Sunday, April 06, 2014

It's not fun getting through Terminal 3

This is my column today, April 6, 2014.

Hungry, tired, and sleep deprived, I staggered into Bay 1 of the departure area of Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 at the ungodly hour of 2:15 in the morning last Friday, April 4.  My 4:55 flight to Tacloban was still almost three hours away but I was repeatedly warned by well-meaning friends to come very early lest I get caught up in the bedlam that has reportedly characterized the situation at the terminal in the last three weeks.  I’ve also read quite a number of posts in various social networking sites that expressed exasperation over the difficulties people experience at Terminal 3.  I thought coming early would save me from the aggravation.  I was wrong, very wrong.
The lines going into the terminal were already very, very long at that hour and were moving at snail pace.  I stood in line at the end of one near Gate 3.  My heart sank when I realized it was the line for Gate 1, a good 30-40 meters away.  It took me 30 minutes to get to the x-ray machines that screened people into the terminal. What it must feel like to stand in the same line at noontime in the scorching summer heat!  The strange thing was there seemed to be no additional security requirement added to explain the hold up. 
I thought I was doing okay because I still had more than two hours to spare.  I searched for the assigned counters for my flight, stood in line, and started reading the book I brought with me.  Twenty minutes later, I looked up to see that the line had barely moved; it was taking the airline people inordinate time to check passengers in; it was like every transaction involved a group of 10 aliens with 22 checked in baggage each.  
I was still standing in line at 3:55.  My feet were killing me and I could sense a headache coming - a major one.  I tried to screen my impatience out and concentrated on the book I was reading.  I finally got in front of the check in counter at 4:10, more than two hours after I arrived at the terminal.  While waiting to get my travel details checked, someone started calling passengers for my flight, pulling them out of the queue for quick processing in other counters.   
So those who woke up or arrived late at the Terminal were luckier; they ended up getting preferential treatment than those of us who took pains to arrive early. They did not have to stand in line for two hours. 
I rushed to the assigned departure gate for my flight, which involved a long walk and going down a steep flight of stairs.  I was met with more confusion at the departure lounges.  Forget about comfortable chairs or even floor space to squat on while waiting for flights to be called; there simply was not enough space for departing passengers to hang around.  To make matters worse, gate assignments kept getting switched so people were continually being mixed around.  I truly admire the patience of Filipinos; most simply took a deep sigh, gathered their hand-carried baggage and walked up the stairs in search of their new gate assignments.  In the meantime, droves of people descended from other floors to take their places.
We were told that the bedlam has been caused by the onset of the summer season, which is supposedly the peak season for traveling.  Parents and relatives travel to attend graduations, students troop to their hometowns for the vacation, and whole families take the time to take trips together.   Airlines were reportedly adding flights. 
But then again, we have been told that Terminal 3 is not even operating at 50-percent capacity yet, so if terminal facilities are already stretched tight at this point, one can only wonder how much worse it would be when it begins operating at maximum capacity.  There are many things that are wrong with Terminal 3, and I’m not just talking about the obvious design, structural and physical defects.  It is clear that the terminal is also badly mismanaged.
Since there was no space to sit down or even a wall to lean on, I joined a group of people who were standing in between aisles and who were unfortunately blocking people from moving about.  As I listened to the various announcements being made over the public address system, I wondered what it will take for the people who managed the terminal to hire an editor so the people who kept making grammatically tortured announcements would be spared the embarrassment.  Everyone kept saying “Calling the attention for the passengers for flight, say, AB1234, bound for Davao.  Please await for further instructions.” 
I was not surprised when it was announced that our flight was going to be delayed.  We have known a long time already that the aviation traffic coming in and out of NAIA is also badly mismanaged.
Just when our flight was finally called for boarding, there was a major confusion as people realized we have been divided into two flights supposedly scheduled to depart minutes from each other.  We were told that Tacloban runway was having some problems and could only accommodate propeller planes but not airbuses.  Arrgh.  I do dread riding in smaller planes which in my experience tend to be bumpier and therefore bad for my vertigo; but my apprehension was drowned out by the cacophony of complaints from passengers travelling together who suddenly found themselves separated at the departure area.  And to complicate matters, it was further announced that the other flight was being put on hold pending availability of an aircraft.  You can just imagine the kind of reaction that announcement generated.
Fortunately for me I was placed on the first flight so we got to leave the departure lounge ahead of the rest—only to be cooped inside a very warm and toasty cabin for another hour.  Someone who was supposed to be on the other flight somehow managed to slip into our plane and ground personnel had to come and get the person out and fix the paperwork.  We arrived at Tacloban two-hours late, hungrier (they did not serve food on flight) and thirstier to find a Cebu Pacific airbus about to take off from the runway.

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