"Our Glorious Eagle of the Skies"
Having flown rather a lot in my life and endured the 80's flying the cheapest ever carriers to India twice a year, internal flights that were incessantly delayed (Indian Airlines) but always ended up putting us up in 5 star hotels until the next available flight, and once the flight resumed the call to prayer of a hundred Indian men all asking for Whisky even though they don't serve alcohol on internal flights. Aeroflot multiple times which was a plethora of experiences I have no wish in ever repeating- think stinky fat russians sitting next to you on an old Soviet plane with no airvents, shaking so violently because it can't fly above the weather, engines rumbling louder than a BASTARD and then to add a bit of intrigue to it all the stewardess brings you your meal consisting of a boiled egg with majonaise squeezed all over it, a piece of "meat" that looks like a cat abortion, and a cold limp piece of cabbage that probably committed suicide at the sight of the other things on the plate. The only silver lining was the generous portions of Russian Standard vodka that quelled the fear and took a slight punch out of the guys armpits to the right of me.
Countless journeys on American carriers which employ the most bitter, rancid, vapid 50 year old chubby grumpy 80's permed "glory girls" to continually scowl at you, smother you with their enormous ass as they hand out dehydrated peanuts to the person across the aisle, balk at the mention of the world "free alcohol", tirelessly chew their f***** gum while talking to you from behind deceptively bright painted eyes- mean streaks of bright blue makeup smothered on thick and hard to cover the decaying decades of jetlag, abuse and menopause. The food in its television dinner appearance that tastes of baby food laced with giardia, cramped seats without screens to idle away your time watching the latest and greatest that Hollywood has to offer and the constant feeling that while enjoying your 10 dollar glass of awful California wine you are secretly being profiled as another one of them "European Alcoholics" who simply refuses to believe that being on a plane for 11 hours can be enjoyed soberly.
Air India departing Bangkok 11 years ago sitting in the departure gate watching the American elections on TV with a bloated Bush agonizingly edging ahead in the polls, a distinctly Indian voice commandeers the intercom " Ladies and Gentlemen, we are sorry. Plane will be dillayed 10 awar.". Gasps rush through the waiting room, intercom bursts into action again "Sorry, sorry, plane will be dillayed 2 awar". Sighs of relief. Twenty minutes later "No, sorry, will be dillayed 10 awar. Follow man to hotel". Upon which a 27 hour stay in Bangkok ensued in a fine hotel with generous amounts of food, only to be taken back to the airport 2 hours later than the departure time the day before to find out that part of the wing had falled off on landing and it was cheaper to fly the part in from India than buy it in Thailand, hence the waste of an entire day of our precious lives.
Fast forward to present day. The airline I have spent most time on in the past 2 years. The largest carrier in the Philippines. With a superb safety record (apart from the DC-9 crash in which everyone died) and a modern fleet with a comical side to their daily goings on. The first flight with Cebu was uneventful. We laughed at the mid-flight quiz when one of the stewards started singing karaoke on the intercom and you won a bag if you guessed the song. The second, third, fourth, fifth were all similar. Then came the flight from Bangkok to Manila which shut down completely after having left the gate and stood on the tarmac for 1 hour trying to restart the engines. Hmmmm.. Then the most legendary of all the Cebu Pacific flights (until yesterday) when our small propeller plane came in to land at the tiny island of Siargao and totally overshot the runway, SLAMMED on the brakes, started skidding sideways and came to a stop 1 meter from the end of the tarmac and 3 meters away from a collection of trees. Burnt rubber smoke soaking the cabin and making sure that the panic didn't dispell until people were long out of the terminal building.
Another memorable situation on Cebu happened when we were boarded onto our bus, sat waiting for half an hour, told to go back to the terminal, informed we were delayed due to a "cockpit emergency", taken back to the plane moments later only for the stewardess to tell me "Don't worry Sir, something is broken in the cockpit but you will be fine", my sister pale with fear on her first propeller adventure. Said plane moments before landing "Ladies and Gentlemen the airport at Caticlan is closed so we will hold for a while". Plane circled for 30+ minutes while the agitation grew, then suddenly we were diverted to Kalibo airport and came down in one of the most insane landings ever, swirling and swaying meters above the raging sea doing crazy turns and finally coming down with a huge bump and severe wind resistance.
Another hard landing in Coron and I thought we had left the worst of it behind until we boarded our flight last night to head on the leisurely 2 hour journey to Kota Kinabalu. The day started frantically heading across town to the Indian embassy to get our visas, then having to ply a hysterical American with zanax and San Migs before he caught his flight to Hong Kong retching at the insanities he had experienced in, quote, "The craziest country on earth". The poor bugger had been on Boracay for a week, so I'd hate to imagine what he would do in Cebu or on a mountain local bus in Bontoc. We took off. Sat back. Slept. Landed. The plane stopped immediately, strange. It didn't move. The pilot said something about the airport not wanting us to come any closer and stairs would be rushing out to help us disembark 20 meters from the runway. Rumours that the engine had broken down were circling as we waited over FORTY minutes to disembark and were told to stand 40 meters away from the plane while others landed right next to us and you really appreciated the noise of an aircraft. Suddenly guards, cops, army all surrounded the plane leaping out of jeeps with police tape and cordoned off the entire aircraft. We started getting suspicious that maybe this was a Bomb threat and tried to move a little further away from the potential bomb site, but were told to stand where we stood. almost an hour passed until they send 5 jeeps to pick us up. Jeeps. Jeeps that had to stand by the runway playing chicken with landing planes because they had to drive DOWN the runway to get to the terminal building... me just sitting in the front seat seeing the lights of an approaching plane and just praying the guy would floor the accelerator.
What followed then was Asian confusion at its best. Total arsefest of officials arguing about what to do, told to form lines, searched head to toe, told to sit, told to stand, told to move to the other side of the room, passport details taken, reporters flashing away from behind the screen doors, then FINALLY at 8.30pm we are allowed to get our bags and leave the airport. Still knowing NOTHING.
Our bleedin taxi driver turns to us and goes "Ah were you guys on the Bomb plane?". Even he knew and we didn't. Apparently the plane had been on alert for at least an hour in the air but the pilot continued on to KK, left us waiting in the plane for 45 minutes for the stairs, then another 40 or so on the tarmac next to a potential disaster. Nobody informed us of anything during the whole debacle, and frankly it was probably for the best. Panic would be been insane, scattering people running helter-skelter across runways while Malaysian Airlines and Air Asia flights attempted to land amongst the sprawling ants.
The Bitter Man
A backpacker by default since birth, have scanned almost 100 countries in the search for perfection and imperfection in equal measure.