Manila to Martabe (Sibolga), Indonesia via Singapore and Medan.
Feb 22, 2012
Imagine going to far-flung area in Mindanao by first flying to Davao, then with a smaller aircraft to that place. It’s how I see this trip. I did not know if things will turn out well. But I was hopeful, and was praying for the “success” of this travel.
Find out how I became a millionaire, literally, in one day and the interesting people I met in this travel including a man who invited me over to his home and served me lunch. And also learned why I started believing that taking a Cessna plane could be way way safer than driving along the trans-Sumatran highway.
February 22, 2012. It’s only the second month of the year but with the scorching heat from the sun, it already feels like summer. First quarter of the year is around the time when I would want to go to the beach somewhere in the Visayas. I don’t get to join the fray of young local vacationers and families making the most out of their weeks off from school and work. I usually see those coming from the northern hemisphere, trying to evade the bitter winter. Call of duty did not allow me to experience the beach early this year.
As usual, I had a long list of to-dos before my flight takes off at 1415 via Singapore Airlines. My luggage are far from ready. Then I had to deliver something to a friend. Then pick up my per diem allowance at the office, deposit some of it at a local bank. I would not want to carry more than I need.
I appreciate the wonders that an online check-in can give. I will be allowed to arrive at the airport 90 minutes prior to departure.
From the office, I took the taxi to my apartment and asked the driver to wait up for me. After preparing my stuff, I scanned the fridge for anything that are not supposed to be left there for a long time. Ended up grabbing some quarter of a kilo danggit (sun-dried fish) from Cebu and some oranges. Later on, I handed them over to the delighted taxi driver.
Despite the intermittent traffic jam, I arrived at the airport in less than 30 minutes. During the better days, I can get there in less than 15 minutes. You can tell, I live not too far away from the airport.
The queue of getting in to the airport is not that bad. There may be 7 or 8 passengers ahead of me. I headed quickly to SQ’s check-in counters which is at the right end of the lobby. There is still a long queue of passengers at Economy when I arrived. Imagine the agony of seeing somebody who just came in and going straight to the check-in counter, and an economy passenger at that. I’m sure I got some scornful look from them while I was lining up in a queue with virtually no one. In less than 10 minutes, I got my luggage tagged to Medan (MES) and I got my boarding passes. I headed to the terminal fee counter right away. Then there’s a security point to check boarding passes. I have seen an Asian couple trying to get in. But their ticket shows a different terminal. (T2?) I wish our airports are more navigable.
Come terminal fee counter, there was a treat for everyone! Terminal fee has dropped to 550 pesos from the usual 750. Well, that affords me one way of taxi ride to my apartment. I politely asked the lady at the counter when are they planning to revert the fee to 750. She’s not made aware. I asked no more.
The immigration lobby is another surprise. There is no long queue. I got cleared after about 15 minutes. Perhaps most of the passengers are either too early or just on time for their flights. I am curious to find out which airlines aside from SQ will be departing early that afternoon. I have seen Thai Airways. Korean Air and Cathay are just about to leave. Maybe that explains why.
I headed to the wrong wing but did not realize right away. There was no one who counter-checked my boarding pass to see if I am headed to the right wing. That afforded me some good views of the terminal apron, tarmac and runway. So I snapped some shots of some arrivals and departures.
Thai Airways A330 prepares for Bangkok
Eva Air arrives from Taiwan
Cathay Pacific and Korean Air, both B773s leave for Hong Kong and Incheon, Korea, respectively
CX takes off for HKG
Meanwhile…there is a nice view of Makati skyline from Terminal 1
EVA Air, soon to be a member of Star Alliance
She sits there comfortably
Saudi Airlines joins Eva
Japan Airlines B767 arrives from NRT sporting a Oneworld livery
Meanwhile, TG taxis for departure to BKK
I am expecting the terminal to be busy at around 4pm when most of the middle-eastern airlines will be arriving – one after another. But as early as 2 pm, the terminal seems to be busy already. Arriving at around the same time as Singapore Airlines are Saudia Airlines from Jeddah, Eva Air from Taipei and JAL from Narita. Emirates, Qatar, Etihad, Kuwait and Gulf Air are scheduled to arrive in a couple of hours. Plus another of Cathay and Singapore.
