到着 touchaku—we’ve arrived!

We arrived back in Japan this morning. We flew from Dublin to Amsterdam yesterday morning with KLM and then on to Kansai airport (Osaka).

As I was considered to be a returning resident, I was able to join a short “re-entry” line at immigration and was processed through quickly, which was welcome after the long flight.

There are a number of options for flying from Dublin to Kansai, the cheapest and shortest of which is usually KLM/Air France via Amsterdam or Paris. With a very tight transfer of 45 minutes in Amsterdam, you can do the whole journey in a little over 13 hours. (Our luggage didn’t make the transfer, but it will be delivered tomorrow, and on the good side we didn’t have to manage it on the train and the bus.)

It’s a journey I’ve made many times over the last 15 years or so, and this time something very unusual happened – we flew over North Korea.

The shortest route from western Europe to Japan follows a great circle routing that looks something like this:

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(These photos are taken from the flight information screen of KLM’s in-flight entertainment system).

The initial heading is approximately north-easterly, typically overflying Denmark, southern Sweden and southern Finland or Estonia, before spending many hours (the majority of the flight) flying over the vast and mostly empty expanse of Russia.

But it’s the detail of what happens at the other end – the last few hours of flight – that has changed over the years. I don’t know why.

Until just a few years ago, the plane always took a more northerly heading, seemingly avoiding Chinese airspace until arriving at the Pacific coast, and then take a sharp right turn to fly south over Japan to Osaka.

Then, a few years ago for the first time, the planes started to take a more southerly (and more direct) route. This route cuts across Mongolia and the deserts of northern China, passing directly over Beijing before crossing South Korea en route to Osaka. It seemed, however, that North Korean airspace remained “off-limits” and was deliberately avoided. This added some time to the flight.

But this morning I looked at the flight information screen and saw this:

WP_20140411_002

 

The plane had flown straight through North Korean airspace. Admittedly a remote north-eastern corner of North Korea, but definitively North Korea nonetheless. If I had been in a window seat I would have taken a peek out the window just out of curiosity, but I’m sure it wouldn’t have looked any different from neighbouring regions of Russia and China.

Of course, I didn’t spend the whole flight watching our progress on the flight map – I also passed the time watching films such as American Hustle and Gravity (which I’m sure wasn’t shown to best effect on a 7-inch screen). But it is fun to check in on the flight map every now and then, if only as a reminder of just how big the world really is.

Note on the word of the day:

When setting off on a journey, Japanese people will often cheerfully announce 出発だ shuppatsu da—we’re off! And then when they arrive at their destination, you will hear 到着 touchaku—we’ve arrived!

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4 thoughts on “到着 touchaku—we’ve arrived!

  1. Glad your journey passed without any problems. An interesting point that, about the flight passing through North Korean airspace. I had imagined with that country’s propensity to test rockets in an irresponsible way the world’s airlines would give it a wide berth.

  2. i was on the same plane! i flew to osaka on the same date! i also took a picture after flying over north korea

    1. That’s an amazing coincidence kazu. I wonder how many people on the flight noticed anything unusual!

      By another amazing coincidence, I met a KLM pilot in a bar in Osaka and asked him about this. He explained to me that the rules had changed about 6 months previously. He went to work one day and the schedulers told him, “from today you will route over North Korea”. This reduced the flight time by something like 25 minutes, and means that the pilots lost a day off! Apparently, if the flight time is more than 11 hours, they get 5 days off, but if it is less than 11 hours, they only get four days off. (I may have got the details slightly wrong, but it’s something like that).

      Anyway, thanks so much for stopping by and taking the time to post a comment! I really appreciate it.

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