Airports.. same, same, but different
Racing in Asia may at first seem very expensive, confusing, and intimidating. Really, the airports aren’t that challenging as long as you prepare for all the hiccups you might face along the way. In fact, the flights locally (jumper flights) can be quite inexpensive with the local airlines. Below I outlined some nuances I learned both after traveling with my bike for races and on holiday with my husband.
Leave Extra Time
There are so many reasons you will need extra time in Asia. The wildly unpredictable traffic. The very small local airports with a large volume of people trying to move through. The actual flight desk closes and the people are simply gone as soon as they’ve started boarding. I’ve experienced it all – missed a flight due to trains not being on time, ran like a banshee for a flight because the customs lines were so clogged, and gone to the wrong airport because of a language barrier.
While the people in Asia are very friendly and want to help the language barrier and not being able to read can really slow down your navigation. Typically in the states I arrive at the airport 1 hr before a domestic and 2 hrs before an international. I know everyone has different comfort levels with this. In Asia I would recommend at least 3 hrs from when you want to leave your destination.
Call the Airlines Ahead of Time
One big factor about racing overseas that I learned from my friend Jayme is that the smaller jumper flights have a weight limit. So they will only take so many bikes and then cut it off because they can only handle so much weight. So if you are flying say, into Seoul, and then taking a small plane down the Jeju for Ironman 70.3 Jeju, I’d recommend calling the smaller airline and making sure they can accommodate both the size and weight of your bike. It was so cool watching all the triathlon bikes get unloaded in Taitung when I was in Taiwan in March 2018. This is also a good opportunity to ask about hidden bag fees.
Long Slow Lines
Like I mentioned before the lines at the airports in Asia can be EXTRA. There isn’t the same sense of urgency and efficiency there like there in the USA. In the US, everyone is go, go, go and move them through! Then add in the language barrier and it can take a long time to get your boarding pass and bags checked. We’ve also found security can take a longer time than you’re used to because each country has different standards. In many countries in South East Asia you can expect to go through security at the entrance, before your gate, and before you board the plane! It’s a lot.
Your Bike Is To Big For… Everywhere
Your bike bag is too big for pretty much everywhere in Asia. The trains, the elevators, the hotel rooms, the cabs… see the picture above haha I have never been so stressed. Luckily, I knew we didn’t have too far to go. Try to ask your hotel concierge to order you a mini van if possible. Or do like I do and make new friends by asking a fellow English speaking triathlete to share a cab because chances are you’re going to the same place. I made friends with the most lovely Laura Jane Dennis, an Aussie Pro, this way! And saved money in the process!
Expect Asian Food!
Most triathletes are pretty clean eaters. I typically don’t eat meals on flights but when you’re flying 11, 12, 14 hours you must. If you’ve chosen an Asian airlines such as ANA, Korean Air, or Asiana Airlines expect your menu to be different. A lot of times you’ll get noodles or rice with a meat (usually chicken). You’ll also typically get a miso soup, kimchee side, maybe a side salad and a dessert. So, if you love these foods – you’re in luck! If you don’t (like me!) be sure to pack a heavier snack load or buy a meal to pack ahead of time. Snacks, lots of snacks.