I survived 34 hours of transit between hotel room in Jakarta, Indonesia, and walking in the door of my home again "yesterday". Thank you to Andi and Chris and Gunawan for being great hosts in Jakarta. Among the top hotels I've ever stayed in for IBM travel, excellent meals of local cuisine, and the traffic wasn't near as bad as I was lead to believe (or maybe I just got lucky).

I had few flight options coming home from Jakarta, most of them involved mutli-hour stopovers in either Hong Kong or Tokyo. Either way I was going straight from a guest lecture at Binus University to the airport, meaning traveling in a suit. Oh well. The best routing ended up being ANA (All-Nippon Airways), which also had the bonus of a stopover in Narita that would be long enough for some nice sushi breakfast (yes, really - try it sometime) and a little time to catch up on work.

On board, my seat selection jujitsu continued to work well and I ended up with the middle seat open next to me, one of five or so empty seats on the whole plane. During flight, I was watching a movie ("Tower Heist", pretty funny) on the iPad, which was propped up on the middle seat's tray table. Thus I was surprised when a flight attendant tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to my white dress shirt....stained along the left side with red blotches that looked like spilled wine. Uh oh.

In her limited English, she couldn't explain what had happened, but the result was unmistakable. She indicated she would try to clean it up, and returned a few minutes later with some towels and some kind of cleaning solution. She then proceeded to try to blot up the stains on the shirt while I remained sitting there, which already struck me as way more than an American airline would do. But whatever she was using wasn't removing the stains, just turning them from red to blue. So a few minutes later, the flight purser joined her and asked me if I had something else to change into. I hadn't changed before the flight mainly because everything else I brought along on the trip was either cigarette smoke-infested or damp from the Bali humidity, and it was in my checked luggage anyway. So the purser offered to bring me a sweater from the first class amenity kit, and asked me to give them the white shirt to try to clean further. She then brought me back to one of the lavatories, cleaned it from top to bottom, and then let me use it as a changing room. The sweater, which I can only describe as "small Japanese old man zip-up style", wasn't going to join my wardrobe permanently, but it would do for a few hours while they did whatever they were going to do to my dress shirt.

A few hours later, the flight attendant fetched me and brought me to the rear galley, where they showed me the shirt again. The stains were almost entirely gone. They were very proud of their result, but at the same time extremely apologetic. They further apologized, saying they realized what a "horrible flight" I was having between the shirt incident and the unruly child seated across the aisle from me. I noticed the child (he was playing his iPod music without headphones at one point during my slumbers) but hadn't the adjective "horrible" describing any aspect of the flight.

Once the shirt was dry, about an hour before landing, the purser came to return it. This became a ceremony, where again she cut to the front of the line for the lavs, cleaned one top to bottom, and let me use it as a changing room. When I emerged, a formal apology was given, Japanese-style. There was much bowing in my direction, and I was given a post card with a written apology along with the business card from the purser. They also had me fill out a voucher for cleaning cost reimbursement, in case further cleaning was needed, and US$20 in cash was handed over after I signed the voucher. They even threw in a deck of playing cards as a gift.

All of this was extremely valuable to me, as I was heading straight from O'Hare to my younger daughter's preschool and indeed needed to look presentable after the long flight. It is impossible to imagine the crew on a United or American flight doing much more than an apology and maybe offering some frequent flier miles. I didn't know what to expect, but like the last time I was in Indonesia, the Japanese airlines seem to establish the benchmark for customer service. Arigato gozimashta, ANA. I'll see you again.
Image:Japanese airline customer service - again

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