More, SE Asia Travel, Thailand, Traveling in Korea

Donut Miss Your Flight

8: 25 AM

2/14/15 – Incheon International Airport

“Excuse me! Sorry! Excuse me! Excuse me!” Trying to keep up with my sprinting legs, these words flew out of my mouth as I barreled through the bowels of the international departures terminal. My 40-liter backpack bounced awkwardly with each massive stride, despite the white knuckle grip I had on the straps to keep it as close to me as possible. Families and businessmen came into focus only long enough for me to gauge whether to weave right or left. Unwilling to rid my side of the cramp that had developed since passing the food court, I held my pace as I closed in on Terminal E – Gate 6, hoping like crazy that Terminal E – Gate 6 wouldn’t close on me

5:30 AM

2/14/15 – Gimhae International Airport

“Would you like a window or aisle seat, sir?” the young Korean woman asked me with a soft smile.

“It doesn’t matter, actually,” I shrugged, “but I would appreciate being as close to the front as possible. I have a very short connection in Incheon so if I could be among the first off the plane that would really help.”

“Oh, I see,” she said as her eyes scanned the screen. “Yes, your first flight from Busan lands at 8:10 AM and your second flight to Bangkok departs at 9.”

“Exactly,” I interjected, hoping she might offer to arrange for one of those fancy motorized carts to escort me through the airport. I’d read online that they did that sometimes.

“I can give you 33A, sir.”

So that’s a no on the cart. “If that’s as close as I can get, then ok,” I responded in what I hoped was a non-hostile tone.

Her finger definitively struck the keyboard and the printer hummed a familiar series of whurs and electronic notes before spitting out boarding passes for both flights. “Thank you.”

6:45 AM

2/14/15 – Gimhae International Airport

Much to my relief, 33A turned out to be in the 3rd row of Economy class. After wrestling my backpack into the carry-on compartment above me, I squeezed and ducked into the window seat. I was fumbling with my seatblet when a flight attendant passed by.

“Excuse me?” I called to her in that soft airplane-voice that everyone unconciously uses once they’re on board. “I have a question about my connecting flight.” I handed her my itinerary and interpretted the source of her frown to be that the information was in English, not that I was doomed. “Will I be okay?”

“Yes, sir,” she warmly assured me while passing back the crinkled sheet of paper. “The minimum transfer time for international flights is 45 minutes. You have 50.”

‘Well in THAT case, maybe I’ll stop for a donut on the way!’ I thought to myself. I was already aware of the airport’s transfer time recommendations. The response I was really looking for was more along the lines of, “Ye-gads, sir! You’ll never make it in time! Not unless I pull you into first class right before landing and allow you to be the VERY first person off!” But alas, as my high school band director so rightly taught me once upon a time, I am not the center of the universe.

Unassuaged by her friendly smile and perfect hairdo, I wanted to ask her, “So I’ll really make it…assuming we leave and arrive on time…even after taxiing from the runway to the gate, shuffling off the plane, transfering to a different terminal, getting to security, passing through security and finding the next gate? And hey, what does 9:00 AM mean: the boarding gate is closed or wheels up? If it’s the latter and not the former, then I most certainly don’t have 50 minutes in reality.” But the rehearsed nature of her original response suggested her language skills were limited to a memorized set of phrases from a training book, so instead I heaved an internal sigh and smiled, “Ok. Thank you.”

As she floated away to help someone else I closed my eyes and prayed to the gods of travel that the next 3 hours would go as smoothly as possible.

8:10 AM

2/14/15 – Incheon International Airport

The wind outside the plane roared as the wings adjusted, bringing the aircraft to a hault on the tarmac. Right on time. So far so good. I gazed anxiously out the window at the parking lot of silver birds. Like a greyhound waiting for the gun to go off, I stirred in my seat, anticipating the disappearance of the Fasten Seatbelt sign.

8:13 AM

2/14/15 – Incheon International Airport

The muffled “bing” of the seatbelt sign sounded as it sign switched off. A quiet chorus of metal clicks and zipping jackets trickled into my ears, which continued to pop with each intentional swallow I made. After trying my best to retreive my backpack without causing its excessive number of dangly straps from hitting the head of the man still seated in 34C, I calmly and patiently placed one foot in front of the other until I reached the exit door.

The flight attendant from earlier made eye contact and looked as though she was about to offer help of some sort, so I paused.

“Your next flight is at 9:00?” she asked.

“Yes,” I nodded, waiting for those magic words: motorized cart.

“You should go fast.”

Without realizing it I let out a scoff and retorted, “I’ll try.” I immediately regreted the snarky reply, but the guilt faded once I reached the flimsy jetbridge that connected the plane and the gate, which was wide enough for more than one person. That was it. BANG. The race was on.

