Superstitions… they stop people from walking under ladders, opening umbrellas indoors, and pulverizing mirrors with an Allen wrench. We have never really given a great deal of credence to these primitive practices, so flying on Friday the 13th never seemed like much of a problem for us. If anything… maybe it meant there’d be shorter lines at airport security. Following our journey home… we are ready to throw salt over our shoulder at the tip of a hat, sprint away from cats that even have a blackish hue to them, and we have encased all of our mirrors… in Kevlar.
Suzie: At the risk of sounding overly negative, this was possibly the worst travel experience of my life.
Ski: Our day started choppy (due to a long goodbye celebration the night before), increasingly became nightmarish, and ended in tears. We had 3 things to do before our flight: remove the peddles from our bikes, transfer the last of our Korean money home, and get onto our plane bound for LAX.
Suzie: That didn’t seem like too much to do at the time. And really we were so prepared that we had time to kill. We went to take off our peddles and mine wouldn’t budge. I mean, this thing was must have been assembled by a roid-raging super mechanic. Three trips to the hardware store and three wrenches later it still wasn’t moving. A ten minute activity suddenly had eaten up hours of our time and that’s when I think we started to panic. That’s what started it all. That damn peddle.
Ski: We were able to hop on a subway, walk to a nearby bike shop, and get the peddle free relatively easy. Still, time was a wasting. Suzie and I still had to transfer money home, so we hit our respective banks for what should have again been a 10 minute trip. Suzie called me (she was starting to lose it) after realizing she still needed to get paid from her school. The clouds were starting to blacken over our Friday, and that’s when I realized it was going to be a rough day for sure.
Suzie: After that we turned off our phones–I don’t even want to get into that part—and then we split up to pick up all our luggage from different friends houses and completely lost each other. I was carrying everything but our bikes and Ski was nowhere to be found but to Ski I was nowhere to be found and then we found eachother…but we were yelling and screaming and trying to get on the bus and we hadn’t eaten anything. It was just very chaotic. But then we were on the bus and we thought, alright, it was just a little peddle. Everything will be fine now. It’s over.
Ski: A short and smooth bus ride with relatively no traffic had us at Incheon International airport in a little over an hour and we made the way to our gate in a hurry. I was starving and looking forward to one last Korean meal before leaving.
Suzie: So we’re outside of the AirChina check in counter, there are zero lines and we start putting our bikes in the CTC bags and wrapping them up. Everything’s kosher. The handlebars are turned, the pedals are off, just like it says on their webpage to do. Then this dude comes up and starts questioning us…we show him the papers…we think everything will be fine.
Ski: So Mr. “I’m All Business” starts telling us there isn’t a chance in hell we are getting on the plane with our bikes. I calmly tell him it’s all good in the hood, but he is having none of it. Rather than give Mr. Business any credence, I just keep on packing my bike into the bag and watch him walk to the front counter. He brings back a “trainee” dude that translates things for us into English so we know what’s going on.
Suzie: We show the trainee the policy and all our papers again while explaining that we have done everything in accordance with Air China’s baggage policy. Mr. Business starts laughing at us and they keep bringing more people over to tell us we can’t take them with us since they are not boxed and totally disassembled.
Ski: After an hour of this, they call the front office and realize… WE WERE RIGHT!! It is FINE to bring on bikes in bags… they don’t need to be boxed. By this time it was 90 minutes till our flight left, but everything seemed to be fine. AND THEN… they start to tell us that our bikes don’t meet the measurement standards. I tell them that I can remove the wheels and make the bags smaller, but Mr. Business keeps laughing and saying it will still be too big. Now, seriously, what is the difference between the bag and the box then! Does a bike box make a bike magically smaller? I honestly think these people just dead up had it out for us and were never going to budge.
Suzie: So Ski starts to frantically remove the wheels to make the bikes more compact, even though we were still in the measurement limits. The trainee tells us to then go to the packing area for oversized luggage to properly pack the bikes. This desk was 5 gates away and a real pain to get to when no one was helping us move our luggage and bikes (which could not roll since the detailer was taped). When we arrived sweating at the counter, the packaging guy put his hand on our handlebars, looked over the bike, laughed, shrugged his shoulders, and left us.
Ski: By this time, the trainee came to us and told us to just wait. I thought there may be hope. Maybe, just maybe, these soulless and uncompassionate employees may be giving us a break. We waited 20 more minutes there. Why?
Suzie: I have no clue why we were waiting. There was now only 40 minutes till our flight was scheduled to depart. Finally, the trainee got a call and told Ski that we could not pack our bikes at the counter. Well… duh… we knew that already. More time wasted and we had to lug all of our things back to the AirChina counter.
Ski: I was keeping my cool pretty well… but this was bullshit. They had us running around the airport for nothing at all but wasting valuable time I could have been using in sizing down our bikes. Back at the counter, they told us it was time to make a decision, forego our ticket and stay in Korea, or leave our bikes behind.
Suzie: This is about the time I started hysterically crying.
Ski: I was shocked at the lack of empathy and inability to even negotiate a solution with us. Mr. Business came up and even said “well, if you took the wheels off and sized them down… it might have worked.” I HAD ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD TO DO THIS PRIOR TO THEIR PRODDING THAT THERE WAS NO SOLUTION.
Suzie: Ski just started taking all the parts off the bike…like the brakes and the water bottles so we could at least salvage something. I was worthless because I was crying and so upset and just seeing our bikes laying on floor, that we were abandoning them…that just sucked. I don’t know how else to say it. And what was worse was the two girls behind the counter who were just sort of laughing at the whole thing. Why would they be laughing? It was so wrong but Ski was like the man in action, just doing what needed to be done and I just sat there like a big hysterical baby.
Ski: What choice did we have? I begged, pleaded and asked as nice as humanly possible (I rarely get outwardly angry) to help us get our bikes where they needed to go. There was no negotiation, no effort, no help in sight. 20 minutes until our plane was set to leave; we had to go. As we left, the trainee told us that we could enter them into oversized baggage… for $400 each. The bikes only cost us $500!! Furthermore, where was this “secret” oversized baggage option hours earlier? Obviously, something could have been done to get our bikes on the plane.. they just did not want to give it to us.
Suzie: I just don’t understand how a person can’t have sympathy for another person. I mean, they saw that we had done the research for shipping bikes, obviously put in a lot of time to keep our bikes and to do what we could to follow their rules and still in the end, or rather, all through the process were being very uncaring. I mean, I’m losing my mind, Ski’s trying to save the day and they’re just shrugging their shoulders and giving us the options of either 1: giving up our plane tickets, which obviously can’t happen or 2: giving up our bikes, aka our livelihood for the next three months. Oh yeah, or pay an astronomical amount of money. I just do not see how they thought any of these options were supposed to help us in any sort of way.
Ski: The moral of the story is… don’t bring your bikes on Air China… or, learn how to make your bike into the size of a freeking clown car. I can’t believe that I had to look back at our bikes with no clue how the rest of our trip was going to work out. It’s kind of hard to do a cycle tour without a bicycle. Obviously, we will find a way to work it out and buy better bikes than we even had before… still it should never have even come to this point.
Suzie: Never! Oh, yeah… and now our bikes are resting in peace at the lost and found in Incheon Airport. Maybe they’ll still be there when or if we come back in six months…?