Saturday, April 30, 2005

Leaving Manila

Alas, I still have no return date to the US. I was booked to leave yesterday but of course it didn't happen. Heck, the guy that booked my flight even knew it was mendacity but he didn't let that stop him!

It's not so much that it's not nice to be here in Baguio, it's more the open endedness of it. That and the fact that since mid December last year the longest unbroken stay I've had at home was 8 days! Travel's fun at first but it gets old real fast when it's work related.

Most flights to the US from Singapore seem to leave in the late afternoon, arriving in the US late afternoon 17 or so hours later. Thus it is that we tend to leave Manila mid morning. And that means that we leave Baguio around midnight. Which in turn means that we've done a full days work at the plant before we leave for Manila. It all adds up to a very very long day. Generally, unless you can sleep in a small noisy van, you find you've been awake more than 18 hours before you even arrive at Manila Airport.

So one arrives at the airport. Depending on the season it may be anytime between 3:45 AM and 6:00 AM. 6:00 AM is better!

You can't even enter the building without proof that you have a flight booked that very day! Given that I've never yet managed to return on the date of my original itinerary that poses a problem. One has to get past another level of security to get to the airline offices to get the proof that one is entitled to enter the building!

Interesting process. Understand, please, that I really don't mind the security; as I've said many times, the intent is to pass through focal points safely. But some of the methods used to 'improve' security do make one wonder. In the US the current method is to prevent we smokers enjoying a smoke when we arrive. In the Philippines they poke one's luggage. The Philippine method does at least have some merit! My first time through the security barriers to the airline offices went something like this;

Woman without larynx (at least based on aural observation - not a word, not even a grunt, passed her lips) armed with a long stick. Pointed at my bag! I drop the bag. She points, using the stick, at the main zip. I wasn't quite sure what she meant, so she poked almost violently at the zip. So I unzip and she pokes the stick in, very vigorously. Satisfied she points at the zip at one end of the bag. Unzip that and poke poke with the same vigour! The she points at the zip at the other end of the bag. Unzip and poke poke! You can't imagine how relieved I was that she didn't point at the zip on my trousers!

Obviously she's looking for a bomb. It probably never occurred to the people who mandated this routine that not only would I, should I be foolish enough to have a bomb in my bag, be blown up, but the stick poker would also be blown up. Or maybe it did. But it obviously never occurred to the stick poker herself!

If you arrive at 3:45 AM you have to wait until 6:00 AM when the airline offices open, so there you are outside the building with no means of entering. This is a two edged sword. If you're outside you can smoke. Inside you can't until after you've passed immigration control. On the other hand, outside, they keep moving you along! Don't imagine you can set your bags down somewhere and wait patiently for the time to pass. The airport cops constantly pass by and bark 'not there!' as they wave you away from whatever place you've settled on. So you grab your bags and move somewhere else. Settle, only to repeat the process 10 minutes later. Same cops. This time they wave you back where you started! I suspect a little bribery here might help but that can get out of hand so I just keep oscillating back and forth!

Eventually 6:00 AM arrives. Usually by that time I'm in hour 22 of awake. The door to the airline offices opens and one passes through the poking routine aforesaid. Oh, one also leaves ones driving license with em to be collected when one leaves. At least that way they can identify the bodies!

Then one does the business with the airline. Usually I travel Singapore Airlines; they are, so far, the best airline I've ever travelled on. Efficient, polite, comfortable, everything one would want.

Then, proof in hand of travel, one passes through security to enter the main building. Nothing unusual there except that I'm conditioned to taking my shoes off; they always say 'no need' and always my shoes set off the metal detectors. No point in telling em my shoes will set off the detectors; they don't want to know until it's happened. *shrug*

After getting ones boarding pass one passes through immigration control. Be sure you have 550 pesos or US$10 for the airport tax. I didn't know I needed that sum first time and had to pass through security again to find an ATM machine. Took at least an hour.

After you've paid your 550 pesos you enter a large area with writing desks on the walls. That's where you fill out your departure form. Lots of forms. Not a single pen! Fortunately I learned many years ago to always always always carry a pen on international travel! Not everyone has so much foresight and I've loaned my pen to discommoded travelers more than once there! Then one passes the immigration control people and emerge into the gate areas. Have to admit; it's not the swankiest airport in the world. It is swankier than Burnie Airport (North Tasmania). But it does have the most uncomfortable gate seating I've ever experienced. On the other hand, there's a smoking lounge.

And here's the final insanity, one not unique to Manila International Airport. When you get to within an hour or so of departure time they shoo you out of the seating area and recheck your boarding pass and passport. So far so good; they do the same at Frankfurt. (In Frankfurt you also have to undergo a second set of metal detectors and baggage xray if you're on a flight to the US). But the smoking lounge is outside the area they consider sanitised; so if you've passed through the boarding pass/passport check and want a smoke you have to exit the sanitised area and undergo the checks yet again. And again. And again! Uh huh. I've already run the gauntlet of boarding pass and passport checks to even get as far as the smoking lounge!. Did I somehow manage to slip past all the security and enter the gate area?

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