Washington DC National Airport (DCA)
Manning the United Airlines check-in desk, a Ms. V. Hawkins. She is remarkably standoffish and catty towards me, especially when I tell her that I am connecting in Hong Kong to an airline with no ticketing agreement with United. I would like my bags checked forward to my Cebu Pacific flight, so that I can avoid the ordeal of baggage reclamation, immigration, and re-check-in. She does not give me a pleasant face on hearing this.
“Oh, we don’t have a ticketing agreement with them. What airline is this? Cathay Pacific? Oh, Zeboo Pacific? How do you spell that? C-E-B-U? Okay, yes, I know how to spell ‘Pacific,’ thank you. No, I won’t be able to to do it. What’s that? Oh, your brother at O’Hare was able to have it checked through? Well, no, we have no ticketing agreement with them. No, we don’t have a baggage agreement with them either. Six hour layover? Well, I definitely can’t check this through, you know. No, no. Can’t be done. What? Oh, very well, I will ask about this.” <Two minute consultation with supervisor, followed by tapping away at check-in desk computer, followed by sudden onset of pleasant demeanor.> “OK, here is your boarding pass, sir. Your bags have been checked all the way through to Manila. You need only check in at the Cebu Pacific transfer desk. Thank you for flying United.”
Amy and I then order a last breakfast at T.G.I.Fridays before it comes time for me to go. The waiter brings us our omelettes and coffee and says, deadpan, “Now be careful, because these plates are very cold.” The plates are, of course, very hot. We chuckle. This is exactly the kind of non sequitur humor that gets a very big tip from me. (I did leave him 25%.)
United Flight 605 to Chicago O’Hare (ORD)
“Actually, I’m transferring to a flight to Hong Kong.”
“Ah, so what are you doing in Hong Kong?”
“Well, from there I’m transferring to a plane to Manila. Christmas with the family.”
“Wow. I bet the first thing you do when you get there is pop a San Mig or two.”
“I dunno, maybe Guinness has me spoiled, but I find San Mig a bit too hoppy and bitter for my taste. Anyway, first thing I have to do the morning after I arrive is, would you believe, a dentist appointment. You wouldn’t believe how cheap a cleaning is there.” (I’m not kidding about this, it’s like $20.)
“Cool, kind of celebrity plastic surgeries in Argentina.”
“Well, while you’re transferring terminals at O’Hare, keep an eye out for the freaky curvy rainbow wall tunnel with the flashy neon ceiling installation.”
United Flight 892 to Hong Kong International Airport (HKG)
After leaving the gate, there is a 1.5 hour tarmac delay while FAA clears a backlog of international northbound flights. The pilot makes a crack over the PA system, something like, “Ladies and gentlemen, if you’ve dealt with IRS bureaucrats, then you know what it’s like to deal with FAA ones.” The joke mostly flies over the heads of passengers: Hong Kong-bound Chinese immigrants.
It’s a 16 hour transpolar flight. Coach seat. Window, beside two people who don’t move much. Older Boeing 747-400 without a personal video monitor. The first six hours are intolerable, then it all suddenly seems to go faster. Someone on the flight crew must really like Lady on the Water and Talladega Nights; each of those movies is shown three times through the course of the ride, as well as some football movie with Mark Wahlberg in it. But he’ll always be Dirk Diggler to me.
Hong Kong International Airport (HKG)
Hooray for the wireless access point with SSID “JALLOUNGE,” which I assume belongs to Japan Airlines. The signal is strong and easily picked up from the Sky Garden Cafe, so I am able to upload photos and answer my email while I dine on spicy shredded pork noodles and Watson’s Water.
Also hooray for the Premium Shower Lounge. For HK$80 (about US$11) you get a luxurious hot private shower, towel and condiments (soap and shampoo) provided — absolutely wonderful after almost a full day in the air. (Remember to pack spare underwear in your carryon.) Signs in the stall tell me to limit my shower to 20 minutes, and not to use the shower as a solid waste toilet. And whatever conditioner is in that shower dispenser, I want it, because my hair has never looked this darn good while long, ever.
Another big hooray for HKG’s free Resting Lounges near Gates 31 and 60 — soft reclining chairs amidst strategically placed marble planters right off the concourse, so that you can rest in a semi-private nook all your own, while sleeping or watching planes pass by. When I wake up, it’s time to board the flight to Manila.
Cebu Pacific Flight 143 to Manila
Sitting beside me are a couple of Assemblies of God missionaries on their way to Asia Pacific Theological Seminary. The wife used to be a lobbyist for the Diabetic Association, so she knows her way around Washington, DC. They say they are taking an express bus up to Baguio tomorrow. I say I will pray very hard for them.
Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Manila (MNL)
The plane lands seven minutes earlier than scheduled. At the baggage claim, the baggage feeder conveyor is not working, so they have two guys standing on the platform, manually hauling bags up from below and straight onto the baggage claim itself. Ah, Philippines.
The arrivals area mills with overseas workers coming home for Christmas. Many hugs and cries of delight. It’s warm out, with a light drizzle. Manila is a city of many sights and sounds and scents, a new one every second.
(But not all those scents are good ones.)