Monday, February 21, 2011

The Miracle of Flight (part 2)

(If you haven't already read part 1, you may want to start here: 

China Eastern plane waiting to be boarded in Kunming, China.

 By Kevin
It was only the beginning. Fast forward three weeks to Feb. 16. With an 8:45 p.m. flight scheduled, we got to the airport around 6:30 just in case there might be any problems. When we bought Juliana's ticket in Kunming, they said that it would also cover the Chiang Mai-Kunming flight back, but we figured we should play it safe and get there early since, in the last-minute confusion, they didn't give us a receipt for either flight. For a tiny airport like this, more than two hours would be plenty, we figured, since they don't allow passengers to check in before that.

Five minutes later and we probably would have missed the flight.

Here's what happened this time around: we got to the front of the check-in line and the woman checking us in – wearing a purple Thai Airways uniform, I might add – told us that our flight wasn't at 8:45 as listed on our itinerary. It was now at 8 p.m. Good thing we came early. This was the third time the time had changed on the flight (originally it was at 1 p.m.). She then asked for the credit card we'd booked the flight with (which unfortunately we'd left in China, but hadn't needed it for any of the other flights). “I don't have the credit card with me. Isn't our passport enough proof that it is us who bought the ticket?”

We can't confirm the ticket without the credit card number.”

Then she asked to see Juliana's ticket.

We don't have her ticket. We paid for it when we bought the Kunming to Bangkok flight, but it was a strange situation and they didn't give us a receipt.”

Why didn't they give it to you?”

I don't know. They had some problems issuing the ticket and we barely made it onto the flight.”

If you don't have a receipt, then you can't fly.”

Grr. Immediately, I went to God in prayer, pleading for softened hearts and open doors.

I looked at the passenger list in front of her. Our names were both listed, as was Juliana's. “Our daughter's name is listed on the itinerary,” I said, pointing. “Doesn't that mean we have purchased a ticket?”

But there is no ticket number listed.”

Grrr. “What can we do?” I asked.

Do you know the name of the ticket agent at the Kunming airport? Maybe you can try to contact the agent?”

No, unfortunately, I don't.”

Well, if she doesn't have a ticket, then she cannot fly.”

I understand.” After a few minutes of wrangling with her, with the realization that it was now after 7 p.m., so time was starting to run short, I made a suggestion: “OK, how about if we purchase another ticket for her now? Is that possible?”

She confirmed that this should work and pointed us in the direction of a ticket agency in the airport. As we left, several other teachers from our organization, who had been at the company's annual conference with us for the last several days asked what was wrong. “We have to go buy another ticket for Juliana,” I explained as I hurried away. “I don't know if we're going to catch this flight.”

The ticket agency was closed. I ran back to the airport information desk. “Where can I buy a China Eastern ticket?”

I learned that there was no China Eastern ticket window in the Chiang Mai airport (and in fact, there are no China Eastern employees there – they only have one flight each day). They suggested we buy the ticket at the same travel agency.

It's closed,” I told them.

Perhaps you can wait until tomorrow...” they suggested.

Our flight leaves in an hour.”

In that case, perhaps you can buy it at the Thai Airways ticket counter. They are partners.”

Confused, since I knew that Thai Airways is mileage partners with United and Air China and the Star Alliance, and we were accruing miles for our China Eastern flights on Delta (part of the SkyTeam), I rushed to the Thai ticket window and explained our situation.

They asked the same questions and began making some calls. As the clock ticked, they suggested calling our travel agent – Expedia. Thankfully we still had some money on our Thai SIM cards, which offer inexpensive international calls, so Ruth called Expedia while I talked to her mother to ask for the credit card number (we'd left it with her to pay hospital bills a few months ago). Expedia told Ruth to call China Eastern directly, but the only phone number they offered was in Pasadena (I recognized the 626 area code from my days at the Star-News). That office was closed since it was the middle of the night in California. Not very helpful.

After making numerous calls, they sent me back to the check-in counter. Since there were no more passengers checking in, the woman at the counter scrambled to find a way to get us onto the flight.

So you don't have a receipt?” She asked. “How about a boarding pass from the earlier flight?”

I dug through our papers and found the boarding pass for our flight from Kunming. Unfortunately, it didn't contain the information she needed.

Here is the phone number for China Eastern's Kunming office, maybe you can call that,” she suggested.

Again, I explained our situation and asked if I could buy an infant ticket over the phone. “Can you call back tomorrow, during regular business hours?”

“Our flight leaves in less than an hour.”

I'm sorry, it is not possible for us to sell you an infant ticket at this time.”

How about a regular ticket?”

That is also impossible.”

So you're telling me that there is no way for us to buy a ticket to carry our baby onto the plane. That is absurd.”


