Randy was right. Our delayed flight from Palawan – truly a paradisiacal (go ahead, look it up, it is an actual word, meaning “relating to or like paradise”) island – tick-tocked beyond 4:50 p.m. Air Asia was confident of a 5:50 p.m. departure, going so far as to print that time on our “Delayed Flight” notice for Cathay Pacific, but even that slipped away.
Diving right into the after-the-fact-hilarity of our challenging journey home, though, feels insensitive, after a horrific week of air travel. There was the Germanwings crash of last Tuesday, with the tragic loss of 150 lives, one of them the rogue co-pilot who appears to have had serious health issues.
Then, early Sunday morning in Halifax, an Air Canada plane flew in short of the runway, lost its landing gear on an antenna array and skidded 1,100 feet after hitting the runway. Despite the damage to the plane – a wing was severely mangled and an engine and the nose detached – all 138 people onboard walked (hobbled?) away. It’s interesting that Air Canada officials initially referred to it as an “incident”, not a “crash”, with an “abrupt” or “hard” landing. It landed without landing gear! It skidded for a very long distance! Yeah, I’d call that “abrupt” and “hard”.
Do you have a fear of flying? I do. I’m also a tragedy junkie, so when a plane crashes I devour every detail while imagining how panic-stricken the passengers must have felt.
Do you know anyone who died in a plane crash? In the small town of Wellburn, where I lived when I first married Hugh, there was a dashing pilot – picture Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can – who used to tie up our one bathroom when we had parties, because he’d take eager young single ladies in there, to mess around. It’s a good thing he did that while he could, because a few years later, when he was learning to fly a commercial jet, a huge flock of Canada geese were sucked up by an engine and took the plane down.
Still, as I told my niece Alana, who flew to Myrtle Beach this past weekend for a cheerleading competition, statistics indicate plane travel is one of the safest things you’ll ever do. The death risk is estimated at one in seven million, whereas for train travel it’s one in a million. Vehicles are the worst, with an average of 47,000 highway deaths/year in the United States, which would amount to one sold-out 727 crashing every single day of the week with no survivors. Canada fares better, with our smaller population, recording a record low of 2,186 traffic fatalities in 2010, which would still amount to more than two full weeks of obliterated 727s.
Anyway, Randy and I had to get home from the Philippines, and air travel was the chosen method of transportation. We sat in that godawful airport terminal in Puerto Princesa for seven hours, drinking Red Horse from a can (okay, the option of beer, from a bottle or a can, is a good option), eating “Chippies” (Filipino corn chips) and existing in a state of utter bafflement about Air Asia’s inability to produce a plane. Randy is vegetarian, so she did not eat the ugly brown meat disk and grey gravy provided, just the rice. I was so hungry, I gobbled it down, then promptly started running to the bathroom, where I had to grab generous fistfuls of toilet paper from the roll by the sinks, as none was provided in the stalls.
Air Asia marked our bags “RUSH” and assured us a representative in Manila would accompany us to the international terminal, but when we arrived at 7:23 p.m., our bags went on the carousel with all other bags and we were accompanied to the taxi stand. The cabbie told us it would be 500 Philippine Pesos, but since we’d been in the Philippines for three weeks we knew it should only be 200. We argued back and forth, and as we did, the cabbie sped up, hit the brakes, yelled at us, sped up, hit brakes, yelled, then said he needed fuel, pulled over and demanded we get out. We got into another cab and the cabbie, incredulously, headed straight for a gas station. Randy pointed a finger at him and said, “No! You get fuel before you pick up passengers. Take us to Terminal 3 right now!” He did, and he smiled, a big smile with gaps where teeth should have been, and said, “See, I made it.” We ran through the airport, but of course, the Cathay Pacific wicket was closed and under the weight of our back-packs and carry-ons we found their office, upstairs, way in the back. The guard told us, “Office closed.” The lights were on, so we went in anyway, heaved our bags down and slumped onto their couch. AJ, the woman behind the desk, maintained a smug expression throughout our dealings with her. In the time that has passed since then I’ve come to believe it wasn’t from smugness at all, but from cultural differences, as in, “What is your problem? There will be another plane.” We truly just wanted her to feel sorry for us and she truly just wanted us out of her office so her workday could end. Her fingers flew over her keyboard, she promoted the option of Flight CX906, I thought, I haven’t a clue what that means, then asked if I could use a phone to make a toll-free call to change my WestJet flight from Vancouver to London. She said, “No phone.” I said, “What’s this on your desk?” She eventually admitted it was a phone and it worked. She punched in numbers for an outside line and I found out the toll-free number only worked from Canada and the U.S.
