If someone were to review the security tapes for September 14 at Diosdado Macapagal International Airport, they would see a few frames of me trying to gouge out my own eyes in frustration.
It was, after all, past 4:00 pm and our flight to Bangkok was scheduled to leave at 4:15 pm. This did not seem to matter to the folks manning the Bureau of Immigrations counters, however.
Come to that, they did not seem to mind that more than a hundred passengers were cramped in a small room that had no air-conditioning, all waiting to get through, and all in danger of being stuck at what is being touted as the next Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
I understand the need for stringent checks against human trafficking and to keep fugitives accused of having a radio broadcaster killed in Palawan from escaping to Thailand, but it had been a long day and we were not even halfway to where we were going.
Booking our flight from Clark to Suvarnabhumi in Bangkok was easy enough, and they were pretty cheap tickets. Just the thing for young urban professionals (although one is significantly younger than the other) looking for a weekend out of town.
There were hidden costs, though. The most immediate being getting to Clark from Manila. The airline suggested taking the P400 Philtranco bus that would bring us directly to the airport. That would have cut into our tight budgets, though, and would not have given us any backpacker cred at all. Also, it would make us even poorer than we already were.
We opted to take a Five Star bus from Cubao for P139 each, and two jeeps to the airport. That meant savings, but that also meant we had to contend with looking for the jeepney stops and fending off a street urchin who wanted to touch (and presumably eat) hotdogs we bought at the Dau Bus Terminal.
A jeep to the Clark Main Gate and another jeep on Clark Route 1 later, it was a short walk to the DMIA terminal. We had been on the move for close to three hours by then.
Once at the airport, we had to check in and pay our travel tax of around P1,600, which according to the Presidential Decree authorizing the government to collect it, is meant “to lessen the restriction on foreign travel.” Somehow.
And then another line to pay our terminal fee of P650, meant, I suppose, to pay for the privilege of lining up single-file in a sweaty room with other passengers and watching time tick away.
A German passenger, Hans*, pleaded with the people in front of him in the line, and asked to trade places: “We are on last call. I do not understand why we have to wait.” But everybody else was in danger of missing their flights too. “Back of the line, pal,” they would have said, had he not been there already.
Finally, we are through Immigration, and are tumbling around on the airport floor trying to get our boots off and making the most of our terminal fee. The security team confiscates my cigarette lighter but not Petra’s. They also check out her moisturizer but there was no time to compare notes on whether they really prevented chapping, I guess.
That ordeal over we had to run past a pretty regular door that doubled as the boarding gate for both Tiger Airways and Air Asia (AirAsia lady, unhelpfully, as we handed her our boarding passes: “Ay, hindi sa amin yan“) and across the tarmac to our waiting plane.
My eyes finally safe from self-mutilation, I had time to sit back and hold Petra’s hand to wait for the last gaggle of passengers to climb aboard ten minutes later.
Budget travel, man. It will make you pay for your savings.
*Not his real name because we didn’t ask.