In Search of Better Stories

The Sweet Sigh of Relief

I don’t think I’ve ever taken the time to appreciate how good a sigh of relief feels until now. Our Malaysia family adventure has been planned for months. The tickets we purchased had long layovers in Tokyo, but no matter I thought. A day of touring in Japan would be a value add to our trip. As I research touring options in Tokyo, I begin to see that the horrid spectre of Covid is raising its ugly head again. Japan is closed to non-nationals. I reach out to the Japanese consulate in Canada, and the Canadian consulate in Japan both agreed with what I had discovered, but then they add a sicking twist to the restriction.

We can not leave the airport, but also we can not stay in the airport because Covid protocols close Japanese airports at midnight. Wait, what? The emails were a bit vague, and perhaps I’m a bit dense, so it takes a few days for it to dawn on me that we might have fallen into a trap. I ask for clarification from the consolates and start researching online, specifically this problem of not being able to leave airports in Japan while at the same time not being able to stay at them. My heart sinks as I discover one nightmare scenario after another on travel blogs and various other sites. Holiday goers turned away because their layovers crossed the midnight hour. The recurring themes I uncover are pandemonium, confusion, poor customer service, lack of communication, disappointment, anger, and ruined holidays. To add to the anxiety, I couldn’t help but notice that our tickets are non-refundable.
I call our travel company and am discouraged to discover that they have no idea about the Japanese airport conundrum. They reasure me that they will call Japan Airlines and get back to me in a couple of days. When a couple of days pass and no call comes, I reach out again. They tell me their hands are tied becasue it’s up to Japanese airlines to make any changes, and they hadn’t heard from them yet.
With anxiety mounting, I decide to call the airline myself. The 800 number rings and the voice comes on.

“No one is available to take your call; please try again later.”

For a week, I try the number a dozen times or more with the same result. I try the long-distance number. Surely the JAL North American office based in California will have someone available to help us.

“All our agents are helping other customers; please stay on the line or call back later.”

I stay on the line for hours, but no agent ever comes. In desperation, I call Expedia back again. They are sympathetic to my plight but play the part of a hapless innocent bystander to the holiday-ruining mess unfolding in front of me.

JAL did not distinguish themselves as customer service experts in this debacle.

With discouragement threatening to swallow me whole, I jump in my car and drive down to the airport. I find the JAL ticketing booth and cue up in a long line. After a long wait, I spy an agent walking by.

“Excuse me, I’m not flying out today, but I have an urgent matter about an upcoming flight that requires your attention.”

He stops, smiles, and even though he is swamped, he says, “How can I help you?”

The minute I explain the situation, he starts shaking his head. He knows all about it. He acknowledges that this has been a major headache in recent weeks for JAL. He points out what I already know, my tickets are non-refundable. He confirms my greatest fear. With such a long over in Tokyo, they will not even let us on the plane in Vancouver. With Japan limiting flights and closing borders, he is not even sure what help can be offered.

“I can’t help you right now. As you can see, we are checking in a flight, but I’ll look into this later today.”

He copies down my name, number and email address on a piece of scrap paper and says

“Make sure your ringer is on. If JAL can adjust your flight, they will only call you once, and you don’t want to miss that call.”

I let the agent know about my extremely high levels of anxiety and how I don’t feel good about leaving the airport with the flimsy commitment of “Don’t call us; we will call you.”

“Will you call me?”I venture. “I’ve been trying to get a hold of JAL every day for the last 10 days, and no one from the airline has called me back yet.”

His answer:

“Yes, I think so; I’m pretty sure someone will call you.”

Crestfallen I leave the airport. On my way home I call Mistin. “We are going to lose our holiday,” I say bitterly. Punctuating my despair with a curse.

But I was wrong. About three hours later, the call came. Japan airlines are reorienting us through Singapore to avoid the Japanese airport disaster. The adjustment costs us 2 days of our vacation, but I’m not about to gripe over that. Our holiday is back on!

When I hang up the phone, I shoot my hands straight up in the air, striking the touchdown pose. It does not matter that I am in the middle of a crowded restaurant.
And then it comes. That sweet, sweet sigh of relief. With that beautiful exhale, ten days of terrible anxiety depart via my mouth. I savour the sigh. I appreciate it like never before, swirling it around in my mouth like fine wine. There is healing and Joy in this sigh, and I take pleasure in it right down to its dregs.

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