Getting to the Philippines

Summer break has arrived!

I’ve been waiting a very long time for this. And finally, our two-week vacation is here, and we can go travel some more. Jordan and I had booked our tickets a few months ago, back when flights were still cheap, and had decided to visit the Philippines and Japan.

Our flight went from Busan to Manila on Saturday evening. We were supposed to land in Manila around midnight, get a good night’s sleep, and hit the city running in the morning. But that didn’t happen.

The airplane was delayed because of bad weather, so instead of leaving at 9:40 pm, like scheduled, airport staff said it could be 10:30 “or canceled because the airport closes at 11.” The airplane landed at 10:40, and people poured out of it, disgruntled from being an hour behind schedule.

“Everybody board!” crew announced, and we rushed for the airplane as fast as we could. I’ve never gotten through a gate and into a plane as fast as we did. Ticket agents were ripping boarding passes and pushing us on. When we got onto the airplane, we were told no to buckle our seatbelts because the plane was being refueled as we boarded. By 11:05, cabin doors were shut and everyone held their breath in anticipation.

Then the pilot announced that the flight had been canceled and we all had to disembark. This was all very difficult to understand, because announcements were first made in Korean, then English. But all the Korean passengers groaned and complained over the English announcements, so we had no idea what was happening. Jordan and I looked to the few other Westerners on the flight, asking if they heard more. As we got off the plane, we realized that the tower had probably decided it was 11 pm, they wanted to go home, and shut down the airport.

Airline agents and staff were in a tizzy, rushing around and whispering to one another as we all filed back through immigration, got our passport stamps voided, and waited in the gate. No one knew what was going on.

Information was passed out first in Korean, then English, but by the looks on people’s faces, neither Jordan nor I were convinced the information was accurate. The entire airport had been shut down, so we filed through dark hallways until back in the departure hall, where we lined up at the ticket counter. Thankfully, we were fourth in line from the front. We stood, sweating without AC, waiting for someone to tell us anything.

After about twenty minutes an agent began explaining that the flight was canceled, would fly tomorrow weather permitting, but not before 6 am. She walked down the long line, speaking to groups of six or seven at a time. Finally one man came to the ticket counter and beckoned the first person forward. Five minutes later, the passenger left, unhappy, and the second person went forward.

We had made friends with another American traveler, and joined him at the counter when it was his turn.

“Okay, so what’s going on?” he asked the ticket agent.

“One moment.” The airline employee scurried out from behind the desk and to a back office. Two minutes later he came out. “The flight will go tomorrow.”

“When will that be?”

“We don’t know yet. Write your name and phone number down, and we’ll call you in two hours and let you know.” He gestured to piece of paper and pen on the counter. “Everyone will do this.”

We asked about hotel vouchers.

“We called, but every hotel in Busan is full.”

We asked where we were supposed to stay for hours with the airport closed.

“I do not know.”

We asked about a taxi voucher.

“Maybe not.”

We asked about them calling a cab.

“The airport is closed. All the taxis have left for the night.”

So we left, unhappy with the inefficient way it was being handled. Over 100 people streamed behind us, each waiting to get up to the desk and receive the same disheartening information. Twenty minutes later they announced over the PA the flight would depart at 10:30 am, but maybe earlier if everyone showed up earlier.

Jordan, me, and our friend found a cab and split a fare going back to Sasang, the main bus station in Busan. There we walked for over an hour, looking for an available room. No hotels had room. No love motels had room. No noraebangs had room. I tried to cool off in a hospital waiting room, but the security guard shooed me out.

“I had a scuba diving instructor who’s Korean,” our friend mentioned after stopped at the 7-11 for water and Gatorade. “He said in a pinch, you can rent a DVD room and sleep there. Pay for the movies, but not actually watch them.”

We agreed to give that a try.

So that’s how at 2 am Jordan and I ended up in a small room, paying 24,000 won for pirated copies of The Merchant of Venice and Jurassic World and asking not to be disturbed until 6:30 am. The room provided two pillows, a small blanket, and a leather lounge that we stretched across and tried to sleep.

Long story short, we turned back up at the airport the next morning having slept very little, boarded the flight at 9 am, and FINALLY landed in Manila. Most of our day to explore Manila was shot. But here we are, safe and sound and so relieved to finally be on vacation.

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Morgan S Hazelwood

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