Friday, August 7, 2015

Making the most of a delayed flight

By Gideon Lasco

The announcement airline passengers dread the most is that of a flight delay, and though its increasing occurrence has made it almost a given for frequent flyers, it can still be a frustrating experience.

"Attention all passengers: your flight is delayed due to late departure of turnaround aircraft." The announcer says. What a meaningless statement! It's like saying that “Our date in Makati is delayed due to my late departure from Los BaƱos.” There are no advance warnings, no details.

My worst experience was on a flight to Puerto Princesa just a few months ago. After a nap in what I thought would be a short and smooth late afternoon flight, I peered out the window and could already see the familiar outlines of the Palawan mountains, as well as the islands of Honda Bay.

We were just about to land when suddenly the plane pulled up then turned around! After a dreadful few minutes of silence - enough time to entertain thoughts like “Are we being hijacked?” - the captain made an announcement that the because of the tailwinds it wasn't safe to land, and also mentioned the lack of lights in the runway. It wasn't very convincing - why did he attempt to fly in the first place?

After the hour-long return to Manila, the flight attendant merely parroted her “welcome you to Manila!” spiel, as if it were our destination! The passengers  - offered neither nor lodging nor compensation - applauded such tactlessness out of sarcasm, but the flight attendant, undeterred, kept smiling and uttering more perfunctory phrases before finally apologising for the cancellation.

***

Negative energies, like any strong emotions, can get us carried away. Given the systemic problems our airports face, however, it is in vain to get mad at a flight attendant. It is also probably unwise to declare "I'm never gonna fly with this airline again!”: Given the limited choices in the Philippines, you might swallow your words soon. The fact is that our airports are operating at a level way beyond their capacity, and all the airlines suffer from delays. Only a major overhaul can fix this - and it wont be happening anytime soon.

But what can we do as individual passengers stuck in an airport? As annoying as a flight delay is, it can actually be a very productive time, to work, to learn, and to connect with your loved ones.

Bringing a book is always a great idea. When was the last time you actually read a book? The flight delays can make even Dostoyevsky readable - unless you prefer observing the young people take selfies. E-books, of course, can also suffice, but for flights I prefer the printed book, which doesn’t ran out of battery, and doesn’t get the flight attendants mad during take-off and landing.

Being inside the airport also puts you in a box that is actually conducive to working. Since there is nothing else to do, you can concentrate more on tasks like unfinished reports and assignments. Also, rather than stare at the "Delayed" status of your flight, you can choose to attend to long-delayed tasks, like responding to forgotten emails text messages. Or call your parents and grandparents - maybe even your high school classmates! Think of all people you've been meaning to call or email, but haven't really done so in a while.

One thing that makes a flight delay especially stressful is if you have scheduled something immediately after it. Here, I can offer some practical tips. The earlier in the day the flight, the less likely it will get delayed. During the peak holiday seasons of summer and Christmas, expect even longer delays.

Afternoon flights to certain airports, such as Caticlan and Cagayan de Oro, are particularly risky. The "delayed flight due to sunset limitation" speaks of another problem: the lack of equipment in our smaller airports.

There are lucky days, as when the flight is smooth and when your baggage miraculously appears first in the carousel. As a mountaineer, I consider it especially auspicious when I see the mountains from the air: as the flight takes off from Manila, Pico de Loro, Batulao, Makiling, Banahaw.

But you better be prepared for when things go wrong. On that aborted flight to Puerto Princesa, my seatmates had booked a cruise to Coron that same night and they were understandably mollified at cancellation, which has irrevocably altered the course of their vacation. Another crestfallen face was that of a father who had just missed his son's birthday.

Their images tell us: People's lives and daily schedules matter. We do not care about dancing flight attendants - or fun games. The minimum airlines could do is to honor their commitment, and the minimum the airports can do is to allow airlines to do so. Surely, paying passengers have the right to demand as much. The airport is the first impression of a country, and if the government seriously want to make it "more fun in the Philippines", the airport is the place to start.

***

Finally, the boarding announcement! "You may now board the aircraft at Gate no. 118" A collective sigh of relief fills the air, and people are stirred from their seats.

As you may have guessed, I am writing this piece in the middle of a flight delay. As a consolation, I found one of the rare functioning sockets in the terminal. Two and a half hours was more than enough to write this article, charge my laptop, and do other things besides.

The queue of passengers fills up, and they make a second announcement. I guess it's time for me to stand up and fall in line. But I will not be in a hurry.

NAIA Terminal 3
August 7, 2015

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