TL;DR: Always have more than enough time between connecting flights if it involves transferring from a Domestic to International flight. Like more than 4 hours “more than enough”.
Wow. You can always read online the horrors of international travel and being on a tight schedule; running through the terminals to make your connections, but I never once experience anything near those kinds of travel horrors. Until my trip to Korea.
To keep some important reminders in mind: EPIK Orientation started on February 20th and we had check-in on February 19th.
Departing MCO – 02.17.2017
You may not know, but I’m definitely a cry baby when it comes to leaving my family behind. Whether I’m flying away to live in Alaska for a summer or flying away for a week to go to Jamaica, I always get a little teary eyed leaving the coop. Now imagine trying to contain all of my cry baby emotions because my 7-year-old niece is upset she won’t see me for a year. My Mom had the nice idea to take a picture of my niece and I standing next to each other so we could see how tall she gets while I am away.
My final meal was of course, Moe’s Southwest Grill. It was one of the better burritos I’ve ever had made by the company, in fact, or maybe it just tasted better because I knew I wouldn’t be eating it for a long, long time. They have a Shake Shack in Seoul if I ever need a good, juicy burger but there definitely is not a Moe’s anywhere near me in Korea.
After saying my final goodbyes to my Mom and Dad, I walked through the TSA ticket check line and waved goodbye over the heads of people with tears in my eyes. After getting through the TSA line, I arrived at my gate and asked the lady at the desk if I could move forward in the plane because of my connection in LAX. I moved from 27C to 19A and was so grateful for not only a window seat but also a closer seat to the front of the plane. That was the last good thing to happen to me on this journey. I will put into bullets the rest of my night at MCO:
- 7:00p: The gate begins making announcements that the flight is delayed due to severe weather at LAX. But we should be ready to board by 8:00p.
- 7:30p: Flight is delayed again, the government had to step in and assign incoming and outgoing flights a number and everyone had to wait for their number. We should be on board for take-off by 8:30p.
- 8:00p: You begin to think that by this point we are getting the “time to board” announcements. Wrong. I am part of about a dozen people concerned about making their connecting flights. Everyone needs to get to Australia or China. I’m the only one who needs to get to South Korea.
- 8:30p: The “time to board” announcements finally come. Everyone gets on the plane in a very orderly fashion, we are all ready to leave Orlando.
- 9:00p: The flight captain makes an announcement that we’ve been bumped back on the flight list and we’ll have another delay. We are free to leave the plane if we need to because it’s going to be awhile.
- 9:00p – 10:00p: Now, if you didn’t know: most people drop their cellphone plans when moving to South Korea in order to get a new one here. This means that your cellphone becomes a Wi-Fi only cellphone, and airports are notorious for 30-minutes free Wi-Fi. So cue the next hour of my life in Orlando spent on the phone with my parents trying to see if I can somehow make my connection or if I’m lucky that there is another red-eye after I land. I wasn’t that lucky.
- 10:00p: Two and a half hours after the scheduled flight take-off, we finally have proper boarding announcements, safety checks and wheels rolling. We’re leaving Orlando by 10:30p to land in Los Angeles by 12:30a the next morning. My flight to Korea left at 11:00p. I was 2 hours too late.
Departing LAX – 02.18.2017
Landing in LAX, roughly 2 hours after my connecting plane took off was more than a little disheartening. I got to the International Terminal and called my parents, who were still awake trying to help me. After about an hour or two of a three-way phone conversation between myself, my parents, and the Korean Air customer service line, we were able to book me on a flight to Seoul the next morning with a connection to Busan the following day. Perfect! Wait. I needed to be in Busan on the 19th or at the latest the morning of the 20th. Not mid-morning at best! Initiate stress mode…
Would my luggage meet me? Would I make it there without any other delays? Is there any other way I can get to Busan earlier than the 20th at mid-morning? Am I going to be punished for being late? Will I get kicked out?
All of these questions were running through my mind constantly as I had nearly 12 hours to myself in the International Terminal at LAX. I found myself a window seat without a bar in the middle of it, set several alarms just in case I did fall asleep for a long time, bundled up, and fell asleep for about 5 hours of my 12-hour wait. The rest of my time was spent on my phone or laptop just trying to get connected to the internet so I could maintain contact with my parents.
When the restaurants started opening and more people were showing up, I decided to leave my new makeshift bedroom and grab something to eat. I paid $14.37 for some really good breakfast potatoes and a burnt asiago bagel. Delicious. Following breakfast, I was able to convert my US currency into the Korean Won. I also listened to my Mom’s advice and changed shirts and washed my face. My parents tried to keep me in good spirits and were alongside me in praying to the travel gods that they look favorably down upon me for the rest of my trip.
