The never Ending Layover in Tokyo Part 2


In case you missed part one: Part two finds us on a plane to Canada after a 12 hour layover in Tokyo.  

Shortly after the doors of the plane closed the captain came on the speakers and told us that we could take our time and feel free to move around the plane because we were going to be there a while. We were in line for de-icing and were not expected to leave the gate for an hour or two. It never snows in Tokyo so Narita Airport which is huge, only has seven de-icing machines. I learned later that a plane is only “in line” for de-icing once the passengers are on board and the doors are closed. Obviously, the crew knew it was going to be an issue, so they hurried us all onto the plane to get us into the line.

An hour and several announcements later, we were told that a hot dinner would be served shortly. In all the years I have been flying I have never been served dinner while the plane was still sitting at the gate! But dinner was served, we even got free wine. As soon as they started seriously talking about serving dinner, we all knew we were not going anywhere. It would have been a pretty strange takeoff if we all had trays of food in our laps!

Shortly after dinner that was confirmed by the captain. The airport was now completely closed and we were not going anywhere. There was an added complication as it was an international flight there was some question about letting us get off the plane and what they would do with us once we got off.

We were eventually told that we would be deplaning and going through Japanize customs and immigration. The flight was canceled and we were given a 1-800 number in the US to call to re-book a flight (more on that later). The flight crew pointed out that they were not planning on counting the pillows and blankets so we might want to take those with us. Harold had been chatting with a few of the crew. He asked if there might be a spare red wine we could take too. The response was here, take a few! Even the flight crew had no idea where they would be spending the night.

We were sent to customs and immigration where the line was much longer than it had been when we arrived. Best guess was two- three hours at least to the front of the line but we lucked out this time. It turns out that as we entered Japan that morning we did not have to get in the longer line because we had already been issued a visa. They stamped NOT DEPARTED on our visas and we were good to go! Who knew such a stamp even existed!

We picked up our bags and headed toward the trains. Harold tried to find us a place to stay using the airport Wi-Fi and I tried to find us a train. The only hotels we could find we “Love Hotels” which rented theme rooms by the hour and when we arrived at the train they had closed the lines completely because of the snow.

At this point we knew we were spending the night in the airport. We were a bit concerned about that as Japan is one of those countries where things are done a certain way and we were not sure if you were allowed to sleep in airports. We went back up to the main part of the airport and discovered that there were literally thousands of other people preparing to sleep in the airport. I believe the media reports later said 8000 people.

There were people everywhere. On benches, floors even on the check-in counters.

That area was actually quite a good spot as there were mats on the floor. We found ourselves a corner and settled in. Pieces of cardboard were in high demand because the floors were cold tile.

Harold scored us a whole piece! This may sound chaotic, but it was not. We were all resigned to our fate and trying to make the best of it. There were people chatting together and younger people were helping older people or people with small children. We gave two of our four mini bottles of wine to total strangers. Harold found a wallet and with the help of several other people we were able to find the owner and return it. When I posted on Facebook that we were fine just stranded, a total stranger messaged me and asked if I could keep an eye out for her father. He called her later thank goodness because I don’t know how we would have found him. Every power outlet in the airport had at least one phone plugged into it.

The bathrooms were cleaned and stocked all night and at one point they started giving out sleeping bags, ritz crackers sealed in foil and bottles of water.

Airport staff walked around the airport with signs in several languages saying there were sleeping bags available. The sleeping bags appeared to be brand new. To this day I have no idea how they came up with thousands of sleeping bags in a snowstorm.

We did feel sorry for the family pushing a baggage cart full of cartons saying fresh lobster!

Not unlike everyone in the airport we did have a bit of a problem. We were stuck in Tokyo with no flight home. We had both taken every minute of vacation we had so we were also due back at work. On the plus side the crew on the United Airlines flight we had been on were amazing. By the time we got back into the airport everything was closed so the meal we had just eaten was to be our last for a while. We were lucky as most of the flights had never even boarded and no one else we talked to got dinner on the plane. We also had pillows, blankets and wine to make our stay more comfortable. The 1-800 number to rebook the flight was not very helpful. As we were only in Japan for 12 hours we did not have a SIM card so we had no way to phone the number. I pondered this in the middle of the night while Harold who can sleep anywhere slept. I ended up tweeting to United Airlines and because 3 am in Japan is more like 1 pm in the USA I actually got an answer and was able to re-book a flight using twitter.

You know that saying about turning lemons into lemonade?

In the light of day the Tokyo airport was quite a sight. People sleeping everywhere! Between the stores in the shopping centre, between the check in counters, a few were even on them. Everyone was friendly and being patient, strangers helping strangers. I waited in line a McDonalds for almost an hour to get coffee. A lady in front of me was very concerned that I understood that I needed to pay in Yen. She was ready to pay for me but I had Yen.

When the airport opened the lines started to form for everything. There were literally thousands of people in line for check in and thousands more for sercuity. The lines everywhere made it really difficult to go anywhere but people we still smiling. Our best guess was 4-6 hours in line. You would definitely need a pee break.

We had tickets booked so I thought lets try the check in machines. We could confirm the tickets and wait a few hours to get rid of the bags. The third or fourth machine I tried actually worked and when I pulled up the reservation it asked if we wanted to confirm it or change it. One of the options was to delay our return flight to the next day. At this point we had spent one night on a plane and a second night on the airport floor. It was an overnight flight home and we would be spending the next 6 hours in line. We decided that no one really needed us home that badly. So we booked a hotel in Tokyo for the night and changed the tickets. It was not a factor at the time but we actually got a refund on the hotel ,meals and train fare through the travel insurance on our credit cards.

So we packed up our little corner and took a train into Tokyo. We took the train back to Shibuya where we had been able to find a reasonably priced hotel. As we had been in southern Vietnam for the last month I only had one pair of long pants so I went shopping and bought a pair of jeans which we tried to expense but the credit card company  said no (it was worth a try). We bought sushi from the basement of the local department store which was a fancy grocery/ take out. We also took the required tourist picture of Cantaloupe melons in the department store.

Perfectly round ones are particularly valuable. The ones at the top are about $150 and $216 dollars but to be fair you do get 2 for that!

We spent the rest of our bonus vacation exploring the local area. Small shrines everywhere offer peaceful spots in a busy city.

The snow was providing much amusement there were adults making snowballs and snowmen and kids playing in the snow. We also saw people with garden shovels, brooms and even leaf blowers trying to move the snow from one spot to another.

I can’t really explain this picture but I am told it’s a tour you can pay to go on.

When we eventually returned to the airport to catch our flight home. It was empty and there were more staff than passengers. We landed safely in Ottawa about 18 hours later. Overall an adventure to finish the trip, a great story to tell when asked why we were late for work and a kind of special travel moment with people helping people!

Published by judyapiel

Runner, triathlete and coach. Owner of RunK2J, Community Support Coordinator at Bushtukah. Always looking for a new travel adventure.

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