The check-in agent asked if she could talk with the China Eastern representative on the phone, but she got the same answer.

She hung up and scurried over to talk with a supervisor several times. 7:30....7:35. I noticed that she'd printed out boarding passes for the three of us.

You have printed out boarding passes,” I said. “Can we please just use them and get onto the plane?”

I'm sorry, unless she has a ticket, that is impossible,” she said, picking up the boarding passes.

The clock kept ticking. 7:40...Around 7:45, she confided to us: “If something doesn't happen in the next few minutes, you will have to take another flight.”

The prospect of spending a night in an airport with a screaming tired baby was beginning to look inevitable. But we hung onto a thread of hope and asked for God to intercede.

Then suddenly, at 7:50, she hurried over to us and handed me a boarding pass for Juliana. She said that if we hurry to the Thai Airways ticketing counter, they would sell us a ticket. I sprinted a couple hundred yards to the ticket counter. A half-dozen people were in line. My stomach sank. I anxiously tried to make eye contact with the ticket agent I'd talked with earlier, praying that God would clear a path. She waved for me to come to the front and I handed her the boarding pass.

We can sell you a ticket. It will cost 1,150 baht (about $40)”

I frantically scanned my wallet. I counted the baht – 874. Not enough. The rest was with Ruth in the backpack. “Can I pay with a credit card?”

We need cash.”

Then I remembered a separate stash of money I'd put with our passports. Two crisp 1000 baht bills. “Ok, I have it. Here.”

She asked for Juliana's passport and wrote out some information. Then she made a phone call. 7:55. “Ok, we have issued a ticket for the baby. Now go back to the check-in counter.”

I sprinted.

By the time I got there, Ruth already had our boarding passes in hand and was approaching the stairway, hands filled with the baby, backpack, daiper bag and styrofoam ice chest (for Juliana's vaccinations).

We hurried up the escalator and made a b-line for the security check. An airport official, apparently aware of our predicament, offered to take the styrofoam ice chest through security for us. “It's medicine,” I explained, when she asked about the strange container, hoping that the vaccinations wouldn't cause any problems. Thankfully, there was nobody in line. Nobody asked any questions. A clear path.

Then we had to go through the Thai border inspection. Again no line, a clear path.

We were through. 8 p.m. Flight time. We frantically looked for our gate. “Where is it? I don't see it.”

Then we saw several hands raised. “Kevin and Ruth,” someone shouted. “Over here.” Several colleagues from our organization, who were on the same flight, were waiting near a gate. “We haven't boarded yet.”

That's awesome.”

Inexplicably, they'd held the plane for us.

Briefly, we tried to explain what had happened to our colleagues, thanking them for their prayers. “I don't know how we got a ticket for her. They said it was impossible. It was a total God thing. I think He just worked a miracle for us.”

It probably helped that the airport is tiny and the plane only seated 50 – half of whom were returning home from the same conference as us, but it was a complete answer to prayer.

A few minutes after 8, they began the boarding process for the plane, insisting that those with children board first. They looked at us and held the line. We were the first to board. We sat down, smiled, and took a deep breath. “We made it.”

My heart was racing from adrenaline and excitement. God had made a way for us.

Lesson learned. In the future, we won't even attempt to buy an infant plane ticket for international travel at the airport. Probably the best bet is for us not to buy our plane tickets unless we are allowed to buy one for our daughter at the same time. In the meantime, we praise the one to whom all praise is due.

Some will scoff at my suggestion that God cared enough for our situation to answer our prayers. “It's just circumstantial,” some might say. “You would have made it anyway. What about those other times you prayed and God didn't seem answer?” Perhaps He did, but I wasn't willing to hear Him say “no, you need to go through this trial.” Perhaps I didn't paint the picture clearly enough – we had no business getting onto either of these planes. God showed up and made a way. It is only because of His mercy and grace that the hearts of the airport officials were moved upon our behalf.

As I wrote this today, I noticed a quote in a free kindle book, which I've working through a few pages at a time, called “Answers to Prayer From George Müller's Narratives.” I echo the sentiments of Müller , who wrote about God's last-minute provision for orphanages in 19th century England when circumstances looked dour: “it was from the beginning in the heart of God to help us; but because He delights in the prayers of His children, He had allowed us to pray so long; also to try our faith, and to make the answer so much the sweeter. It is indeed a precious deliverance.”

Kunming - Don't lose a finger


Candy said...

You can certainly see God at work in the situation. The George Muller quote is excellent! I just finished reading that book on my Kindle and was greatly encouraged by it. I had read Muller's autobiography many years ago and it had a great effect on my life.
Thanks for sharing, Kevin! I am so blessed to have you for a son-in-law!

Katrina said...

Awesome! Thanks for sharing the answers to prayer.