Going to Tokyo

This is my first trip abroad since the pandemic. It’s been almost four years. When you travel regularly, it becomes a habit. You get used to the rhythm: booking places, planes, trains, and buses. When you stop travelling, the process becomes alien. Tasks that seemed second nature are now done with caution, hesitation. You can become more fearful of embarking on the journey. I even started missing the comfort of home before leaving the country!

However, the day arrived, and it was off to Heathrow. Nothing much had changed leading up to boarding the plane. When we were on the verge of taking off, the flight captain announced that someone wanted to get off the plane. He didn’t share the reason. It could have been anything from feeling unwell to getting a last-minute message. The captain said it’d take fifteen minutes to get the passenger and luggage off the plane. In the end, it was over an hour.

The flight itself was twelve hours. I’d forgotten how long a twelve-hour flight is. It seems to go on forever, despite all the entertainment available to you and the careful tuning of the aircraft’s environment to ensure your body begins the transition to the new time zone.

The flight’s on-screen entertainment — movies, music, magazines, games — once seemed exotic and exciting but, in this age of on-demand streaming channels, seemed prosaic. Even the “new movies” had been available to stream.

The captain didn’t make up for lost time on the flight, as sometimes happens. We got to Hong Kong later than planned. At Hong Kong, the transfer was smooth. If we’d had less than an hour for our transfer, we’d have missed the connecting flight. It reminded me of when I recently changed my return flight from Tokyo: the original suggested flight left fifty minutes to change at Hong Kong. I changed it to one giving me more time.

In a documentary on airline travel, I’d heard someone from an airline say that passengers can transfer more quickly than luggage can be unloaded and reloaded for a transfer. That was a common cause of luggage not turning up at your destination even though you did. It was another reason not to pick a short transfer time window between arriving and departing.

At Hong Kong, when boarding, you didn’t show your password or boarding pass. You presented your face to a camera and, once recognized, your details appeared on the screen, including your seat number. I didn’t upload my photo at any point during the booking and checking-in process. Therefore, there must be a feature that allows an airline to retrieve your photo from the passport registration office using your passport number.

The Hong Kong leg was about four hours. That too seemed to go on and on even though I did a fair amount of sleeping.

Tokyo Haneda airport was calm but hectic. There were lots of people to direct you to a website form that you had to fill in. They told you to take a screenshot of the QR code shown once the form had been filled in. We had to show our covid passes and the QR code to get through the first hurdle. The next hurdle had a bigger queue that snaked around the terminal, but you were dealt with quickly once you reached the front of the queue. The final hurdle was customs. I wasn’t sure whether to declare my bananas and satsumas from London. In the end I did but they just ignored it and waved me through. Bananas and satsumas aren’t dangerous — yet.

And that was it. The transition from one time zone to another (that was nine hours ahead) was over. The next challenge would be how to make up for those lost hours. But first we had to get to our hotel via the monorail and JR Line.