Rona and Aaron’s Excellent Adventure– Part 1

We begin our adventure at Ben Gurion Airport. Our travelers arrived so promptly that by 5 minutes after the announced gathering time having received their tickets and bags and hats and information packets, all were in line to get their boarding passes This was surely a portent of a flawless trip!

Several of the travelers asked that I show the people at the ticketing counter the letter of visa approval we had gotten from the government of Vietnam because apparently without it we could not board our flight. One woman had renewed her passport after the visa was applied for and since her passport number didn’t match the one on our approval form, there was a question as to whether she would be able to enter the country. I reassured the El Al personnel that there would not be a problem.

OK, one minor glitch… I called our office and they conveyed the new number to our representative in Hanoi.

We boarded the plane ready for our 11 hour flight to Hong Kong. Our flight to Hanoi had been scheduled for only one hour from our landing time in Hong Kong. I had asked the operations person at our office if that wasn’t much too short a time to get from one plane to another in Hong Kong. He told me that it was a code share and as such, the second flight would wait for us and the two gates would be adjacent. What he didn’t tell me was that he was leaving the company and that he wasn’t really concerned with any fallout if things didn’t go as planned. He was already gone from the company before we left for Vietnam.

As we sat down, we noticed that the TV monitors in front of our seats were registering error messages. As the doors of the plane remained open and we stayed on the ground, we began to realize that they were trying to get the system fixed before we took off. In fact, the system did get fixed and we left not more than about 25 minutes late.

Of course, we likely had lost our place in line to take off and so by the time we were in the air, we were about 40 minutes late.

Realizing this, I began to be very concerned. It was not just that there was not another Vietnam Airlines flight to Hanoi that night, it was the fact that at the same time as we were in transit, so were four people from Switzerland and one from England, all of whom were to arrive in Hanoi about an hour before we were due. They were being met at the airport and taken to the hotel, but if we did not make it to Hanoi that night, they would be left with nothing to eat until we arrived as they all kept kosher and there is no kosher food available in Hanoi. The only Chabad in Vietnam is in Ho Chi Minh City — Saigon.

I began fairly early in the flight speaking with some of the flight personnel. Some said, “Oh no; you’ll never make it.” Others said, “You’ll be fine.” Still another said that when we get close to Hong Kong, they will call Vietnam Airlines to see if they would wait for us.

And so passed the night.

About two hours from Hong Kong, our projected arrival was 10 minutes before the connecting flight’s takeoff. I was never told they would wait for us. I was, however, still under the impression that the gates were adjacent and if we could only get our people out of the plane first, we might have a chance. When I asked if they could just ask the other people on the flight to remain seated and to let us get off the plane first, I didn’t get an answer.

About 10 minutes before landing, long after the seat belt lights had been lit and the tray tables returned to the backs of the seats and all of the seats in an upright position, I was told to gather my people quickly and bring them up to the first class section. Amazingly, my people were incredibly responsive and in seconds they had gathered their carry-ons from their overhead compartments and joined me in the first class section. (Parenthetically: it’s definitely the way to fly).

When we landed, we got out first. Waiting for us was a lovely lady from Vietnam Airlines with a big sign with our names and she ran ahead of us, leading us to the check-in counter where we quickly received our boarding passes.

Then the fun began.

The Hong Kong Airport is more a city than an airport. It is huge. It is the third largest airport in the world after Dubai and Beijing with a terminal area of 570,000 square meters. Our gates were not adjacent.

Three Vietnam Airlines workers ran with us across aisles, down escalators, onto a train, up elevators, across more halls and aisles, through concourses, and finally to the gate. As we didn’t all fit on the same elevator, my husband and I ended up running separately from the other travelers. Apparently our person was a faster runner than theirs because when we got onto the plane, we realized that none of our people had made it yet. The plane was already 10 to 15 minutes beyond takeoff time. I didn’t want to sit down because I was worried our people would not make it onto the flight in time and the plane would take off without them. In a short time, however, the first of them showed up and after a few minutes we were missing only three. As I begin to make my way up the aisle, the last three boarded. In a few minutes, the captain apologized for the delay and we were airborne.

Freed from the earth, but not out of the woods…

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