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Monday, September 3, 2012

Philippines 2012: Getting Home

Our flight left Manila at 8 PM, so we had the morning of our final day to doodle around at the resort (I went to the spa), and then had lunch before heading out.  We were initially told that we would leave 6 hours before our flight, but then our departure time was set for noon.  Rob negotiated it back up to 1, so we could eat before we left (and so we wouldn’t have to wait at the airport for 5 hours).  I guess the traffic around Manila can be quite variable, hence the early departure.  The boat ride back to Batangas was faster and much less sporty than the ride over.  It was sporty for a very brief period, but was otherwise fine.  When we arrived in Batangas, the van was waiting for us, and we were off.  We made a brief stop at a Starbucks just outside of Manila, and we still managed to get to the airport (to the first terminal where we stopped, which wasn’t ours) in exactly 3 hours.

The Manila airport has three terminals, two of which don’t seem that terrible, but we were flying out of the terrible Terminal 1 (which nearly all of the airlines go out of).  All I can say is that if you ever fly out of this terminal, I highly recommend not flying coach.  We were met at the van by a porter who works for the hotel (there were lots of porters for hire at the airport too, which would have swarmed us when we got out of our van, except we already had one).  You have to go through a metal detector and bag scanner to enter the airport, so there was a huge line snaking its way along the sidewalk outside of the airport, in the heat.  Our porter asked us if we were coach or business class.  Turns out if you are business class, you can go to the front of the line (phew) but you need something to prove this to actually do that.  Luckily that return itinerary that we were told we would need to enter the Philippines was still in the bottom of my bag.  So we escaped the long line, and stood in a short line and after a few minutes, we were through security.  Our porter showed us to the checkin line, which had one person in it, and he explained the rest of the process – pay exit fee, go through immigration (or is it emigration?), then security – pointed us in the right direction, and then we parted. 

There was a short line to pay the exit fee, and slightly longer line at passport control (which is a no wang-wang zone, by the way).  Then we got to the security checkpoint.  There is a separate line for men and women, and the women’s line was slower.  Not because there were more women, but because they got stuck with the kids, strollers, etc. while their husbands strolled through the shorter line.  But it was still a pretty short wait, since the passport check throttles it.  Since Rob had his camera and our lightheads, we made it through our respective lines at about the same time anyway.  

Once through security, I perused some of the shops in the terminal, and then we retreated to the Cathay Pacific lounge.  For some reason that remains unknown to me, Rob’s lounge invitation for Manila was for the first class lounge, while mine was for the business class lounge; and both of our Hong Kong lounge invitations were business class.  So, when we walked into the lounge, the attendant told us we could go to the first class lounge; the door to that was right next to the entrance.  So I didn’t get a very good look at the business class lounge, but it looked like a room with a bunch of chairs and coffee tables crammed into it in a very cramped configuration.  The first class lounge was much more spacious and had more comfortable chairs (or more comfortable-looking anyway, since I didn’t actually sit in the other chairs).  The one thing that both lounges had was ample air conditioning.  The terminal itself was under-cooled, and as you walked past each of the lounge entrances, you could feel a little bubble of cool air.  The first class lounge was actually uncomfortably cold.  There was self-serve food and beverage.  We were in the lounge for quite a while (maybe 3 hours?), so I eventually was hungry, and had some noodle soup and a tiny crème brulee (which Rob seemed quite insistent that I have).  When it was finally time to board, we headed to the boarding lounge, which was like a 1 minute walk from the lounge, and it was not nearly as crowded or chaotic as I expected, based on what we’d seen when we flew in.  After a minute or two, we boarded. 

We were on an A-330 for this leg, and I had no idea what the configuration was like (I couldn’t figure out which of the CX A-330 configurations from seatguru applied to this flight).  Turns out it was what seatguru refers to as “2-class V1 (333)”.  Anyhoo, it was similar to what you would get on a two-class short haul domestic flight on a US airline, though the seats were maybe a tiny bit wider and cushier, though it seemed like finding a seat whose controls actually worked properly was a bit of a challenge.  The cabin was maybe 20% full.  It was a short flight, during which they served us dinner.  I had some beef dish with some kind of sauce and veggies, and probably potatoes.  The beef (or maybe the sauce) was inedibly salty, so after a few bites I gave up on it (hence the lack of a precise description… I blocked it out).  I read for a little bit and before you know it, we were to Hong Kong.

We had a two and a half hour layover in Hong Kong, and we made the hike to the Pier, even though it wasn’t terribly close to our gate.  I wandered over to the shower area and retrieved a pager, since all of the showers were in use I guess, and Rob found a seat in the lounge.  Eventually I had a shower and then snacked a bit, since I didn’t eat much on the flight.  The noodle bar closed just after we arrived, which was too bad.  I wasn’t really in love with much of the food that I found to nibble on, though they had some tasty sesame cookies.  Eventually it was time to make the trek back to our gate, and we got there to find that once again, things were running a bit behind.  When you walk down the ramp to board, before you get to the jetway, there is a bit of security theater, where they go through your bags and pretend they are making the flight safer.   It was pretty efficient though.

When we boarded, we found that it would have been better to be seated in two adjacent middle seats, rather than the middle and window that we had.  There was an equipment change for this flight at some point after I picked seats (back then it was a 747, now it was a 777) and since I couldn’t figure out which way the pods faced (feet towards aisle or head towards aisle), I didn’t know which would make more sense.  So once we figured this out, Rob asked a flight attendant if there were any two middle seats available for us, and they re-seated us.  After takeoff they started dinner service.  At this point it was after midnight, and I was tired, but I wanted to stay up a while longer so I wouldn’t sleep too long.  Dinner consisted of a very tasty fruit plate (which included some very tasty fruit that I couldn’t identify), a Cobb salad (which I initially dismissed but was actually quite good), and some Chinese dish with prawns (the details of which I can’t remember, because it wasn’t especially awesome, but was perfectly acceptable).  For dessert there was a peanut butter mousse cake which I was sort of meh about, even though it sounds really tasty.

I changed into my pajamas, and after a bit more reading, I decided to go to sleep.  My goal was to sleep for 4 hours; I think I actually slept something between 5 and 6.  The seat, when reclined fully, is a little narrow in the shoulders on one side (the side not facing the aisle).  I have read this before about these seats, but I was still able to sleep just fine.  A little too fine, since I slept longer than I meant to!

File photo of adorable kitties
After I woke up, I watched a movie (Ides of March), and unfortunately it was about 6 minutes too long to finish before we landed.  Hmph.  But at least I understood the movie this time!  After landing, we had a surprisingly short wait at immigration and before you know it, we were back home with the little furballs.  They both greeted us at the door, but they didn’t seem as desperate to see us as they usually are when we get home from a trip.  I eventually discovered this was because they still had about two days worth of food left in their bowl :)

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