My return flight of my 2006 Trip to Japan on Northwest Airlines was a nightmare of
canceled and rebooked flights, the airline taking my luggage without my permission
and refusing to return it to me when I requested, the airline then leaving me stranded
in Detroit and forcing me to book passage home on another airline at my own additional
expense, and the airline's luggage clerk trying to pick a fight with me when I found
my luggage abandoned in the basement of the airport and retook possession of it.
Northwest's solution was not to refund all or any of my money, but to issue $400 in
vouchers toward future travel on their airline. If you have been faced with a similar
situation, you know that there is no way to get any money back from an airline, they
just refuse any and all attempts, even when confronted with multiple violations of
their own policies in black and white. The best that can be hoped for is vouchers,
or coupons to go back and experience more of the same incompetence on another occasion,
and they put a one year expiration date on those, hoping that they will expire before
the customer has a chance to use them.
So, faced with $400 in soon-to-expire vouchers, I decided to go back to Japan on a non-World Cup Soccer year. (Private joke, I seem to go to Japan only once every four years during the World Cup Soccer Championships). The Northwest website would not allow me to buy a ticket with my vouchers, and every different telephone operator gave me a different story about the validity and use of my vouchers, and I ended up going to what used to be called the ticket counter at Lambert Airport in St. Louis, to get the aid of the staff to buy my ticket. Of course, they don't sell tickets at the airport any more, everything is online or by telephone, and they put me on the telephone with their sales operator, but with the counter staff pulling strings behind the scenes, they finally managed to apply my vouchers to my ticket.
I was also prepared this time, I specifically selected a flight that did not go through Northwest's hub of Detroit, and bought travel insurance with enough coverage to cover a one way ticket home from Japan on another airline just in case Northwest tried to pull something again. But, all that was not needed, and aside from their continued status as the cattle car airline, they managed to get me there and back and a few staff members actually went above and beyond to help me along the way. If only they had done this last year...
I was running out of ideas of places to go and things to do, and asked for a lot of
help from my friends in the Gemini Front Row Connection car club, Mr. Kenji Tsuzuki,
Mr. Hiroshi Oyama, Mr. Makoto Yamagishi, and Mr. Hideaki Ohtsuka. After a flurry of
emails, my schedule looked pretty interesting: start out with a Japanese LeMans race
at Fuji Speedway, a tour of the Toyota plant and headquarters in Nagoya, a visit to
Mr. Ohtsuka in Sapporo, the Isuzu Owners Meeting show, and a visit with Mr. Eiichi
Nakaoka in Yokohama.
I had most of what I needed for travel from my 2006 trip: lots of moisture wicking clothes to deal with the rainy and humid weather in Japan in June, digital and video cameras, light weight rolling luggage, a backpack, New to my list was a Garmin Nuvi 350 loaded with a UpUpDown Japan base map, a set of Bose noise cancelling headphones for the airplane flight.
I ran out of good ideas for gifts, and I think my Japanese friends were catching on that every time I inquired about the interests of their family members the result was always a special gift, so I had to fall back on Cardinals and St. Louis memorabilia.
The above map shows my route of travel. I arrived at the new Nagoya airport. From Nagoya, I travelled by car to Ise and Suzuka, returning to Nagoya. I left Nagoya by train and went to Hiroshima for two days. I returned to Nagoya from Hiroshima by train. I then travelled to Okazaki. I left Okazaki by car and travelled to Yokohama. I travelled by train from Yokohama to Tokyo. And I finally returned from Tokyo to Nagoya by train to meet the departing flight.