Eventually time rolled on and I was surrounded by Koreans waiting to get onto the Korean Air flight. Some of the most beautiful people I have ever seen in my life were all in stewardess uniforms, so I took that as a good sign for how the flight would go. I say this with the utmost sincerity that the Korean Air flight I took was one of the best flights I think I will ever take in my life. The only way I think it could get better was if I flew business class and was able to be in one of those bed-type chairs on the second floor of the airplane.
Arriving at INC – 02.19.2017
The Incheon Airport in Seoul, Korea, is a very nice airport. I understand now why it is always voted as one of the best in the world. Upon exiting the plane and making my way to the domestic terminal (still had one more connection left to get to orientation in Busan) I made it to my gate that would get me on my last plane to Busan the next morning.
That’s right. The next morning. Let’s recap:
Orientation for EPIK teachers on Team 1 began on February 20th and that was the exact date I was landing in Busan.
Outside of the fact that I was emailing the EPIK coordinator and talking on LINE with my parents, I was still a nervous wreck. I never enjoyed showing up late to something. I’d rather not show up at all and save face. Luckily my mother talked me into staying at the transit hotel in the Incheon airport so I could at least sleep in a bed and take a shower. Cue another restless night of making sure I am not oversleeping…
Departing INC – 02.20.2017
When I woke up today I was completely ready to take anything the day could throw at me. Worst case scenario: I get to EPIK orientation and they turn me away. No problem, I have a 13-month visa I could play around with in the country.
I get to my gate and begin the final wait for my final plane. As boarding time approaches, I begin watching the men loading the luggage and think I spot mine. That’s a great sign! The travel gods are letting my luggage catch up to me after all of my delays and I won’t have to have a second disaster.
Boarding time comes….and goes. By this point I am unfazed and just continue using the airport Wi-Fi while I can. Thankfully, we were only delayed 20 minutes and Korean citizens are very orderly when boarding planes so there weren’t any further delays. I’m in a window seat for this last 30-minute flight from Seoul to Busan and it is unfortunately a cloudy day so I don’t get much of a view of anything during the trip. They served everyone a plain muffin and a drink of choice. I was at least glad I got to eat something after not eating since I had dinner on the Korean Air flight leaving LAX. It had been nearly 12 hours since I had last eaten.
Before I could even begin to digest the plain muffin, we were there! I was finally on the ground in Busan and could begin my journey to EPIK orientation!
Departing PUS – 02.20.2017
If you don’t know anything about me, one thing you should know is that I don’t really speak Korean, I speak Korean dramas. Now, lo and behold who was there to greet me as I left the gate at Gimhae International Airport?
Lee. Min. Ho’s. Face.
I had done it. I had finally landed in heaven.
Getting through customs and all that TSA inconveniences was nothing out of the ordinary. I did get a trolley for my luggage and waited an awfully long time for my pieces of luggage to appear on the carousel. I chuckled when I saw them, covered in their orange “HEAVY” stickers. When they finally were loaded on my trolley, I headed towards one of the few signs I could actually read.
Side note: In case you did not know before reading all of this, Korea has several types of taxis. Silver-car taxis are your basic New York City yellow-car taxis (less clean, less friendly, etc). Black-car taxis are fancier, more expensive versions. White-car taxis are somewhere in the middle. Some cities in Korea even have yellow-car taxis with a black stripe on them that are supposed to indicate that the driver is multi-lingual (I don’t live in one of those cities).
While walking towards the silver-car taxis because I did not care to pay more for a cleaner ride I was hooked into making eye contact with the driver of a black taxi. He was friendly enough and loaded my luggage for me even after recognizing the “HEAVY” tags on the handles. He asked where I needed to go and I showed him the one page of my orientation packet that had the school location on it in Korean. A few seconds later we were loaded up and ready to go.
The taxi ride wasn’t anything too fancy to brag about. The driver was a very nice man who even used Google Translate to ask me if it was okay for him to take the highway which would cost me more, but would get me there faster. I said sure, why not, I’m already late. We made it to the Busan University of Foreign Studies, where EPIK orientation was being held, and he took me straight to the building I had to be in, unloaded my luggage, helped me get it inside, and didn’t overcharge me from what the meter read.
After waving goodbye to him, I went upstairs to the EPIK head office and felt like a sheep among wolves. This is a bad analogy, everyone on the EPIK orientation team is amazing, but please understand how nervous I was walking in at first. I was late to the most important orientation of my life. Of course, silly me, I thought they might at least let me take my luggage to the dorms, then go to class, but no. They help me put my luggage aside and ushered me towards me classroom where I proceeded to walk into the front of a classroom of 50 pairs of eyes looking at me like I had just walked in and caused a scene.