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I’m baaaaaack! (part one)

Leaving Champaign:
Got a ride to the airport after all, with a detour to Jarling’s Custard Cup… a treat of sorts since we were feeling down at my departure. Had some of that Choc Chip Cookie Dough Snowstorm there at the shop, enjoying the sunny day while remarking on how cookie dough didn’t seem to “fit” with the custard… then all too soon we had to head for the airport… Did the check-in thing, then hung out a little bit, but Kosh had to get back to work, so we did our goodbyes… went thru the security checkpoint and sat myself down and continued on the now mostly melted snowstorm… Felt slightly sick eating that snowstorm, though – I think it was the cookie dough itself that was questionable. So I ate/drank the custard and discarded the dough, teehee!

The plane was of a smaller type aircraft, with what I call 2 x 2 seating (i.e. you have seats AC DF only). I was assigned seat 13C… yikes, that was all the way to the back! Right next to the bathroom too (there was no 13D or F)! Ewwwww! Good thing it didn’t stink, and neither did anyone need to visit while I was its neighbour! Phew! Then again, the plane was barely a quarter filled… I wonder if the person who checked me in just decided it would be funny to put me by the loo?? Hmmmph!! Anyways: took off at 3pm, landed in Cincinnati ontime.

Getting to Newark…
… means leaving Cincinnati… and that flight was delayed by over 30 mins! Instead of leaving at 535pm, we must have left at 615pm or something… I was already doing the math: that would bring me to Newark at 8pm… and my flight out was at 10pm!! Cutting it a bit TOO close!! But nevermind, let’s just hope that the worst is over…

NOPE!

It was a totally full flight… and the person next to me smelt sooooo masam (sour); to give him some credit, I didn’t get assaulted by his odoriferous emanations until partway through the flight, when he started moving around, which I suppose sent the choke-gag-“aroma” my way… I could not place the smell: could be his clothes that smelt as if they’d been washed but not dried properly… or if it was just his B.O… but so yeah, that wasn’t too fun a ride…

Then I noticed that the plane was starting to fly in circles, when we were about 20mins or so from the airport… yep, it was in a holding pattern!! Newark was having air traffic backlog, so we had to sit tight until our plane was cleared to land… aaarrrrggghhhh!!

Tick tock tick tock!!

Miraculously, we weren’t on hold for too long,,, and made it to Newark just before 8pm… so I rush out of the plane, and head over to Baggage Claim… it seemed to take forever for my luggage to emerge (of course!), but I suppose it wasn’t all that long, cos I was doing a fast walk dragging two suitcases behind me trying to find the Malaysia Airlines counter…

Finally getting there… only to see what seemed like the entire planeful of people in a huge-ass queue that seemed to stretch out forever… my heart sank… starting to regret my earlier decision to challenge my tendency to build in so many buffers in timing such that I’d end up way too early to even check in sometimes…

The queue, even though it was long, moved relatively fast – yahoo!

And behind me were only 6 (yes, SIX) singles/couples also waiting to check-in… everyone else had been in front of me… heck, better being 7th-last than the absolute last person in the queue, eh?

While queueing, I wondered about when and how our luggage would be checked: in March 2004, when I was leaving from LAX, I had to go through this whole rigmarole with the TSA: queue at the TSA area first, hand off the bags to them unlocked, they’d go through it in a closed-off area, then lock it for ya (U trust them? Yeah, right!), and hand it over to another airport personnel who would then bring the luggage to another queue (comprising only of luggage), and the personnel would bring forth your bags to the check-in counter when it’s your turn. On one hand you have a pseudo personal bellhop, on the other hand you are not allowed to even touch the bags after that!

So here in Newark, from my vantage point of the queue, it didn’t seem like that was going on… Did they abolish that because it was a useless procedure? Or maybe Newark was less paranoid than LAX?

None of the above!

What I had to do was hand over my check-in luggage UNLOCKED to the MAS staff. The TSA people would subject it to a search if they felt like it, then lock it. One major loophole: your bags could travel halfway around the world unlocked (I think that happened to my bag). At least at LAX you still can make sure (via a proxy) that the bags are properly closed & locked! One way around this is to use bags with external padlocks: “TSA-Approved” padlocks. Although, again, there have been complaints from passengers that these “approved” locks are missing or broken when they claim their bags at their final destination.

I remember my early days of flying: we had all to go through a baggage screening before going to the check-in counter. This step was later abolished in the spirit of doing random checks/systematic screening behind the scenes instead, and all flyers heaved a collective sigh of relief. Now, it looks like this step is being re-implemented in the U.S., yet I’m sure it could be done a much less abrasive and invasive manner…

Anyway,,, so back to my check-in: Got my boarding pass, and was told that boarding would start at 1015pm. Huh? Aren’t we supposed to be in the air by then? Turns out the flight was been delayed: new departure time 11pm. Of course this was not indicated on any of the screens in the airport – only at the boarding gate itself. So in the end, it looks like I made the right choice of timing my flights. So no, I have not learnt my lesson, if there was one to be learnt, and I will look to more “cutting it close” connections in my future trips to cut down on wasted time in airports.

One last question before boarding: I remember on my way in to the u.s., watching that video on Immigration requirements, it was mentioned that on the way out we would need to “scan” our visas at a provided computerized booth: I think it was an attempt to track one’s length of stay? But I didn’t see anything like that anywhere… perhaps that was a new requirement that got scrapped, or the equipment is not ready yet? And perhaps because of that, there was a new requirement before boarding: showing your boarding pass AND identification, then go to another personnel who does the normal processing of boarding passes, then you get on the plane.

Ok, so I jump through those hoops too… find myself sitting in 30H, which is one of the first rows of seats for economy class – whooohooo!! I’ll be right in front of the queue to get outta the plane! A small thing to you, perhaps, but to me this is bliss!!

The plane taxis out… hurtles down the runway… lifts off… and no longer am I on U.S. soil…

Tune in for the conclusion of the flight to KL in Part Two!

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