The 8-hour night flight from Sydney to Tokyo was exhausting. Recently,
I had already waited a couple of days at the Auckland airport in New
Zealand after finishing weeks of exploration of South Pacific islands.
On the flight to Tokyo, I sat between two young women in the middle
row of the economy class in a huge Boeing. Every time I was about to
fall asleep, one of my neighbors moved and I was fully awakened. A
couple of times I also felt a kick from behind. In the end I gave up
trying to sleep, put the headphones on and watched several movies.
Arriving at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport at 6 am, I felt dizzy and sensitive
to light. The arrival terminal consisted of tall steel and glass halls
and corridors. There were a lot of hanging signs with Japanese and some
other strange looking letters, a few with a small English sub-texts.
Ignoring a starting headache, I forced myself to focus on what I
should do next. I pulled out the mobile from my handbag and realized
it would soon run out of battery. I opened an email with the following
flight booking from Tokyo to Los Angeles. I had 11 hours to the next
flight. At that point, I decided that I better find some place where
to sleep a few hours so I headed towards the transfer flights. There
was no queue at the security check, hence I quickly passed through it.
On the other side there were more long corridors and spacious halls.
I sat down at some random gate, just because I saw electric outlets
giving me a possibility to charge my mobile. While it started charging
I called my son in Pennsylvania. He was happy to hear that I had
managed to get as far as Tokyo and asked which flight I was going to
“What do you mean”, I asked confused. “I have the flight leaving in 11
hours that you booked for me yesterday”.
“Yes, but I did an alternative booking for you from another airport
called Narita. It is from Tokyo to Dallas”. That flight is leaving in
four hours, and you just need to take two trains to get there. It is
about one and a half hours from Haneda. Check your emails again. You
will find the booking there.”
I could smell stress hormones sweating through my skin. This was not a
good time to have alternatives, make decisions and start navigating to
a new place. My brain wanted to shut down and go to sleep.
“Do what you think is best”, my son said, and we finished the call.
My thoughts were shooting in all directions. Should I take the first
best flight to the US, to Texas? Should I stay at Haneda Airport and
wait to get on the Los Angeles flight? What if it is cancelled like my
original flight from New Zealand to the US? Many things had gone wrong
in the past few days and maybe the bad luck would continue.
When in doubt I tend to call my husband. While speaking with him he
found out that there was also a bus connection to the other airport,
so I would not need to change trains. That helped me to decide to keep
moving instead of sleeping.
I got lost in the long corridors and could not find my way to
immigration and customs. I stopped to ask a group of airhostesses
waiting for their flight. One of them took me to a Japanese officer
with a white facemask and cold eyes. She left and the officer said
“passport”. I handed him my passport while explaining that I needed to
get out of the airport quickly and catch a bus to go to another
airport. The officer said something in Japanese and I realized he did
not know any English.
He took my passport and went into an office with five other officers
with the same kind of uniforms and facemasks. Coming back he asked for
my boarding pass. I gave him the one showing I had come from Sydney.
He read loud “Qantas” and went back to the office. He called somebody
and I could hear “Qantas” repeated a couple of times amidst a lot of
Suddenly it struck me he was the wrong kind of officer. He was an
emigration officer and since I was in the transfer area he would try
to send me back to Sydney. Panic started flooding more adrenaline to
my brain and I just wanted to get my passport and run.
When the officer came back, I tried again to explain that I needed to
go to the Narita-airport to catch a flight to Texas and could he
please give me my passport. The man just spoke more Japanese and
repeated “Qantas” and kept my passport tightly in his hand. Half
aggressively and half desperately I asked for his boss. Whether he
understood it or not, he went back to the office and brought a
uniformed woman with a facemask and cold eyes. She was now holding my
I took a couple of deep breaths and tried to explain calmly what I
wanted. She responded with a lot of Japanese words, among them
“I am sorry, I don’t understand Japanese”, I interrupted, but she
continued in Japanese. Then she returned to the office and I saw her
lifting the phone receiver and talking with somebody on the phone.
Aware that I risked missing the only bus that would get to Narita on
time, I panicked and called my husband. “They have taken my passport
and I cannot go anywhere from here”, I cried.
When he heard the despair in my voice, he told I should stay at Haneda
and not get lost somewhere outside of the airport. His judgment was
that with my exhausted state of mind, I would not find my way. I knew
he was right but I could not change my train of thoughts anymore. I
had to get out of that airport. It was as if I was surrounded by
enemies who had taken my most valuable treasure, and I had to rescue
it and escape.
After an eternity of half an hour another uniformed Japanese woman
came from somewhere. She did not have a facemask and she said “hello”
smiling in my direction. My passport was handed to her. She told me in
English to follow her. She took me back through the transfer security
checking, then through the Japanese immigration counters and waved
goodbye when she left me with the customs officers. Before leaving me
she pointed to a ticket office where I could buy a bus ticket.
Did I get to Texas and further home to my husband on that day? Yes, I
did. And even though I could not get a bed in the business class, I
got the only row with three empty seats, lied down and slept all the
way to Dallas. After a restful night I almost forgot all the doubts
that had been nagging me from Auckland to Tokyo, doubts as to whether
I was too old to travel on my own to far-away destinations…