8: 15 AM

2/14/15 – Inchecon International Airport

‘Okay. Here we go. Time to move. Just follow the arrows. Follow the trusty blue arrows next to the international transfer sign. Step one: take the transfer shuttle to the other terminal. Step two: security. Step three: donut–NO, that was a JOKE, THERE’S NO TIME. Step three: don’t miss your flight.’

When it wasn’t crowded with people and I had a clear path, I launched myself onto the rolling walkway and accelerated like a Mario Cart character. It had been months since I’d done any serious cardio, but the thought of that plane pulling away before I was on it gave me the endurance of a Kenyan marathoner and the explosive stride of Usain Bolt. I was on a mission. And up until now everything seemed to be working out just fine.

8:17 AM

2/14/15 – Incheon International Airport

‘Uh oh. What is this…’ I had just rounded a tight corner and been stopped dead in my tracks by the sight of a security checkpoint. ‘Where’s the transfer shuttle. There’s supposed to be a shuttle…Where’s…’

A few days ago while researching how to navigate the airport, I discovered there were two international transfer routes: one for the airline that I was flying with, Korean Air, and another for all the rest. To follow the Korean Air route, I needed to take the transfer shuttle first, then pass through security in the second terminal before continuing to the gate. The “other” route took people through security in the arrival terminal and THEN transfered them. I was in the wrong place. ‘Crap.’

I stood there for a moment, processing this information and catching my breath. To go back and look for signs pointing to another transfer route would waste valuable time, time I didn’t have. But going through security here could lead me to a totally different part of the airport. ‘Screw it. I’m already here.’

I weaved along the blue ropes and waist-high metal poles, throwing a thought of gratitude up to the gods of travel for at least keeping the line short. As I was placing my jacket and belt into one of those scuffed, grey plastic bins I heard a few more people clamber up behind me, their footsteps as heavy as their breathing. ‘Yes! Maybe they’re on the same flight as me! Now even if we’re late, at least the plane is more likely to wait.’

“Where are you going?” I asked the three pint-size Asian women, just to make sure.

“We go to Taiwan,” one of them gasped. Never mind.

8:23 AM

2/14/15 – Incheon International Airport

The middle-aged security guard who looked at my boarding pass merely nodded before handing it back to me. He didn’t say anything about me being in the wrong place. Still skeptical, I moved forward but looked over at him one last time, prompting him to extend his arm and shoo me in the direction of the departures terminal. ‘Okayyyy.’

A moment later I glanced at the giant screen of flight listings. Found it: Korean Air 657 ICN –> BKK 9:00 AM. Terminal E – Gate 6. Status: on time.

8: 25 AM

2/14/15 – Incheon International Airport

“Excuse me! Sorry! Excuse me! Excuse me!” Trying to keep up with my sprinting legs, these words flew out of my mouth as I barreled through the bowels of the international departures terminal. My 40-liter backpack bounced awkwardly with each massive stride, despite the white knuckle grip I had on the straps to keep it as close to me as possible. Families and businessmen came into focus only long enough for me to gauge whether to weave right or left. Unwilling to rid my side of the cramp that had developed since passing the food court, I held my pace as I closed in on Terminal E – Gate 6, hoping like crazy that Terminal E – Gate 6 wouldn’t close on me.

This way to terminals E, F and G. ‘Got it. Ah, crap.’ Terminal G was the first one to come into view, meaning Terminal E was all the way at the end. Challenge accepted.

‘The plane is probably just starting to board. You can make it. You WILL make it.’ The throngs of travelers and suitcases gliding along the rolling walkways meant they were definitely out of the question so, although it was running low, at this point I had to rely entirely on my own steam. When my eyes bothered to register them, the looks of confusion and sympathy on people’s faces told me those were the expressions I must’ve presented in the past when witnessing someone in my current position.

Terminal F came and went. Rows of duty free shops and price-gouging restaurants in my periphery formed a tunnel, the light at the end of which, Terminal E – Gate 6, was starting to grow brighter.

8:28 AM

2/14/15 – Incheon International Airport

“Attention ladies and gentlemen, Korean Air flight 657…service from Incheon to Bangkok…departing at 9 AM…will begin boarding momentarily. Please have your passport and ticket ready. Thank you and enjoy your flight.”

It was all I could do not to drop to my knees and praise the gods of travel outloud. I had done it. I’d made it. Delirious with relief and fatigue, I zipped my jacket open to release the heat that was covering my upper body in a fine layer of sweat. For a second I reflected, ‘Huh…There never was a transfer shuttle…the order of operations layed out so specifically on the airport website hadn’t mattered after all…Y’know, someone in charge really ought to change the–‘ But I stopped myself. ‘Who cares. I’m here!’

In less than 20 minutes I had arrived, deplaned, passed through security, “transferred” to another terminal, and found my departure gate. ‘If that isn’t worthy of a medal at the traveler’s olympics, I don’t know what is.’ I looked around for the award ceremony to begin, but saw no podiums or cheering crowds. I did, however, spot a Dunkin Donuts.

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