The Return Flight From Hell

Janet and I had just spent a delightful vacation week in Krabi, Thailand with our friends Pete and Cathy. We had a great vacation but were ready to return home to the Philippines.

Now vacation is a bit of a misnomer because let’s face it – we’re on permanent vacation. Let’s call it a vacation from our vacation.

From Krabi we had a layover in Singapore before our flight to Cebu. I promised Janet a nice dinner because after all, the Singapore Airport had to be like the country itself – rich and modern.

The Krabi Airport was neither rich nor modern. We wanted lunch and there were two restaurants. One had almost nothing to sell and the other one was a Subway, which made me happier than Janet.

The gate area at Krabi Airport makes the average bus terminal look sophisticated. So much noise that it was impossible to determine what the announcements over the intercom were saying. Nonetheless we finally got on the plane and took off. The flight was a bit late, meaning that our 2 1/2 hour layover was down to 2 hours; still plenty of time for a meal and exploring the Singapore Airport, or so I thought.

Like most international transfers, we were forced to first go through a security search; no problem – we’re used to it. The airport, as expected, was beautiful and modern but signage was lacking and we could not figure out where our flight was. I had promised Janet that nice meal, as soon as we found our gate. It took me 10 minutes to find a modern machine which scanned my ticket and told me where the flight would be; Terminal 4. We followed the signs to Terminal 4; it was at least a 10 minute trek. Now we approached the turn leading to the terminal and two employees stopped us.

“You must go through Immigration before you can go to the gate,” one told me.

“Why? We’re not coming into the country – we’re just transferring flights.” He was adamant. “OK, where is immigration?” I asked. Let’s just say it wasn’t close by.

The line at immigration was long and we were still questioning why we have to go through Immigration at all. Janet asked an employee whether we have to go through Immigration and is told that no we don’t. We leave the line and go back toward the gate – another 10 minute trek. As we approach, the two men again stop us. For seven months in the Philippines I have managed not to lose my temper despite a 3rd world infrastructure. But here in beautiful, modern, 1st world Singapore I am losing it. “We were just told we didn’t have to go through Immigration! ”

“Yes, you do,” the guy said and handed us a sheet of instructions on what to do for an Air Asia flight. As we storm off heading back to Immigration, I heard him say, “We value your input.” The last thing he wants to hear is my input.

Back in the line at Immigration. It moved quicker than expected but now I am trying to figure out what time it is in Singapore and how long we have until the flight. I explained to the Immigration Officer that we were told that we had to go through Immigration. He looks at me like I am crazy, shrugs and starts to process me. “How long will you be staying in Singapore?” he asks. I know better than to lose it with an Immigration Officer but I did chuckle.

Back upstairs, passed our two friends and outside to get a bus to Terminal 4. We all crammed onto the bus, but hey it’s modern. Frankly by this point I’d rather be on a Jeepney in Manila. Another 10 minutes.

According to the instructions we were handed we had to go through Air Asia’s document control, despite the fact we already had our boarding passes. At least 10 minutes. Finally the lady says “You don’t have to be here. See it says on your boarding passes, ‘Go directly to the Gate.’ Apparently in Singapore their concept of going directly to the gate is different from mine.

To no surprise there was no way to go directly to the gate. You had to go through machines and scan your boarding pass. After scanning my pass the machine said “Go to Immigration.” Now I’m ready to lose it. I find a guard who looks at our boarding passes and lets us through.

Oh did I mention that at some point in all this mess we were required to go though yet another security check.

At least a 10 minute jog to the actual gate. We had made it but had blown all our time; no dinner for Janet; a muffin would have to suffice and a promise of whatever food was on the plane.

After boarding the plane and getting ready for the flight – suddenly the lights went off. No big deal; it had happened to me before, but Janet was scared. They came back on in a minute. No one seemed concerned that there was no announcement from the cockpit.

A few minutes later the lights went off again. Now we saw ground crew come on and enter the cockpit. Not a reassuring sign.

Again the lights come back on and we try to relax. But yet again the lights go out and this time stay out for about 10 minutes. Janet is worried and I am assuming that soon we will hear an announcement that the plane has a problem and we have to get off. Janet said that she was sure they had another plane for us. I told her that that was highly unlikely.

