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Eastward Bound

Started: 2015-12-27 10:18:34

Submitted: 2015-12-27 20:51:39

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator departs North America for India, in the company of his first-grader

Sometime during the summer of 2015 I got the idea to visit Willy in India this school year, where he was returning to study Hindi and work on his dissertation. (He hopes to wrap up his dissertation this spring, defend it in May or June 2016, and graduate with his PhD in history over summer -- after which he gets to find a real job.) This idea went through various iterations (including one where I took my whole family to India -- baby and all), and eventually we came up with the idea that I'd take Calvin during Calvin's two-week Christmas vacation, and Kiesa and Julian (and Montse our au pair) would stay home (and visit Kiesa's parents for Christmas). Willy convinced our parents to come, and we all convinced our sister Bethany to come (without her husband -- he was short on vacation time and needed to visit his mother anyway), so we ended up with my family of origin, plus Calvin, descending on India.

This plan solidified in August and September, right at the time when my employer was thinking about who they would end up laying off. I waited to buy my plane tickets until I actually knew which list I'd end up on, but even though they decided to lay me off, I went ahead and bought the tickets, since I wasn't going to let a little layoff keep me from enjoying a little international travel. I scheduled my flight out to leave on Calvin's first day off, and return on Calvin's last day off. Then I got another job offer, and decided to pull in my termination date under my layoff (keeping my severance payment) to the day before I left for India. This created a bit of hassle while trying to work through all of the travel and packing logistics as I was wrapping up my job, but by the last week or two I'd pretty much run out of things to do at work.

Calvin and I woke up early on Saturday morning, 19 December, to catch an 07:00 pickup by SuperShuttle to take us to the airport -- which was pulled in by ten minutes to let them service the rest of their schedule that morning. At the airport, the check-in agent who checked our passports and visas remarked that I was taking Calvin to "see how the other half lives" -- which is not the way I've normally heard the phrase, but seemed entirely appropriate. The one sure-fire way to see the gap between how the 1% live versus and the other 99% is to travel to a developing country and bring a mirror. (I do want to expose Calvin to the fact that we're the globally-privileged elite, even though we choose not to pay even more for the seats at the front of the plane.)

We grabbed a bagel for breakfast at the airport, then waited for our first flight to Houston, United 2011, on a new 787-9 outfitted by United for domestic service. Our flight was delayed by nearly an hour due to an unspecified maintenance issue, which appeared to be related to the in-flight entertainment system, which they eventually decided not to fix, and operated the flight to Houston without the entertainment system. The only thing I missed was the in-flight map; Calvin was perfectly happy with his iPad fully loaded with movies.

N3953 787-9 at DIA gate B32
N3953 787-9 at DIA gate B32

This was my first flight in a 787, and the first time I'd been closer than spotting one sitting on the tarmac while I walked to my other flight. The windows were the feature that I noticed most: they are larger and higher than traditional airline windows, which was great; and instead of a window shade they had an LCD controlled by a pair of buttons at the base of the window. I was intrigued by the concept but the implementation seemed a bit lacking: the windows didn't get as clear or as opaque as I would have liked. (I did, at least, get a great view of the flaperon on the starboard wing as we touched down in Houston.)

Even after our hour-long delay on the ground in Denver, we had a lengthy layover in Houston, which I think was the result of my picking a longer layover in favor of a 55-minute layover (which seemed like a recipe for disaster when connecting to a once-a-day international flight). I found lunch for Calvin and I at a pizza shop down the concourse from our arrival gate (where he was thrilled to eat an entire cheese pizza), and convinced him to walk from concourse C to concourse D to look at the jumbo jets in the colors of foreign-flagged carriers waiting to fly to far-flung international destinations. (We saw one or two Gulf carriers, but I don't think any of the destinations we saw were quite as far-flung as our ultimate destination.)

Calvin eats pizza at Houston Intercontinental Airport
Calvin eats pizza at Houston Intercontinental Airport

As we were waiting at our departure gate we met an Indian family with a five-year-old girl, who quickly hit it off with Calvin. They were also flying to India by our same route: United flight 46 to Frankfurt followed by a Lufthansa flight 760 to Delhi.

Foreign-flagged carriers lined up at Houston's international terminal
Foreign-flagged carriers lined up at Houston's international terminal

At length our aircraft arrived, pulled by a tug from its parking stand (it had apparently arrived from South America the previous day, and was waiting around at the airport -- whether for maintenance or just because it wasn't tightly scheduled I couldn't tell), and sometime thereafter we boarded. We settled into our seats for our flight to Frankfurt -- one of two back-to-back long-haul flights we'd take to India. This aircraft was another 787-9, which appeared to have the same seating configuration as our earlier aircraft, but the interior details were different: the seats actually reclined backwards, as opposed to sliding forward within their own shells, and the seat upholstery seemed to be of a better quality.

N27958 787-9 towed into position at Houston Intercontinental Airport
N27958 787-9 towed into position at Houston Intercontinental Airport

Calvin and I went to bed on the flight as soon as we could, after the in-flight meal service. Saturday -- our first day en route to India -- ended for us somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Maritime Canada, as we crossed over time zones on our flight east.

Having rejected DOS, we're paranoid about anything that isn't
"user-friendly," that requires some adjustment on our part and a
commitment to meet the technology halfway. It's as if Henry Ford rigged
a bridle and set of leather reins to his Model T instead of a steering
wheel and clutch, and to this day we were still driving our cars the way
a 19th century groomsman would handle a horse and buggy.
- Jonathon Keats, "'You Send Me' by Patricia T. O'Conner & Stewart
Kellerman", Salon.com