This is originally a MNL-DXB-CDG-BKO flight. But it was revised into MNL-HKG-CDG-BKO.
After this flight, I never again wanted to fly an itinerary made up of 2 separate tickets. And after this experience, I became more prudent with my travel documents. It served a lesson.
This flight happened last November, 2010. Over a year ago. But the experiences in this flight still linger.
November 27, 2010
I am excited about this flight. This will be my first for a lot of things:
1. First time to fly with Emirates, so first time for a Dubai layover
2. First time in Africa, and a layover in Paris. I will be taking EK335 to Dubai, then EK073 to Paris-Charles de Gaulle.
3. This flight will be on a superjumbo A380, so needless to say, this is a dream come true for that kid in me – to be flying on a much-hyped Airbus 380. Then an Air France flight (on a separate ticket) will take me to Bamako, Mali from CDG.
4. First time with Air France. Hence, also my first time for a layover in Paris, or in Europe for that matter.
Hey, I should be expecting to experience a lot of firsts in this kind of work, shouldn’t I? I’m not sure if that should be a good thing or not.
Too excited, I bought a new Nikon SLR cam! Well, I’d better capture this experience on frames.
I have to meet some cousins earlier that day. It was a Saturday. Everything was set already. Or so I thought. We went around – Makati and Fort Bonifacio. I haven’t seen them for months, so it’s time to make up with them.
Emirates leaves just after midnight. I arrived a bit early. I was astonished to see a snaking queue of passengers, mostly fellow Filipinos. But hey, I already checked-in online. So I need not join the long queue anymore. There hardly is any line for those who checked-in online. So it’s actually merged with the C-class (business class) passengers. There aren’t too many either. (I wish the travel agencies of our OFWs should brief them about this thing called online check-in. It does wonders and spells a lot of difference, believe me).
I was confident I have everything ready. A litle too confident maybe? Upon check in, the check-in staff found out my visa is valid on November 29. I will be arriving on November 28, 3 hours before midnight. Technically three-hour short of the visa’s validity. Is that a serious thing? I knew it from the very beginning. I thought it would be all right, that the immigrations will let me through anyway. Apparently not. The airline will be fined a hefty cost and I might be deported back to Manila. Oh that’s how serious it is now!? I was advised to rebook my ticket for the following day. But hey, I have two tickets. I have to rebook two tickets!? Well….
I was able to rebook the Emirates flight to Paris all right. I paid the fees from my personal credit card. It was my mistake after wall. But the onward flight should be rebooked via Air France, whose reservations in Manila is handled by KLM. The following day was a Saturday. Rebooking with KLM is only done on weekdays!? I didn’t quite know what to do next.
I had to go back to my apartment. Feeling exasperated.
My mistake, is that I didn’t contact my travel agency right away. I asked my boss (who is currently in China) to give me the number of the travel agent. But even that, was not reachable. I seem to be running out of options.
Sunday…Monday, a holiday. Finally I was able to contact the travel agent on Monday. I briefed her with the situation (a terrible situation) I got into. She found out that my Air France ticket is nonrefundable! I remember the cost is over a thousand euros! I am really into deep trouble now. The thought of that made things worst. I’m a dead meat once our manager in UK finds this out. And this seems to be all my mistake. My dreams are crashing into pieces. I’m anxious about the ticket that is nonrefundable. I had a no-show for that onward flight in Paris.
I waited from morning, until the afternoon. Then I got a message from the travel agent. She booked me on a different flight. This time with Cathay (via HKG) but the second ticket will still be with Air France (from HKG onwards).
Errr…what about my A380 dream now? I’m less concerned about that now. The training in Mali is to start by December 1. If I am to make it there on time, I should be flying out by Monday night. So the foremost concern this time is getting out of Manila and making it on time in Africa, whichever way it will be, it doesn’t matter anymore. I never thought flying can be this stressful. The flight has not even commenced at that! Is this a beginning of a bigger, more terrible thing to come? I hope not.
I can see some light to this darkness I got into. lols….
I was advised at around 4:30pm that my flight is leaving by 8:00. Thank goodness, my luggage is ready and I’m not too far away from the airport. Maybe 15 minutes away by taxi. I checked in online at a nearby internet cafe. The problem of not having an internet at home.
Well, guess what…the only available ticket for Cathay is for the business class. Coolness! My first time with Cathay is on C-Class (business class). That should make up for the missed A380 EK flight, I thought. After all, my first time with Emirates was changed by a first time with Cathay. And perhaps the missed A380 will be replaced by a business cabin experience. Not my first, but certainly a welcome experience. I could have not afforded a business class travel on my own.
