pop goes the world: it’s more waiting in the philippines

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  17 May 2012, Thursday

It’s More Waiting in the Philippines

No, it is not more fun in the Philippines, dammit.

I spent the last three weeks abroad visiting family and friends in the United States, chronicling in this space my impressions of three different areas – the East Bay Area and Los Angeles in California, and Waukee and Des Moines in Iowa.

But with all the charms and attractions of other spaces, of all the places there’s nothing like home. I counted down the days till my flight back, eager to feel the warm tropical sun on my skin and my children’s arms around me.

Checking in at the San Francisco international airport, I found that our Philippine Airlines flight to Manila was delayed by two hours. The staff apologized. “The runway in Manila is closed for repairs until five-thirty in the morning.”

Checking in at SFO for the Philippine Airlines flight to Manila, 12 May 2012.

Everyone groaned in dismay, but given $15 vouchers for dinner at the airport restaurants, shrugged in resignation and waited.

The moment our plane landed at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport terminal 2, I raced the other passengers off the jetway and sped off to the immigration counters…

…and ran smack into a wall of dense, moist heat.

That’s supposed to happen outside the airport, not in. What happened to the airconditioning? That tired old excuse of “But it’s a very hot summer, hindi kaya ng aircon” is unacceptable. We have some of the best engineers in the world. Surely they can design a cooling system for the airport that can handle the load?

Bear in mind as well that passengers from chillier climes are arriving, and the sudden change in temperature can lead to sniffles or flu. Illness will put a damper on anyone’s vacation, and that’s not fun.

I peeled off my light hoodie and got in line for Immigration. A very long line. An I’m-I-having-fun-yet queue mirrored multiple times right and left in a cramped space, which added to the feeling of being hot and crowded.

A worse ordeal followed – the claiming of the luggage. First, there were no clear signs indicating which carousel passengers are supposed to go to. You have to check all the monitors to find the one that displays your flight.

In our case, the monitor showed four indicated flights. One carousel to handle the baggage from four airplanes? The area cannot accommodate the number of people waiting for their bags, crammed four deep around the carousel, which snakes in S-curves against the wall to maximize space.

A section of the baggage carousel area at NAIA terminal 2, 14 May 2012.

At the San Francisco and Los Angeles airports, I’ve never had to wait longer than 15 minutes for my checked-in luggage to appear on a roomy long carousel dedicated to only one flight. Here, long minutes crawled by. No luggage. Others who arrived on later flights got theirs first. “Unfair!” people muttered. After an hour of fruitless waiting, I was hot, annoyed, and close to tears.

A Customs official told me brusquely, “You are at the correct carousel. Just wait.” A friendlier baggage handler assured me my bags were not mislaid. “They radioed us that two more container vans of luggage have just been offloaded,” he explained. It took an hour to offload our bags? “And this carousel is not handling four flights. Only two.”

He moved aside the plastic strips that cover the hole from which the bags emerge. “See here,” he said, as I bent down and peeked. I saw a small gray room. “There isn’t enough space in there for all the luggage. That’s the reason for the wait.”

After 15 more minutes, my luggage popped out. I left NAIA sweaty and upset. My daughters who were waiting outside were worried, wondering what kept me.

I can’t help comparing the difference between our airports and the ones I’ve seen abroad. It’s no wonder that last year NAIA terminal 1 was judged the worst airport in the world, according to a website survey.

In reaction to that, last January President Aquino promised a P1 billion revamp. Some money should go to improving the runways, immigration queues, airconditioning, and luggage handling of the other terminals too.

The airport is the first impression that travelers get of our country. Fix it, to whom it may concern. Make it truly more fun in the Philippines. Make the reality match the slick expensive advertising-agency slogan.

Dammit.   *** 

Photos taken with an iPhone 4s.

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