It wasn’t that long ago that travelling to the other side of the world would take days or even weeks. Fortunately, modern technology has led to modern airliners that can make the journey in only hours. Now, I love to travel as much as the next guy, but spending nearly 24 hours on a plane and slogging around airports isn’t anyone’s idea of fun. All you can do is try and prepare for the unexpected, but hope for a smooth trip.
Preparing for the unexpected is what I did after reading some not-so flattering reviews of the airline that would be taking me from New York to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia . China Southern Airlines is not well known in the United States, but is actually the 4th largest airline in the world thanks to their fleet of almost 700 aircraft, and in 2015 they moved 109 million passengers, ranking 3rd worldwide. My fears were with the customer service, especially for connecting flights in their hub of Guangzhou, China. Many reviewers spoke of delays, cancelled flights, disinterested customer service personnel and lack of communication. While my experience flying on China Southern wasn’t perfect, it certainly wasn’t a negative one.
My trip started with an early wake-up call at a Travelodge near Jacksonville International Airport in northeast Florida. After tossing and turning for several hours on a lumpy slab they call a mattress, I woke up at 3:30am and jumped in the shower. After dropping off my car at the Wally Park next door, I arrived at the Delta Airlines ticket counter just before 4am. Unfortunately for me and the 30 other people waiting in line, the Delta employees weren’t there. After a brief wait they arrived and I checked my Club Glove Rolling Duffel 3 and Last Bag. I’m enrolled in the TSA’s Pre Check program and it really makes passing through airport security in the USA a breeze. The flight went off without a hitch. I enjoyed a screwdriver at 37,000 feet while the early morning sunrise warmed my face. Good start. We even arrived in New York a few minutes ahead of schedule.
The longest leg of my journey was from JFK to Guangzhou, China on a Boeing 777-300ER. Total flight time was about 16 hours. Originally I assumed we would be going west over the Pacific Ocean, but according to the in-flight map we actually flew east over the arctic circle and Siberia. The service in Business Class was very good, and the staff were friendly and very attentive. China Southern’s outdated policy of not allowing the use of electronic devices like phones and tablets any time during the flight was made less painful by their in-flight entertainment center. I had dozens of movies to choose from, as well as TV shows and music stations. The included noise-cancelling headphones did a pretty good job filtering out cabin noise, and they sounded pretty good. The food was also pretty good, at least on this flight coming from New York, but I should have known better than to select an airline burger as a lite dinner. It was under-cooked and I didn’t trust it.
The lay-flat business class seats convert to a makeshift bed, and they supply a pretty nice pillow and surprisingly thick comforter to keep warm as it can get a little nippy in the plane. However, the lay-flat bed doesn’t lay totally flat. My lower back was arched upward like on a sofa bad mattress and the leg room is very cramped for people over six feet tall. I found the best sleeping position for me was with the back up to about 20 degrees. Sleeping on a plane for me a pretty futile endeavor, but I did manage to get about 3 hours of non-drug induced shuteye broken up into hour long sessions.
The fun began when we landed in Guangzhou. We landed a few minutes behind schedule and my anxiety level went up significantly because my connecting flight was due to start boarding in 45 minutes. This is a tight window, made worst by what seemed like an endless taxi to the terminal – or so I thought. Our plane taxied past one terminal, past another that was still under construction and finally stopped in front of the maintenance hanger. We disembarked using stairs and boarded a bus for a 15 minute ride back to the passenger terminal. Apparently, China Southern Airlines thinks making life easier for their maintenance crew is more important than getting their customers on their connecting flights on time.
Fortunately for me, I was first in line at the international transfer desk and the security checkpoint that followed and I got through to the terminal quickly. I made it to my gate as they were boarding and took my spot in the first row of Business Class on the Airbus A319. As I watched them load luggage through the window, I didn’t see my bright gold Club Glove bags, and didn’t really expect to see them. As confirmed by my LugLoc GPS later on, they didn’t make it on the plane.
After poking at some luke-warm, fatty chicken and bland side dishes that tasted like cooking oil for a while, I finally sent it away and reached for the bag of trail mix I picked up at JFK just in case. I capped off the flight by watching a terrible movie on the Samsung tablet they provided for us, which was a nice touch. In case you haven’t seen it yet, War For the Planet of the Apes is awful and I considered turning it off on several occasions because it was putting me to sleep. I didn’t want to sleep though, because being very tired upon arrival in Kuala Lumpur was key for my plans to acclimate myself to the local time zone as quickly as possible.
When I got off the plane in Kuala Lumpur, a representative from China Southern was waiting for me to inform me what had already been confirmed via text message from my LugLoc GPS locator – My bags were left behind in Guangzhou. I went to the baggage office and filled out a claim. One upside of delayed luggage is that I didn’t have to drag my stuff around the airport!
I decided to bypass the sometimes shady taxi and limo services and called an Uber Black car instead. At least Uber’s pricing is straightforward and doesn’t change based on your nationality or the driver’s mood. My driver was friendly and a pleasure to be with considering the only thing on my mind during the hour long drive to my hotel was getting some sleep.
Finally, after 31 hours of planes, trains and automobiles I arrived at the Renaissance Kuala Lumpur Hotel and checked in. Thanks to some internet research I did weeks ago, I booked a room on a high floor in the east wing. For my trouble, I was rewarded with a spectacular view of the Petronas Twin Towers.
Now that I’m here, I can unwind and relax for a few days before my teammates and the other competitors arrive and the World Amateur Golfers Championship starts. To top it off, my luggage was delivered to my room this afternoon!