Sunday, April 9, 2017

Chicago to Shanghai via Seattle

After frantically changing our travel plans hours before our trip was to begin, we quickly packed and hopped in the car headed to O'Hare a day earlier than we'd planned.  Once we were within an hour of the airport, I decided to look online for a place to park our car for eight days.  And lo and behold, we found we had made yet another travel mistake.  Evidently, unlike the airports in Indy, parking at O'Hare takes more than an hour's preplanning.

As I Googled "long-term parking O'Hare," I quickly realized that spaces are limited and fill up quickly.  In fact the only parking space (I don't mean parking lot; I really mean parking space) available anywhere near O'Hare for the eight days we'd be gone was $160 at a place called WallyPark.  I don't know if O'Hare parking is always like this or if it was because it was Spring Break, but the only other option started at $430 and wasn't close to the airport.  I had to use a website called SpotHero to reserve the one available space which was also a new experience for me.  Lesson learned.  Book your O'Hare long-term parking days in advance.

We got to the airport with some time to spare and noticed a cool looking eatery on our way to the gate.  When I read the name on the sign, I realized that this was an airport location of a Chicago restaurant I had pinned on "My Chicago 'Must Go' List" pinboard on Pinterest!  It was called The Publican, and we had just enough time to pop in for a snack.

We ordered pork rinds, French fries with a delicious aioli, and toasted bread with some sort of spread.  Though not as good as the Purple Pig, it was a nice way to start our week of vacation eating.


From there it was on to Seattle via American Airlines.  Josh and I had used frequent flyer miles for our two tickets, but we had paid for the kids'.  Anyone who knows me well knows that I don't love domestic airline carriers (because they don't pamper you or treat you very well) and that I love domestic flights even less.  Give me a 13-hour flight on an Asian carrier over a 2-hour flight on an American one any day and twice on Sunday.  But, fortunately, I was exhausted, so the flight to Seattle went by quickly as I slept.

Here was my impression of Seattle from my one-night stay.  I've never seen as much athleisure wear on people in my whole life.  The entire airport was populated with people of all ages who must all possess frequent buyer cards at The North Face, Columbia Sportswear, and REI. I mean, seriously.  Whether the people were 4 or 94, they must have thought that their trip to the airport was going to require some serious trekking and mountain climbing in unpredictable weather.  I tried not to stare, but, you know, I was tired.  And I kept thinking, "My friends Patrick and Heather Ward would love it here."

We found the hotel shuttle and made our way to the Marriott for the night.  The next morning, we shuttled to the airport and went to the Hainan Airlines counter to check in.  It's a really good thing that we changed our tickets, because no fewer than three different agents went over our itinerary with a fine-toothed comb to be sure it met the criteria for the 144 hour visa exemption.  After watching a lengthy discussion in a language we don't speak that included the use of a calculator (to calculate the hours we'd be in Shanghai and make sure then number was less than 144?) and the consultation of a supervisor, we got the nod of approval.  We were good to go!

As we boarded, we began to realize that this flight wasn’t going to be anywhere close to full.  As it turned out, the 787 Dreamliner was less than half full, meaning that Kinley was assigned a middle row of three seats all to herself!  Josh, Knox, and I were to her right in a row together, but I later moved to another empty row to stretch out and sleep.  There were MANY empty rows, so several other passengers had the same idea. 

I think the last time I was on an international flight that was this empty was a 1993 British Airways flight from Harare, Zimbabwe, to London.  Airlines today, especially American ones, oversell flights, so a string of empty seats is rare.  And international flights with multiple rows of empty seats are like unicorns in my experience.  Ok, maybe not unicorns.  But at least a giant panda in the wild.

(See what I did there?  Pandas are Chinese.  And we were on a Chinese airline on our way to China.  Yeah, I get kind of proud of myself sometimes.  Clearly, I'm still jet-lagged.   Cut me some slack.)

I’ll admit that I was a little bit worried about flying a Chinese airline.  Would there be any movies in English?  Would the English movies be ones I wanted to see?  How would the food be?  Would the flight attendants be able to speak and understand English?  To find out the answers to those questions, you'll have to read my next post!

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