Strangers stuffed into seats that are too small. Sweaty socks, sticky food trays, and the smells of all those people in such a small space.
Oh yes, the joys of flying long haul.
Added to the joys of this particular flight was the unexpected drama of flying into a swirling snow storm. In Korea. When I was supposed to be in Japan.
I had been on my way back to my home in Japan after spending Christmas with my family in England. I was flying on Saturday, with a plan to relax at home on Sunday before returning to work on Monday. Simple!
But this swirling snow storm, with its furious frigid flakes, put a sudden stop to my plans.
Instead of arriving calmly in Osaka, here I was stuck on a plane which had landed on a random Korean island.
I sat impatiently in my seat waiting for any signs of movement. Would we be able to take off again soon, and just hop on over the sea to Osaka, as intended?
No, we would not.
After an interminable wait on the tarmac, we finally took off again. Only this time, we were heading to Seoul, which most definitely is not Osaka.
I glanced out of the window as we approached the airport; the runways were blanketed under thick snow. There were no other planes landing or taking off. The whole place looked desolate.
By now it was dark, and the lights of the city were shining bright.
Twinkling lights of an unfamiliar city usually fill a traveler with excitement; all those unknown places to explore, new sights to see, an adventure waiting to happen.
But I was not excited. I was stressed. I had no clue what was going on. Would I have to spend the night on the airport floor? Did I need to reclaim my luggage? I had no Korean currency. I had no food. I needed to be back at work on Monday. I needed to be in Japan.
I made my way wearily off the plane, through the arrivals gate, and joined a long queue, with all my fellow passengers. We were reunited with our luggage, given a voucher, and piled onto a bus, which whisked us away into the night, into an unfamiliar city, in the wrong country.
We were dropped off at an anonymous hotel and allocated rooms. I shared a room with a stranger; not in a let’s-get-drunk-and-be-friends fun kinda way. It was more of an awkward is-he-going-to-steal-my-stuff situation.
The hotel staff advised that flights would all be rescheduled tomorrow, and that there were shuttle buses to the airport every hour. I made a decision to get up at the crack of dawn to take the first bus to the airport to get the hell out of here as soon as possible. Simple!
Of course it was not simple.
The airport was already crowded when I arrived there. I joined a miserable queue to get a reissued plane ticket, and then watched as my flight got pushed back every hour; endless delay after endless delay. I spent the whole day watching the information screens, waiting.
Finally, twelve hours after arriving at the airport, and twenty-four hours since landing in Seoul, my flight took off.
I was heading home.