A Close Shave in Tokyo

Life has many magical moments. A good deal of these are attributable to unexpected acts of kindness.

What kind of magical moments have you experienced in your travels? What travel episode lights up your face whenever you recall it?

One of my magical moments was a product of an embarrassing mistake.

As a seasoned business traveler, one dreadful mistake I try to avoid by all means is missing a flight. It can be embarrassing and costly.

The memory of how I nearly missed my flight at Narita International Airport in Tokyo still elicits in me a degree of embarrassment and anxiety, one year later.  I needed approximately eighty-five minutes from my hotel in Yokohama to Narita International Airport by bus. An 18.30 bus from the Yokohama City Air Terminal to Narita International Airport was the perfect choice for my 22.00 departure flight. I forgot one small but important detail though – to reserve my seat on the bus.

I was in the company of a colleague and at 19.00, we were still at the Yokohama City Air Terminal, stranded. At that moment, we were living on the edge and desperately racing against time. The amazing six days business experience in Yokohama was rapidly coming apart.

With great anxiety, we desperately navigated the crowded Yokohama City Air Terminal in search for a solution. We approached other travelers. We spoke with customer care officials. Language barrier stood between us and time. The clock was ticking. We were losing this battle. My mind was letting go of the remaining drops of hope as thoughts of defeat took over. How would I explain missing this flight to family and colleagues? How soon would the next flight be? How much would it cost? Would the airline officials at the counter understand and be willing to help?

Finding a train that would get us to Narita Airport in fifty minutes was such a relief. Still, there was a small problem. We would arrive after check-in counters had closed. Nevertheless, as soon as the train pulled into the station at the airport, we grabbed our luggage in haste and made a mad dash for the check-in counters. We went through the automatic double glass doors and hurried up the escalator that would lead us to the counters. All this time holding our breath and hiding our fear for the bad news that seemed inevitable.

Then, a magical moment.

As we approached the Emirates Airlines check-in counters, four ladies in Emirates Airline uniform rushed towards us. Their smiling faces exuding warmth and hope.  Their hands, in eagerness to help, grabbed our luggage and signaled us to the counter. Wasting no time, they verified our travel documents and loaded our luggage onto the belt. There were no questions on why we were late; why we kept them waiting; or many other questions we hear from airline officials during such situations. We didn’t feel judged. Instead, the gracious four focused on the urgent task of getting us to the boarding gate.

Airport layouts can be confusing and signs can be strange. This does not help crazed racing through mile-long corridors. During this magical moment at Narita Airport, one of the four came along guiding us through to the boarding gate. With her help, we navigated the security gates, passing through fast track lanes and racing through long corridors and tricky turns.

We then came to the final security pass. There, she looked at us her face seeming content and accomplished. She smiled saying, “you are now safe; enjoy your flight and thank you for choosing Emirates”. I was speechless feeling totally overwhelmed by this gesture of kindness and honor. My eyes teary, my mind racing, I stood there thinking of the best words and gesture to express gratitude. My thank you, while very sincere sounded and felt inadequate. How do you reward such kindness? How do you pay back?

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