[This post concludes the day-by-day account of my expedition, which I returned from in May. My webmaster humbly apologizes for the delay in getting this account up on the site!]
My return to New York was all downhill — in more ways than one! Summit dates are uncertain, so I had scheduled my return flights for 6/1, which allowed a few extra days in case of delays. Since I was flying business class using a mileage award, I was sure I could change to an earlier date or, at worst, fly standby. Unfortunately, All Nippon Airways refused to make any alteration to the original itinerary without seven days’ notice.
When I called my son Brian (my travel agent!), he worked up a whole new one-way itinerary that seemed costly ($1,700+), even despite Brian’s assurances that this was a bargain for a last-minute, business class ticket. Having all but blown my entire pension fund on the Everest Hip Hop expedition, I wasn’t about to drop even more bucks for a new ticket when I already had one to get me home. I had just climbed Mount Everest — convincing a reservations clerk to change a ticket would be a walk in the park by comparison, right?
I asked Jiban (the expedition agent in Kathmandu) — who seemed to have more connections than Verizon — if he could change my ticket through his sources. He called his friends at Thai Airways and, sure enough, was able to get me confirmed on the first leg of my flight from Kathmandu to Bangkok the following morning (Thursday 5/28), though I’d have to make the balance of the changes at Bangkok Airport. So I boarded the plane, certain that someone would take pity on an exhausted and malnourished Everest summiteer. WRONG!
I arrived in Bangkok around 6:00 PM on Thursday night. After much ado, I got hold of an ANA agent by phone.
“Sorry, Mr. Healy, you must call award office in Los Angeles.”
“But I just climbed Mt. Everest — I’m really weary and must get home,” I pleaded. I was truly shameless and went on for five minutes or more. The agent finally said he’d see what he could do and put me on hold. This was good news — he must be pulling strings with a supervisor to get the seven day rule changed., right? WRONG!
After 20 minutes, he came back on the line: “Sorry, Mr. Healy, we can’t make a change.” The agent suggested I contact a Lufthansa agent at the airport since this ANA partner was actually flying me to JFK via Frankfurt. Turns out the Lufthansa agents would not be on duty until 90 minutes before their only flight — 11:55 PM — the same time as the ANA flight to Tokyo! At the appointed hour, I went to the Lufthansa desk: “Sorry, Mr. Healy, you must talk to ANA since they issued the ticket. We can’t make any changes.” So I go to the ANA desk. “You’re flying on Lufthansa, they must agree to a change before we can do anything.” I was back and forth between the two desks so many times I felt like a ping-pong ball.
There was a brief period where it looked like I’d get on the Lufthansa flight — but at 11:50pm, I learned it was not to be. At that point I realized I’d left my computer and carry-on bag at the Thai Airways lounge at the other end of the airport. “Other end” has a whole different meaning at BKK. It’s now the largest airport in Asia and the main building is two kilometers from one end to the other! As noted in a previous blog, I ran the two kilometers between them in record time and had never felt so good running before, which was quite a surprise since I was so hypoxic at high altitude just days earlier. My aerobic capacity had obviously increased dramatically over the past eight weeks and, consequently, at sea level, I felt like Superman!
Too tired to contemplate my imprisonment at Bangkok Airport, I found a by-the-hour hotel within the transit area and booked a room for 8 hours. After a reasonable night’s sleep, I found my way to an airport information desk and explained my situation. “Oh, you could be arrested and fined — transit passengers are only allowed to be on this side of security a maximum of 12 hours.” Now I really felt like a prisoner — and I hadn’t even been convicted!
Traversing the length of the airport yet again, I found a Lufthansa desk around noon and finally got hold of an agent. “I can’t do anything — the ticket is issued by ANA.” I tried calling ANA again but on Saturday, apparently, no one is minding the store. My frustration level was reaching the boiling point. I went back and all but cried in front of the Lufthansa agent. She took enough pity on me to give me the number of the Lufthansa “Duty Manager” — who was on the other side of security. I ran back to the Thai Lounge and made the call.
“The duty manager is not here now, I’ll have her call you.” I gave her the lounge reception number and waited — and waited, and waited. I was sure my call would not be returned, but after some 45 minutes a very nice lady heard my case. “I’ll see what I can do and call you back.”
Another 45 minutes of waiting and she called: “Mr. Healy, I called ANA and they will not authorize a change in the itinerary.” My heart sank to my feet — I was going to be trapped in Bangkok Airport (as an illegal alien, no less!) until my original departure date of 6/1. But she continued “…however, I’m ignoring ANA and have you confirmed on the flight to Frankfurt tonight AND on to New York. You can pick up your boarding passes at the Lufthansa transit desk around 9:30 PM and we’ll arrange to have your bags transferred from Thai Airways. Your claim checks will be awaiting you at the gate.”
It was now around 7:00 PM and, as frustrating as the past 24 hours had been, I was finally going home. I emailed Joyce with confirmed flight details and, promptly ventured to the Lufthansa transit desk at 9:30 PM, to get my boarding passes which were awaiting me. I sought out the Lufthansa duty agent, now on my side of security, and thanked her profusely for coming to my rescue.
After some 52 hours in airports and on planes, I finally landed at JFK where Joyce greeted me and whisked me home. En route, she suggested I call Brian on my cell phone to let him know I had arrived safely. Little did I know that this was a programmed cue to rev up a welcome home party.
As we pulled up to Jane Street, I noticed a small crowd in front of our house. It was a gathering of friends, neighbors and relatives who had been awaiting my arrival.
Many cheers and hugs ensued and I was really touched by the reception — all the more so when I saw a blow up of the “New York Blotter” (created by Spencer Crook, a long time associate at my company, VGS), with the headline:
HOMETOWN HIPSTER HURDLES HUGE HIMALAYAN HUMP
It couldn’t have been a nicer homecoming!