After we got our flight changed to 11 a.m. the following day, Randy and I huddled around an airport pillar: she quiet, me bitchy. “Well,” Randy said, “it’s not the worst thing. It only cost $50 each and we got a flight and we’re okay.” And I said, “We’ve been up since 3 a.m., it’s 9 p.m. now, my stomach is killing me, I’m out of Philippine Pesos and I just wish I was on that flight home!” I stomped over to an area with three ATMs. I fed one my bank card and it said, “Sorry. Cannot complete transaction at this time.” I fed another one my bank card and it said, “Sorry. Cannot complete transaction at this time.” The remaining one had an “Out of Order” sign on it. I found a Foreign Exchange booth, handed them $100 Canadian for Pesos and told them, “If anyone is interested, I think those ATMs over there are out of cash.” The woman behind the glass said, cheerily, “Oh, did you try downstairs?” I just shook my head.
When I got back to Randy, she was on Hotwire, her trusty hotel deal site, booking us an affordable room close to the airport, similar in quality to a Holiday Inn, or a DoubleTree. We got into a cab. The cabbie didn’t seem to know where the Isabelle Royale was and tried to take Randy’s phone to use for directions, but as we pulled away from the airport the Wi-Fi disconnected. He stopped to ask directions many times and each time the person standing by the roadside pointed away from the airport. We drove and drove and drove. When we asked him if he knew where he was going he was either silent or yelled, “Makati!”, which we knew was an area of the city. I studied people crammed into jeepneys and fought down sobs rising in my chest. We eventually came to a bustling area, very well-lit, with “red” lights, if you know what I mean, and signs boasting things like “Girlees” and “Bottoms”. And there it was. The Isabelle Royale on Valdez.
We refused to pay our cabbie more than 200 Pesos and he said, sadly, “Okay.” I desperately prayed for the inside of the hotel to be of better quality than the outside. The desk clerk said, “Hotwire? Print the receipt, over there!” “You can’t . . .” Randy held up her iPhone, with the confirmation. “No,” she barked and I studied dirt on the floor and imagined stains on sheets and then Randy and I both saw the sign, about free Wi-Fi – In The Hotel Lobby Only – and said, in unison, “We can’t stay here.”
Scurrying out and into another cab we said, “Airport Marriott.” This driver took the highway, transporting us back near the airport in no time, the cab clearing through security gates, and then us clearing through metal detectors to enter the lobby where music blared and hundreds of guests milled about in stunning evening attire. It was the Huang Go wedding! With tangled hair and haggard faces, a stink no doubt emanating from us, Randy and I pushed past them to the check-in counter where we were told a room would be 17,000 Pesos. I quickly did the math on my iPhone calculator. $500 a night! It was going on 11 p.m. We planned on getting up at 7 a.m., so that’s like $62.50/hour!
But, it just takes one nice person, doesn’t it? When one is trapped in a nightmare, unable to cope. It’s important to remember this, when out and about, coping.
The Concierge saw our faces. Said, “Come over to my desk. There’s a hotel next door, a three-star, the Remington. It’s in the $100/night range. I’m told the rooms are okay. I’ll call, see if they have a room available.”
Now, this wasn’t the end of our journey home, obviously. We had the long walk to the Remington, on tired feet, under heavy bags, and the room was just “okay”. And then, the long flights home, with the inevitable waits at the various airports.
But I can’t complain. I’ve also, in the last week, been introduced to Louis C.K., via a YouTube clip from Conan O’Brien. Everything’s Amazing, Nobody’s Happy. He mocks people who tell horror stories about flying. “What happened next?” he says. “Did you fly through the air, incredibly, like a bird? Did you partake in the miracle of human flight?”
Yes, Louis C.K., I did. I sat in a chair in the sky. And statistical odds let me survive. And now I sit at my desk writing a blog that will be transported to you through the miracle of the Internet.
Everything is amazing! Everyone should be happy!