Today is Saturday March 12, JST 22:49 PM.
Yesterday, after the major Earthquake and lot of walking from office to apartment and connecting back with my Son, who was visiting me for last week. I could not sleep all night. After shock tremors continued and are still continuing. My son had a planned ticket to go back home in Virginia from Tokyo.
Our experience started with Japan Airlines sending as message 6 hours before the regular schedule time that flight is delay by at least three and a half hours. Thus we planned to leave little later than normal, as the main modes of transportation to Airport are still not normal. From heart of Tokyo to the Tokyo Narita Airport, it is atleast an hour by fast Skyliner train. However, skyliner was not working, no buses called limousines were also down. The taxi costs (20,000 Yens = $240) but taxis were not going to Airport either. The only option left was a metro and then Japan Railways (JR) slow local train.
We reached the Ueno – the JR station using Metro and to our amazement, the queue to buy the tickets for the airport train was few kilometers long. All customers were patiently waiting for their turns. No one was cutting line and or pushing, screaming, etc. We could not have made to airport if we should in that line. As we walked outside the Ueno station, there were other 1000’s of people queued up other rail services, again calm and quiet. We walked past them and they easily gave us space to go past them. A behavior never seen in India and US for some reason.
We decide to look for a cab to half way or some other station where we can take the train. Finally after 30 minutes of search we found a taxi and took us to Nipori station. For some reason at the moment we reached there the station was not crowded so we got on the local train that has 42 stops on the way to the airport, a journey expected to take two hours. During the journey, the announced this train will only go to Stop 22 and then all passengers need to switch the train from another platform. What an experience when you do not understand the words they say, as the language is new to us.
All passengers got out of the train and moved to another platform and stood in queue in front of the area where the gate of coaches would be. All so automagically, I cannot believe, since everyone was stressed about the time of arrival at the airport. Many folks we talked had flight at 3:30 PM JST same as my son’s flight and expected time for this train to arrive now stood at 4 PM JST.
JAL sent message at 3:30 PM JST saying flight is further delay to leave at 4:00 PM. We arrive at the airport at 4:05 PM. We walked to the first JAL counter (a first class) one even though my son’s ticket was not business class. The JAL employee guided us to another JAL counter. This new JAL employee very softly, calmly and sweetly said, “Let me see how I can get you on the schedule flight.” The flight has not departed. My son’s NYC to DC flight boarding pass was not getting assigned, delaying the process. She went and talked to some one and she immediately printed the boarding pass for Narita to NYC and showed us all steps for going to the gate and said to us. You will board the plane, so do not worry. She even asked us how our experience was from Tokyo to Narita. (The tremors are going on. 23:15 JST). My son commented that if it was United or other airlines, they would send us to that big counter and not care about passengers. This was supported by other fellow Americans we met at the airport. Here the employees took full control to help till the end, and would not send the customer from one counter to another.
What I admire about the JAL and airport employees was their interest in customers experience and their zeal to help to make sure the customer is taken care of. The crowd on the airport was huge as lot of Asian airlines had canceled lot of flights. The security guards, the guides at almost all escalators and turns were guiding people with a smile and soft voice. It must require a lot of patience for being calm, soft, and gentle in crisis.
Finally my son made to the flight and the flight left at 5:03 PM JST for NYC. I am glad that he is on his way home and to be with family members there.My return trip was also slow. More about it later.