottle of water. The voucher covers $15 of that, so I guess it was okay.
After we've finished eating, I decide I'm tired of lugging my carry-on bag, which seems to be getting heavier by the minute. In a little luggage shop, I find a set of wheels with some bungee cords for securing things. The whole device collapses into a flat, easily-stored form, but expands to hold my bag, my little pillow and my camera case. The thing costs $30, but as I drop my heavy bag onto the base and secure everything, I think that this just may be the best $30 I've ever spent! Hooray, it rolls!
We move on to the waiting area for our flight, and at about 6:45 (the time we were told we would be departing) we are called to board the plane. Everyone gets settled, expecting a rapid departure, but no - again we are waiting. After about half an hour, the explanation is given that because our original crew is now in overtime, the FAA requires that there be four pilots on board and they are waiting for the fourth one to arrive. We can understand that this is a safety issue, and we have no quarrel with it, but seems like the airline should have thought about that earlier and had the pilot already on the scene. At 7:30, an attendant tells us that the pilot is here and we will be departing shortly.
Finally, at 7:50 the plane moves away from the gate, and now at this moment, 8:05, we are sitting on the tarmac, not moving. Needless to say, we're all a bit edgy, wondering just what has gone wrong now. At 8:15, an hour and a half after we boarded, the plane finally begins its lumbering, ponderous journey down the runway, taxiing for takeoff. We are over six hours late, and should be halfway to Beijing by now. The 12-hour flight ahead of us doesn't sound very inviting.
The captain is pushing the big jet hard, it shudders and strains, and suddenly we get that "light" feeling and know that we're airborne. Look out, Beijing, here we come! Finally.
The flight is essentially uneventful, a few rough patches but nothing serious. The young man seated next to me is very pleasant, and we make conversation. I discover that his name is Anthony, and he works for Google, the internet search engine people. He's delighted when I use the term "Google it", and I think probably a little surprised that this old gal even knows what that means. He shows me pictures of his boys, I share pictures of my family (thanks, Brittney) and we watch a movie together on his laptop.
It's now 9:20 a.m., Texas time, or 27 1/2 hours after we first gathered at D/FW. It's 10:20 p.m. in Beijing. Rumor has it that we will be landing in about half an hour. We are ready. The cabin staff has been great. We have been fed much more than we ever wanted or should have eaten, but of course we ate it anyway. Passengers, for the most part, have been patient and pleasant.
Remembering Beijing airport from last year, I decide it would be prudent to make one last potty stop before we land, and Anthony obligingly gets up to allow me to leave my seat. Mission accomplished, and I'm returning to my seat. The seatbelt sign has been turned on, and I must hurry. Anthony is elsewhere, walking around. There is a trick to getting into the center seat quickly and with a measure of grace, and I employ it. You step in with the left foot, holding onto the back of the seat in front of you. Then you sort of swing into the seat, with your left foot pivoting into alignment as you drop into your seat. At least this is the plan. It usually works. Not always. This time, just as I started to swing into place, the plane lurched and literally threw me into the seat. Probably would have been fine, except my heel was wedged against something and my foot did not pivot. Result - one corkscrewed knee, lots of pain, and significant nausea.
I managed to keep quiet, but Eloise knew I was hurt, and kept asking how she could help me. (That's what good friends are for, you know. In fact, I would not be mentioning this personal incident at all, except for the fact that it demonstrates so beautifully the spirit of comradeship and cooperation that prevailed in our group, as you will see.) I sat gritting my teeth and chewing my shirt collar for a few minutes, and miraculously, in about five minutes, the pain subsided and I thought I might be home free.
We feel the big plane starting to descend, and the pilot sends the cabin staff scurrying to prepare for landing. This very long, very tiring flight is finally about to end.
15 hours ago