Everything seems to be falling into its right place now. So my flight will be Manila-HK-Paris-Mali. I might be missing that Emirates flight on an A380. But I will still be seeing Paris airport. Not bad, I thought.
There’s business class lounge for CX at NAIA Terminal 1. Hmm…I should try that. It looks decent though a bit old. They serve some fruits and soup. There’s a separate lounge area for first class. The Boeing 777-300 is configured to tri-class. What captured my interest is the herringbone seat configuration. I’ve never seen one before. Here’s how it looks like:
This configuration ensures that each passenger has privacy. Flying has become less personal these days.
The bed is lie flat. The PTV screen is generous. But with this short hop, I don’t have much time to think about these stuff. I called up my mom to say I’m leaving. I want to update my parents of my whereabouts.
We arrived in HKG with just enough time to catch my onward flight.
It wasn’t boarding time yet, so I had some time to snap some shots.
Hmm…what about this…
The AF B777-300ER that will fly us to Paris! (as if I’m visiting Paris, eh?)
Then it’s boarding time:
The flight from HKG to CDG takes 14 hours. I’m on Y-class (economy) this time. Probably my longest flight ever. I had a 12-hour flight before. But this flight will be hovering over Asia, Mid-East, then Europe. So the route is longer. Most of the passengers are HK locals or Chinese. Plus few Europeans. There’s only me and another Russian seaman passenger on my row. We had a little chit-chat, then it’s time to recoil and rest the night away.
I can see the flight flew over China then evading Pakistan and Iran, then to Europe.
Then we arrived in Paris, just before dawn. We were greeted by the cold winter. It’s almost December. I can see some pile of snow on the tarmac. I’ve read somewhere that Charles de Gaulle airport is one of the most complicated airports for a layover. I didn’t mind. Why, my next flight leaves at 4 pm. I have over 10 hours for this stop. My original flight for Emirates only has about a couple of hours layover. So I was not prepared for this long layover. I could have applied for a transit visa to see some of Paris.
I have to take a bus to the other terminal building. The airport looks chaotic to me. The bus lane seems to be too close to where the planes are parked.
But well…welcome to Paris.
My next flight is not yet on the screen:
Wow, look at that carpet.
It’s still dark outside:
Most passengers are sporting their nicest winter clothings. I’ve never been in a winter country. So I’m not sure which sort of clothings are appropriate for winter. Needless to say, I was shivering in coldness that time.
I spotted some planes parked:
These must be the planes flying domestic or regional routes:
The sun is starting to come out. But I realized later on that it only hovers just above the horizon during winter. Imagine how it would be at the arctic circle.
Well…I think the best thing in this airport is this:
Finally, I got something to do in my looonnnggggg layover.
And I have a front row seat to the tarmac action! One-of-a-kind experience for me.
This is where I got my banner:
Then I spotted El Al…which is inevitably one of the most safety conscious airline.
Then in the afternoon…EK flight 073 arrived from Dubai.
I should be on this flight, I thought. But well…there’s always next time.
There is hardly any passenger in this part of the terminal:
That means I can take some crazy shots of myself. I think this one turned out well:
Then at boarding time, I found out most of the passengers are probably locals of Mali. The flight to Bamako, Mali was on a state-of-the-art Airbus 330-200. Few months after this flight, I realized I flew on the same type of aircraft of Air France that crashed into the Atlantic last June 2009 during a Rio de Janeiro – Paris flight. I didn’t know that then.
The plane has 2-4-2 configuration. Typical of A330s. I shared the row with a Brazilian scientist. Botanist, I think. He had to fly to Paris to get to Mali when in fact, West Africa is just Atlantic Ocean away from Brazil. Maybe he flew the same path as that AF flight that crashed. (I didn’t realized then) He speaks Portuguese and hardly speaks English, but he tried his might to converse with me in English. I wished I could speak his language so we could have talked more about few things. Who knows? He might be into something interesting – like a corn that grows at any weather, withstands any pest….
We arrived in Bamako at around 9pm after about 5 1/2 hour flight. The immigration control stamped my passport and allowed me entry. What?! They didn’t even look at my visa!!! They didn’t put the stamp on that page containing my visa. Well, at least I am entering the country not defying any law.
As early as baggage carousel, I could see a number of suspiciously looking young locals, wearing their IDs and trying to engage some passengers into conversation. One approached me and started to engage me into amicable conversation. I knew where this is going, so I tried to dismiss him. But they are clever. And stubborn. When he said he is a Christian…it didn’t quite help. In fact, I became more worried when he said that.
