Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Teminal - Marooned at the Airport

“I am sorry sir but you have no seat reservation for this flight!”

“Say that again please?” Seemingly annoyed, the Chinese check-in clerk repeated what she just said as her eyebrows realigned parallel to her slanted eyes. This time, the words rammed into my ears like a runaway train.

I felt my head spinning as I retorted. “What do you mean I have no reservation? I’m only on transit!”

“I’m sorry sir but looks like you did not confirm your seat for this flight! Next please!” her neck craning sideways searching for the passenger behind me in queue.

I just shut up in disbelief because I was afraid my next words would be expressed by my clenched fist punching her face. As I moved back to one of those mono-block seats waiting for another dislodged passenger like me, I tried to recall the events that brought me to this predicament.

It was Christmas season that time. 1995. I was booked to leave Shanghai morning on the 23rd of December. I knew that Christmas season has always been on top of all the peak seasons. But this is China, not a predominantly Christian place, so go figure.

Everything seemed alright because our HR officer who issued me the ticket gave me her reassurance. Besides, I had come that far already (checking in my luggage with Manila as final destination, completing the flight to Hong Kong) only to be denied a seat for my next flight. My understanding that time was that once a passenger confirms his seat for the first flight, the seat for the next flight is confirmed as well. Besides, what happens to the checked-in luggage?

I figured that some VIP, business mogul, president or Mafioso who wanted to go home for Christmas that time ran out of tickets and changed the rules. This is some grand-scale conspiracy probably connected to the time of JFK assassination, I mused. The dislocated passengers in the transit lounge started growing in numbers from different countries, race, color and body odor. It seemed the whole place had been transformed into a new Zion, an assembly of chance passengers coming from around the globe. Each had his own story to tell.

1. One couple, an Australian guy married to a Filipina said his friends told him how festive the
Philippines celebrate Christmas so he wanted to check it out. They were bound for Boracay.
Wow! Such a memorable experience that was for him!
2. A Filipina working as a caregiver in Europe, panic-stricken and uncertain how she could stay
in the airport indefinitely with limited money and resources
3. A bunch of Filipino seamen from Johannesburg coming in loud and strong at first but ending
up like wrinkled prunes after learning they have to wait as chance passengers
4. Multitudes walking, climbing, rolling and running. Here and there, left and right, up and down,
everywhere like Willard’s battalion of mice finding their way out of a gigantic maze
5. Me – stunned like a soldier on his way to Afghanistan. I had no extra clothes. I was getting
smelly. I needed a bath. I was waiting for a slight provocation and I would fire
my rifle indiscriminately. Shite!!

I rang my brother who lives there. He told me to leave the airport. The immigration will surely grant me a temporary visa because of regional diplomatic policies he said. I was hoping I could still wait as a chance passenger so I took his advice as an option which turned out a mistake later on. So I waited (perhaps my experience influenced the plot of the Tom Hanks’ film “The Terminal” without my knowledge).

Night came. A familiar baritone voice attracted my attention. It was my boss, probably more surprised than I was. I told him that the check-in clerk insisted that I did not confirm my seat for the next flight so I would have to wait as a chance passenger. After reckoning that I would take ages before I could get that chance, he told me to upgrade my seat in any empty slot in the business or first class. “No problem, I will pay’ he added. So I did. My next flight would be morning the next day.

I thought I was finally free from worry so I decided to leave the airport to spend the night at my brother’s home. Then trouble came. The immigration officer questioned me why I did not show up immediately after our plane landed earlier that morning. So I sweated out explaining to him what happened until he eventually buckled under and granted me a three-day stay.

Strangely, the next day was full of sunshine. I had a restful night. I was wearing signature clothes (or imitation which I didn't care) my brother lent me. I was smelling like Hugo Boss. I was escorted to the airport by my brother wearing a suit and tie. He paid our breakfast and my airport tax (which is no longer required now). He lent me some relief money. I met the chinky-eyed check-in clerk again. This time she was wearing a pleasant grin identical to that of the stewardess in the poster at the wall behind her. It looked like she had been exorcised and had totally forgotten the evil trances she had the night before. And during the flight I learned why first class IS first class – “Would you like to have some coffee, Sir?”, “Would you like to watch a movie, Sir?”, “Care for champagne, Sir?”

There is glory after pain.


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