I am normally not writing trip-reports (I fear the work!), but I thought you might be interested in what I had to go through on my last KLM-Flight from Osaka-Kansai to Amsterdam.
I was originally booked on the flight out of KIX on march 22nd, but I already had photographed just about all airplanes here in Japan and so I decided to go back a few days earlier to spend my last few vacation-days on the swiss airports to get all of those interim-colorshemes Swiss is havin‘ at the moment before they’re gone.
The change of reservation was done very quickly by the KLM-Calling center in Amsterdam last saturday, and I was really looking forward to the trip. I slept the last night before the flight in the Airport Hotel at Kansai and spent the evening trying some fine wines from different countries in the top floor restaurant, which offers a fine overwiev of KIX and the mainland.
I got up early the next morning to have enough time left if any problems with my reservation would come up. Having done a very quick check in (and also having paid the penalty fee for the ticket change of USD 100.00) I proceeded to the area after passport control, not forgetting to pay the airport fee of 2650Yen along the way. Having done some last minute shopping, I proceeded to our assigned gate No. 16. I was happy to see that the departure screens showed 1040LT as our planned departure time, some 10 minutes earlier than scheduled. Once at the gate, I noticed PH-BFA (747-400 named Atlanta) landing on RWY 24. So far so good.
Photo © Craig Murray
The planned boarding time of 1010LT came and went, and I was happy to see that the crowd at our gate wasnt that big. This meant a chance for some extra room in economy...... I looked out of the Terminal window and noticed that all engine cowlings of the No. 4 engine were wide open. Three mechanics were working there. Thats the first time I got a little suspicious, but there was no anouncement until right after our scheduled departure time, when a gate agent made a short info that there is „a slight technical problem“ and the next announcement would be made at 1300LT. At about 1320LT, the captain took over the mike and he told us that they are working on the problem and that we should stick around Gate 16. Some time later, the gate crew distributed small boxes containing a few little club-sandwiches and an even smaller drink. Most gate anouncemennts were only made in japanese from that point on, leaving us few westeners very confused. Suddendly the gate crew gathered the japanese passengers, and we westeners were more or less left alone. Thank god a japanese passenger informed us what was going on. It was not good news. The whole crowd started moving out towards immigration, and we just followed. We had to take back the immigration cards we had left when we cleared security, and I got presented with my second japanese immigration stamp.
Needless to say that everything was just chaos. Most people didnt know where to go and there was almost no airline representative in sight. We found out that we had to leave our duty-free bags behind before going trough customs, and I was relieved to see some familliar faces in the arrival hall. Needless to say that we didnt know what was going on. We sat on the floor until somebody from the gate crew picked us up and escorted us to some buses, which then took us to the ANA Gate Tower Hotel Osaka, which is located on the other side of the access-bridge; It’s the 246m high tower which dominates the Skyline in that region. We were given single rooms and the rooms were excellent, provided with what I have seen travelling Japan. By the way: We didn’t get our suitcases back.
They handed out information leaflets which were (of course) only written in Japanese, but a few numbers stood out: 2400 and 2430. A quick translation by a japanese girl revealed that we would have to check out at midnight to catch the buses at 2430 for our trip back to KIX. We heard a rumour that our flight was scheduled to leave at 0220LT Great! Dinner was offered in one of the hotel-restaurants and I waited in the room for midnight to come around.
I checked out shortly after midnight. One phone call was to be paid by KLM, and my call made it up to 5600Yen. A young dutch guy however made it up to 12000Yen!!! This call was also free. The I had a chat with a german who made two calls; One for 200 and one for 340, and he had to pay for the second one, as only one call was free. HeHe (Sorry).
We waited in the bus until 0040LT, then somebody from the hotel crew told us to get off again and get our keys back, as we were not going nowhere now. Did I mention that not even one person of KLM was present? We were told to get back to our rooms and that they would call us if we had to go to the airport. I took a while for the lobby to empty out as many just sat there in disbelief. So we went back to our rooms....
The call came at 0330LT. We were in the terminal by 0415LT and that’s where we found out that our departure time was 0600LT. Once we got to the gate we noticed that something was missing: The plane. An anouncement by the captain came with the info, that the plane was still worked on and that the mechanics encountered some new problems; He also said that the plane should be here within 70 minutes. It came around 0710LT. By then, we were already given croissants and coffee by the flight crew. I got into a nice discussion with the F/O of the flight and we were talking about the problems of the No. 4-engine, the planespotters arrested in greece, our hobby in general and some other topics. After all, he got nothing else to do. A short time later, they made a test-run of engine No. 4 at the gate, after which the cowlings were opened up again and the mechanics got to work. The F/O came out to see after the engine himself. I saw us already on our way back to the hotel.
Suprisingly, we started boarding some time later, only to leave again after 30 minutes. The captain informed us, that another very serious problem was discovered. Hectic broke out within the gate crew, which tried to rebook as many passeners as possible on other flights. First, of course, those of C-Class, then families, tour groups etc.
To make it short: Most of us westeners ended up in another bus, which this time was bound for the Portopia Hotel in Kobe (No space in Osaka, they said). The problems till we got to the bus were the same than the first time, and hey, I got my 3rd immigration stamp, and this time also my suitcase.
The sales manager for KLM Osaka himself showed up (great, I always wanted to meet him!!), and they set up a special help desk in the hotel lobby, which was staffed during the entire night. The hotel again was top-notch, and further Infos were promised for 1800LT. However, when I left my room for dinner, I found a note under the door, saying that we wont get any infos before 2030LT. The dinner was something that had to be seen to believe. It was in a huge hall with round tabels for 9 persons each and 3 waiters per table. All was looking like a huge wedding-banquet. Food was excellent and we were guessing how much all this (the hotel and the dinner) would cost KLM. I dont wanna know though.
I found another letter under my room-door and I was almost afraid to read it. It said, that the problems were not fixed yet, and the aircraft would need a engine-change. However, we would get rebooked on other flights. My plan for the next day was: Get up at 0500LT to catch the shuttle bus to get me to ITM, where I would catch JL152 for Tokyo NRT, once there, I would change to JL407 bound for FRA and then, at last, LH3720 for Zurich with a scheduled arrival time of 2155LT. This would be a total travel time of almost 25 hours (8 hours time difference included). At least there was a solution know. There were about 40 pax coming to ITM with me, while the others would go on flights leaving from KIX.
I shocked one of the KLM-employees at the helpdesk with the fact that some of us still had Duty-Free-Items stored at the customs-office in KIX. They somehow organized that those bags were brought to our hotel. By the way, there was one employee from KLM Tokyo flying down to ITM to accompany us on our ITM-NRT-flight and to guide us to our gates at NRT.
To keep it short: Everything went according to the plan yesterday and all flights were on time. I was happy to get home after such a long time. I was 2 days and 5 hours late.
Looking back I would say that we were very well looked after by KLM but the whole thing got me very frustrated, and I’ll try to get the USD100 back, which I invested to get home 3 days earlier....
This has been a very long report, so I dont want to describe the flights home. But I can do so if you guys want me to.
Thanks for reading.