Surprisingly the flight attendant announced we would soon be departing. I was still waiting for an announcement of what occurred but it didn’t come. Janet went up and asked the flight attendant. He tells her something about the engine not powered and since there was no power the captain could not use the intercom and speak to us. Engine problems is not what you want to hear when you are about to take off.

People are nervous and a 30ish woman leans past her husband and asks me if this is “normal.” Apparently I look like a wise old world traveler, which I sort of am. “No,” I said. “Not normal in my experience.”

The flight attendant passes and I asked for an explanation. He said something like they were rebooting the system. Now as a former Software Engineer this should be reassuring but rebooting the engine did not sound so good to me.

Getting ready to taxi Janet asked me to pray. This did not sound like a bad idea to me. As a Buddhist, I chant – so that’s what I did, under my breath.

From that point onward the flight was uneventful. There were no meals to speak of but I wasn’t very hungry anyway.

For the last few days Janet has hugged me alot and proclaimed it was nice to be alive. Yep, it’s nice to be alive and even nicer not to be in the Singapore Airport!




14 thoughts on “The Return Flight From Hell”

  1. We/ I have been in Changi (Singapore airport) many times and never had any problems, A Great airport,
    So i guess you just had a “bad luck that day.”
    Buddhist you say: the best “non” religion 🙂 If i tend to believe any thing it is Buddhism.

    1. Good to know you’ve never had a problem and I agree that it’s a beautiful airport. But other than the scary flight, everything that happened was standard procedure. After all they had it all down on paper that these were the steps we had to go through. Don’t want to say it’s paranoia but they certainly are very security conscious there.

  2. There were no meals because they had to rewire the food heating service containers into the light system to get lights on. And if I was the one that told that lady that “this was not normal,” I’d have the entire plane in an uproar and would likely be kicked off for creating a panic. Oh, and you’d do better to plan a 4 hour layover next time to ensure Janet gets fed!

    1. On the way to Krabi we went through Kuala Lumpur with that 4 hour layover and ate pretty well; I had Burger King, which I didn’t realize I;d been missing in Dumaguete. But yes I caused no panic and once everyone got calmed it was a nice flight with lots of young people talking about their upcoming trip to the Philippines.

  3. I have been through Changi airport lots a times on my travels , I never had any problems at that airport . Dave I believe you had a nightmare event. I have had a few of these events else were. I fully understand how you felt .
    All is well that ends well .

  4. Wow sorry to hear about the “adventure.” But it was darned nice seeing you and Janet! Cathy and I are getting readjusted to our life in Seattle. All I can tell you is we really miss Asia!!

    1. Hi Pete – We had a great time with you guys – so even the weird return flight could not damper that! It’s taken a few days for us to adjust back as well. Enjoy Seattle – summer’s coming!

  5. Thanks for the info, Dave. Having only heard good things about Singapore airport in the past, your story prompted me to do more research.

    Do you suppose you got caught in the “Air Asia Shuffle”? It seems that Air Asia transferred all their operation from Terminal 1 to Terminal 4 a few months ago. So if you flew in on some other airline to Terminal 1, that would explain having to “enter the country” and shuttle over to Terminal 4 and go through all the exit procedures. Perhaps they are trying to catch up with Manila’s NAIA who do that kind of idiocy. You have my sympathies.

    Anyway, your information has me convinced I won’t be taking Air Asia any time soon. Thanks for the story.

    1. Hi Dave: I think it was a combination of some stuff unique to Air Asia (going through Immigration), the size and complexity of the airport, the very security conscious nature of the airport (there was other stuff that happened that I didn’t even write about), and just plain bad luck. All this said Janet and I would go to Singapore for a vacation and want to do that down the road. For that matter, I would probably fly Air Asia again; the flights and transfer on the way to Krabi (through Kuala Lumpur) were perfectly fine. See you soon!

  6. Wow! What an experience. I flew in the USA last month, my first flight in two years since returning from the PH in January of 2016.

    It seems to me air travel has become an “ordeal” to be endured now and not so much fun and casual adventure anymore. Travel anywhere takes a lot of patience for crowded airports, security lines and planes.

    Thanks for sharing.

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