“As you exit the Manila airport terminal, heavy traffic awaits you, all because airport guards were powerless over undisciplined drivers waiting for feeling-entitled passengers to reach them”
With more countries, ours included, easing the restrictions for inbound travel, the better to save the tourism industry after travel bans practically decimated it, the Philippines has seen a slow but growing influx of foreign visitor arrivals.
It has also spurred more outbound travel for Filipinos deprived of the travel itch in the last two years.
This writer, along with two co-workers in the Isko Moreno presidential campaign, recently went to Thailand for an eight-day sojourn.
Our flight to Bangkok was scheduled at around nine in the morning, and so this writer entered Terminal 2 at six in the morning, while my companions arrived around 10 minutes after.
We had earlier checked in online, and expected our check-in process to be a simple matter of dropping our luggage at the counter and be given our boarding passes for pre-selected seats.
There being a long queue of passengers for the Bangkok and Singapore routes which were co-mingled around the same check-in counters, I asked whether there was a senior-citizen line.
I was told that the online check-ins should be where senior citizens queue up, but that the regular check-in line was faster because there were three counters open for these, as against only one for the online checked-in passengers.
My two friends queued at the online check-in lane, and had the most stressful experience of their post-pandemic life.
They had assumed that the online check-in route was the more convenient, as they had used the same in their numerous domestic travels during the campaign. To their consternation, that was not to be so in the flight to Bangkok.
The national flag carrier, the “Heart of the Filipino” it claims to be, assigned just one ground attendant in a single counter for all online checked-in passengers, versus three, later with an additional four, in the airport check-in line.
Which is why, tired feet and all, I managed to get my boarding pass and go through immigration faster because every other passenger was bottled up in the airline check-in process.
Not so my two friends, who had complained to the ground attendants about a system that was simply absurd and thoughtless.
So were the other passengers in that single queue as grumpy. The online check-in, touted as the more convenient, was simply chaotic.
I was already boarding the plane when my two friends were plucked out of the line, put on a “special” lane suddenly created so they could board at the last minute.
And indeed, they came into the plane in the nick of time, along with others who went through the same harrowing experience. There were about a dozen other “late” entrants, all of them, wearing long, long faces.
And yet in the case of my companions, they were in the airport three hours before the flight, which seems to be the practice only in the Philippines.
The voyage was smooth though, and we landed at Suvarnabhumi Airport a few minutes ahead of schedule. Then we checked in for our domestic flight to Chiang Mai, at the fourth floor of the huge terminal, with utmost ease. The plane to Chiang Mai was full, packed mostly by Caucasian visitors.
Going about the Chiang Mai City airport was a breeze, and even getting a taxi was facilitated through an airport counter where you paid 150 baht (about 220 pesos) and be given a numbered ticket which coincided with your number in the taxi lane.
A few meters away, the taxis were waiting, and in a few minutes, we were off to the Old City Center. No over-charging, and no haggling; very systematic, very visitor-friendly.
Our boutique garden hotel was close to the entry gate of the preserved old town where, on weekends, a quaint and colorful street market sold everything from souvenirs to snacks to “cannabis” tea drinks.
Yes Virginia, Thailand has relaxed the sale of cannabis products for medicinal purposes, though regulating marijuana for recreational use. But no, we did not try the cannabis drink.
For the equivalent of around 2,000 pesos a night, our three rooms came with the usual amenities of a four-star hotel, with a small balcony which overlooked a nearby “wat” (Buddhist temple or shrine) and beyond, a mountain view where in the morning, one could get a glimpse of the shimmering gold stupa of Chiang Mai’s sacred Wat Phra Doi Suthep.
Could you get price like that in Baguio, even Tagaytay?
Guided tours were readily accessible, straightforward and generally inexpensive.
Masks were not mandatory except in small, air-conditioned places (although we were more mask-conscious than the legion of European and other Caucasian tourists).
Food was oh-so-good, yet very reasonably priced. We had earthenware jar-roasted chicken and pork plus more at local carinderia prices. And getting a Grab was as convenient and cheap as taking the ubiquitous “tuk-tuk”.
Bangkok was livelier, higher-priced (though still inexpensive compared to Metro Manila), and sadly, taxi drivers would haggle for higher prices during the peak hours.
But massive fly-overs, skyways, and public transport systems eased what used to be traffic as bad, and in the 80s, worse than Metro Manila.
Going back home, we were met with a new requirement in the check-in counter of our flag carrier.
There is a Department of Health required One Health Pass, which we were not informed beforehand, and the process requiring personal information was quite tedious. Who the hell memorizes his Philhealth number, among other non-essential information?
Our bureaucrats really delight in tormenting passengers. There was even a walking cane-assisted super-senior citizen who was befuddled on how to do cellphone on-line registration.
But on arrival at NAIA 2, there was a small group of persons, presumably VIP’s who were escorted by “salubong” guys as they emerged from the tube and ushered to Immigration without having to fiddle with the One Health Pass requirement.
Talaga naman…only in da Pilipins!
I have held high positions in government since 1986, but I have never, never availed myself of such “VIP” services. Nakakahiya kasi!
We were told to get our luggage at Carousel 9, and while we were waiting there, we glanced at the moving Carousel 8. Lo and behold…that was where our Bangkok flight’s luggages were unloaded. Speak of efficiency!
And as you exit the terminal, heavy traffic awaits you, all because airport guards were powerless over undisciplined drivers waiting for feeling-entitled passengers to reach them.
In hindsight, the lockdowns should have given the 24/7 tourism and service industries time to step back, evaluate and improve their systems and infrastructure to be able to adapt to a world where another virus could once again wreak havoc.
We were more concerned with posting videos on social media about how beautiful the country was and how much more fun it is in the Philippines than being serious about airport systems and travel convenience for visitors.
More fun in the Philippines?