On June 18th 2012 I embarked upon a journey that was anything but a straight line. I brought a big band of 18 people to Tokyo to play the Tokyo Bluenote for 4 nights. There were 8 musicians traveling from New York, one from Sao Paulo, Brazil, one from San Francisco, and 7 of us from Los Angeles. I would like to recount the story of the L.A. contingent’s journey.
We arrived at LAX. L/A’s international airport at 11 AM for a 1:15 flight to Tokyo Narita airport. Roughly one hour before departure an announcement is made that a truck banged into one of the aircraft’s doors, is being repaired, and should be fixed shortly. At 3 PM we finally board the plane, which is a United 777 full to capacity. We then sit on the plane until 4:30 waiting for the proper inspection to be completed.
At 5 PM an announcement is made that the flight has been cancelled because the pilots have surpassed the allowed hours. Since there is no other crew available the flight is cancelled. As you can well imagine, all hell breaks loose. What do you do at a time like this? Call the airline rather than get in a line to be rebooked.
We find out that there are no other flights with seats available that day, and the best we can do is fly out of San Francisco the following morning.. This is the only viable option to get us to Tokyo in time to play the first night at the Bluenoite. We will have to go straight to the club from the airport and most likely won’t have time for the one rehearsal that is scheduled.
My colleague Peter Erskine is on the phone for 2 hours with a United representative rebooking the tickets for the 7 Angeleans. The lines to rebook at the service desk and in the lounge are a mile long. The United staff are moving slowly and seem unsure how to handle this. In any event, after the two hours on the phone. Everyone except Pete has an assigned seat on the new flights. Nice!
Our flight to San Francisco is supposed to leave at 8:30 PM. It doesn’t leave until 10:30 PM. No explanation is given. We arrive in SFO and walk almost a mile to the only service desk open at that hour to get hotel vouchers. I approach the service desk and explain our situation, that we were re routed, and had 7 hotel vouchers supposedly waiting for us. The United employee says “We only have 4 rooms for you. I repeat we have 7 people and need 7 rooms. Very much like an Abbot and Costello bit, the guy again says “we have 4 rooms”. Not acceptable. I ask for a supervisor. He comes an hour later and magically finds 7 rooms, although it takes another hour to generate the vouchers and arrange for a shuttle to the hotels (they put the 7 of us in two different hotels).
Get to bed around 2:30 AM and rise at 6:30. Exercise a bit, take a shower and take the shuttle to the airport. Thankfully the flight from SFO to Narita leaves on time. I spent the whole flight doing an orchestra arrangement for Toninho Horta, who is doing a concert with the Sao Paulo Philharmonic in Brazil.
We arrive at the airport, grab our luggage, and drive the 2 hours through traffic to the Bluenote Tokyo. We do an hour rehearsal, have dinner, and play two shows. The band sounded great despite our travails. Sadao Wantanabe showed up to offer support. He is perhaps the best known saxophonist in Japan for many years, and a beautiful person.
At the end of the day what I remember foremost is the great experience we had playing the 4 nights at the Bluenote Tokyo. The airline problems seem like a distant memory.
I sure hope United can get it together. They are my airline of choice, and generally do a good job and offer good service. I think the merger with Continental is more than they can handle at the moment. Hopefully they will work through this.
In the mean time, this is the kind of stuff we encounter getting from point A to point B.
We get paid to travel, not to play music. Grateful for the opportunity! Bob.