Wednesday, September 18, 2013

How We Almost Didn’t Make It To Vietnam

The chocoholic's backpack
No journey is ever complete without a few bumps along the way. The first bump of our first backpacking trip came right at the beginning when we missed our flight to Vietnam.

No, we weren’t late for our flight. In fact, we were already at the Mactan Cebu International Airport two hours before our 6:15 PM flight to Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), where we’re supposed to take a 10:50 PM connecting flight to Ho Chi Minh. Between the 7:30PM estimated arrival time in NAIA and let’s say, the estimated boarding time of 10:20 PM, we had more than two hours of layover. We even checked in online so we can avoid the long counter lines. Besides, we took the term backpacking literally to heart and we carried one backpack and a smaller handbag each so no check-in baggages and more mobility for us. We were more than confident we’d catch the flight. The one thing we forgot: to factor in the moody, often tempestuous weather that the rainy season brings. June is, after all, the start of that season.

Our flight to Manila was delayed for about an hour. By the time the plane took off, I was very anxious. We’re going to have to make a run for the international airport as soon as we touchdown. The flight was a little turbulent – something I’m quite used to. I was a little relieved when I started seeing the buildings as we were about to land although I noticed the plane was shaking from the turbulence a little more than the usual. Like what I normally do before landing, I closed my eyes and waited for the landing thud. Instead, the plane accelerated, turned its nose upwards, and flew steeply back into the air. I quickly turned to my travel buddy with horrified eyes. It didn’t help that the week before the flight, the airline hit headlines when one of their planes overshot a runway in Davao airport. I recalled one passenger’s testimony of his experience. How convenient. Times like that, you NEVER want to remember things that can only aggravate your already frazzled nerves. Not one passenger said a word but we were looking at each other with meaningful expressions. We really thought we were in trouble.

Then the PA system cackled to life, breaking the uncomfortable silence and the captain explained that he had to abort landing due to zero visibility. Phew. He said he’d try to land the plane again but while we’re still circling the skies, he received a different order: all flights are to be diverted to Clark. Uh-oh. I told my travel buddy Maan we could get off in Clark and spend our dollars in Subic if everything else fails. Of course, that was just a joke in an attempt to lighten the situation. But deep inside, I was fighting my dwindling hopes. We landed in Clark safely and smoothly. Thank God, we’re alive! But we were stuck there, in our seats, inside the plane for 3 hours. At around 1AM, the plane received clearance to go back to NAIA.

By the time we arrived in NAIA, our plane to Saigon already left. The Cebu Pacific crew offered to put us and several passengers in the next flight and even extended their hospitality by graciously booking us in a nice hotel with free breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the next day before being shuttled back to the airport to take our rescheduled flight.  The rescheduled flight would have sufficed but hey, the free accommodation, shuttle, and meals did not hurt one bit either. In fact, the gesture was truly appreciated.

After all the paperwork was completed, we were shuttled to St. Giles Hotel in Makati. After assuring our parents we were safe, we finally slept at 4AM. What.A.Night! Despite hitting an unexpected snag in our plans, I am still extremely grateful that I lived – to tell the story and to write it.  

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