I took my luggage (thankfully, it’s intact) and immediately went out. The man is still not giving up on me. I became desperate when I couldn’t seem to find my service who is to pick me up. Then finally, a man asked me if I belong to a company he mentioned. It didn’t quite sound like the name of our company, so I was skeptic. But finally agreed to follow him and take my chances. The young man from the airport is still on tow. Finally, I found the van that will bring me to the hotel. I was relieved when I have seen fellow foreigners inside the van.
The young man asked me for some money. I didn’t want any trouble. But I only have a hundred dollar and 2 one-dollar bills in my wallet, plus some peso bills. Without thinking twice, I handed him one dollar. He complained. That’s when my temper snapped out…He didn’t even move a muscle, I thought. He finally gave up, and I’m happy that he did. (I can’t believe this is happening to me this early)
I learned several things during my stay in Mali. One, this is where the famous Timbuktu is located. But contrary to what I used to believe, it’s not a mountainous region of wilderness. It’s a desert, up north of the country, and this is where Islam was introduced to Africa. This bottled water was named after that place. In its French name.
The hotel suite wasn’t bad. But I find it expensive for one that is not five-star. Not even two-star, I think. It costs over a hundred dollars a night. It doesn’t even include breakfast. I stopped eating breakfast after learning that. Then I started imagining myself doing the training with my stomach complaining. I will have to wait for the morning refreshment to be served during training. Poor boy!
Unfortunately, my non-3G phone did not work in this part of the world. I brought two mobile phones, but I didn’t try my other phone. If I did, it should have worked. I only realized than one month after when I was in Korea. I felt detached from the rest of the world. What a pleasant surprise. But that means I could not update my mom that I got here in one piece. I was too busy to think about that then.
During my last day, we went around to visit the local laboratory. I had the chance to snap some shots:
The locals speak French. The real one. Maybe with just a little local accent. I realized when I got there, the country used to be a colony of France. I learned few French words and phrases. Almost everything you see is “Made in France” – from the hotel bath tubs to the items you see at the grocery store, chocolates, biscuits, juices. Even the TV shows are in French or translated to French! I am so tempted to learn French. So I bought a French-English phrase book from this store located at the hotel lobby:
The store manager knew the Marcoses. I was surprised.
Goods here are expensive. So when visiting the country, try to bring along some food with you. Then you won’t be forced to buy the pricey stuff from the grocery. And only visa credit card is accepted. Even the hotel only accepts visa. No mastercard and no American Express card. I didn’t find out the reason why.
The remainder of this trip went quite well. Not counting that part where the hotel guard asked me for some money. I think it’s a culture in this country to do that. Sadly. I remember giving him some euros I got.
The training was held right there at the hotel. So it’s quite convenient for me. The delegates are from Mali and some neighboring countries like Ghana, Mauritania and Cote d’Ivoire (another French-speaking nation). I went out during the weekend and bought some fruits from the vendors along the street. I could see how impoverished this country is. This must be true for most of the countries in Western Africa. It made me feel grateful of the less terrible situation back there in my home country.
I haven’t had much experience in this country. I had very limited interaction with the locals. It’s actually the travel (flights and layovers) that was quite an experience.
I left the country earlier than intended. So I had to be rebooked again.
The hotel service brought me to the airport. I am the only passenger of the coaster. So I had some chance to chat with the driver. Maybe my last chance talking with a local. The airport looks relatively new. I didn’t have time to notice that during my arrival. Surprisingly, a passenger won’t be allowed to get in until his plane has arrived. Hmm…that’s strange. Maybe the airport can only handle so much.
The flight from Bamako to Paris is via the same Airbus 330-200 that brought us here. Perhaps exactly the same aircraft.
I was seated beside a local man perhaps in his mid 40s, wearing a traditional dress. He arrived ahead of me. He claimed my window seat. I didn’t complain. Maybe he needs it more than I do.
Then just before take off, I heard the captain on intercom. And guess what…the captain is a lady. Should I be concerned? This is my first time on a flight with a lady captain.
Air France flight attendants are nice. They are a bit older than those with Asian airliners. But way way nicer. Most of them are guys, outnumbering the ladies. At least in the economy class. That was true for all of my flights with Air France. I heard so much French in this flight that I can say them myself. Or so I thought. I realized they don’t pronounce the last consonant of words. So Paris is pronounced sans the “s.” And Charles de Gaulle (airport) is pronounced in a way that an English speaker won’t be able to figure how it is spelled. That was an interesting find!
We left Bamako before midnight and arrived in Paris at dawn. My flight to Hong Kong leaves at around noontime. So I once again have a long layover.
I had to take the train to the other terminal:
There was hardly any passenger in the airport at that time. I already had taken tons of pics, so I didn’t bother to take some more photos of the same places this time.
The flight from Paris was again on a Boeing 777-300ER. Most passengers are Chinese or HKer. I was sandwiched between two of them on a 3-4-3 configuration – window row. Now I wish I can also talk Chinese. Ahead of ours is a cabin for the premium economy. I never heard of this before. Maybe AF is one of the first airlines to introduce this class. It’s like an economy with more generous pitch and frequency. I have spotted some Pinoy passengers on that class.
We arrived in HKIA early in the morning. The weather wasn’t that nice in HK. Clouds shroud Lantau island where the airport is. Imagine not seeing the runway until you are 5 meters above ground! That was crazy. Imagine if this was the old Kai Tak airport. Hah…I don’t dream landing on such an airport.
The onward flight to Manila is in the afternoon. So I have several hours for this layover. I realized my layovers are quite lengthy in this flight. Well, better than not being able to make it to Africa.
Then I realized I will be flying on business class on my HKG-MNL flight. So I was given a lounge coupon along with the boarding pass. So I visited the lounge area. Took a shower and munched some goodies. The lounge serve generous selection of foods. A Chinese touch is inevitable. Then there’s workstation for those who want to catch up on their office tasks or make some local calls. This is exactly what I need.
Then I spotted a Cebu Pacific A320 baby trailing behind his Airbus 330 (Dragonair) aunt:
Then the same Air France that brought us to HKG returns to Paris:
This B777-300 will bring us to Manila. Cathay’s timetable indicates an EQV (equipment varies) for this flight, but my ticket says A330.
I think this is one of the olde planes of Cathay, which are now being used for regional routes.
One of the FAs at business was a Filipina. I was served some white wine prior to take off. Then I ordered for a pasta in-flight. Afterwards, I noticed the recline lever of my seat is busted. Perhaps it’s the plane showing its age. I was beside a Caucasian guy, but as business seats are generally well-distanced away from each other, we were not obliged to converse. He ordered for a beer. I didn’t really mind. But I noticed the Filipina FA served him some more nuts without him asking. Maybe that’s how Filipino FAs treat their white passengers. I should be less concerned. But I noticed that among many Filipino FAs I have encountered on my previous flights.
The worst was on a Philippine Airlines MNL-HKG flight where the lady FA (all of their FAs on that flight were Filipinos) treated all passengers like they are stubborn pupils in a grade school class. Passengers were not accorded with the service that they deserved and paid for. There’s a given fact that most passengers could be domestic helpers or seaman. But that doesn’t warrant mean treatment.
Sadly. Despite that reality, I’d still fly with PAL. Either I do not have much choices, or I am hoping that FAs on some flights are not as mean.
(As of writing, I had some amicable experiences with Pinay FAs. It was on a business class flight, so that might spell a difference. I don’t know.)
Overall…this trip went well, except for few minor glitches. I learned few lessons from this flight. Let’s name some of them:
1. Make sure your visa is valid upon arrival to your destination. And make sure it still is when you leave.
2. You aren’t sure you are flying on a flight unless you are actually flying on it (the A380 dream!).
3. Try to learn other languages. You’ll never know when you will meet somebody who speaks only French or Portuguese (ex. the Portuguese scientist in my Paris-Bamako flight) or Chinese (in my Paris-HK flight).
4. Try not to turn on your roaming phone while on layover. A friend at Denmark called up while I am on that long layover in Paris. My phone bill went up to a whooping Php5000. My plan allocation is only over a thousand!
5. When traveling, try to bring with you a 3G-enabled phone. A non-3G phone will not work in some countries. Ex. Mali and later on I realized it’s the same thing in Korea. So it must be a common requirement elsewhere.
6. If you decide to maintain 2 credit cards, try to get one of Mastercard, then another for visa. Never assume a corporate Amex will serve you anywhere you’d go.
7. Try to bring along some food when traveling. In some countries, even a simple biscuit may cost you a fortune.
8. Is your destination a tropical country? Then don’t bring along your winter jackets. But if you will be spending a long layover in a winter country, then at least bring along a wool jacket and maybe a pair of long johns.
9. When you are heading to Africa, be ready to encounter some robbers posing as airport personnels – complete with airport identification cards, and they can be found even within supposedly secured places of the airport…and finally….
10. Lady pilots can fly a plane just as fine. Don’t undermine them. Some might be even be better than their male compatriots.