Singapore Airlines’ B777-200 arrived just in time for its 1415 departure. I assume the C-class passengers were let out first. My impression is that business class cabin is full. Most passengers are foreigners, possibly from Europe or N. Am. They are joined by some Singaporean locals. I don’t usually travel wearing suit, but if you are on business cabin, I won’t really mind. Lol. Then came out the Y-class passengers. This crowd is different from the crowds that I see at CX, PR, KE or EK. These peoples mean business.
Singapore Airlines B777-200 arrives from Singapore
The boarding was done in sequence. During online check-in, I preselected a window seat. But SQ’s online check-in system does not allow you to choose your specific seat. You get assigned your seat based on your preference. If there will be available seats when you check-in online, then you can change the preselected seat to your preferred seat. Other airlines do not preassign seats electronically. They will allow the passenger to select his preferred seat before or during online check-in.
This is a short hop, so I chose a window seat – 46A.
The aircraft looks like one of the aging B772s. Like CX, it seems like SQ is using its old wide-bodies for its regional routes. One good thing about this B772 of SQ is its 3-3-3 seat configuration at economy. I have seen mostly 3-4-3 config.
There’s a Caucasian man at the aisle seat of my row. But he does not seem to be up for any conversation. So I resisted the urge to engage him into some chat.
I scanned the small PTV but it looks like the only interesting channel to see is the flight progress indicator. I tried to get some rest instead.
We flew over at Palawan, and I have seen some nicely looking islands. For most of the flight, all I can see are either scaly white clouds or the immense expanse of seas below. How insignificant an earthling man can be compared with the vast wilderness below…so I thought.
We landed at Changi, Terminal 2. My onward flight is at the same terminal. The next gate is quite distant from where we docked. I walked past the shops and headed immediately to my next gate. But I could not resist the urge to take some shots of what Changi is famous for – its prolific orchids scattered around the terminal.
Inevitably overflowing with SQ liveries
One of SQ’s B744s that will soon retire from service
And this is what Changi is known for…
Still trying to find the correct camera setting for this indoor orchidarium. Lol
A sight to behold for the weary soul…
Torn between turning ON the flash/ or NOT
SQ seem to have more B777s of the -200 variant than -300
I arrived at my next gate. There are fellow passengers already waiting, but the gate is yet to open. One difference between between HKG and SIN is that HKG has centralized security points for transiting passenger and then everybody climbs up to the departure level. In SIN T2, the baggage scanners are right before you enter your gate, which only opens up when the aircraft is ready to accept passengers. I’m not sure how are things in Changi T3. I am yet to see that terminal of Changi. Heard good things about it. And soon, SIN will have its T4!
The predeparture area is not too grand. But roomy enough to handle passengers of a jumbo jet. There are internet LAN connections.
I chanced upon a Lufthansa Airbus A380. I think this superjumbo is waiting for its midnight flight to Frankfurt. Apart from SQ, I think Lufthansa is the only airline that sends its A380 to Singapore. Emirates is now sending its superjumbro to KL and to HKG (via a stop at BKK). Korean Air also sends its 380 to HKG.
Lufthansa dozes off in preparation for its red eye flight to Frankfurt
Oblivious of the li’l Jetstar baby passing by
Oh not even a biggie B772 can wake up the supermomma who just had a long haul
Perhaps not even this boy…
SQ’s sister airline – SilkAir will fly us for a little over an hour to Medan, Indonesia.
Upon boarding, I found out that the same man seated in my row in my MNL-SIN flight is again seated in my row for my SIN-MES flight. Again this time, I am occupying the window seat, and him the aisle. Also, in between us is a vacant seat. A strange repeat. So I told myself, I really have to talk with this man. So I did. And the flight became less boring. He’s a German who has been traveling all around the region for business. We had some nice chat.
The FAs are Indonesians, based on their accent. The plane is an A320. I was not expecting anything to be served. But they served a light snack. A pleasant surprise.
It’s already past sunset. I feel like we’re hovering over either a vast sea or a never-ending jungle of Sumatra. It’s my first time to fly over this space. In fact, there are a dozen of first times for me on this travel. That makes it really exciting.
After approximately an hour of flight, I can already see the warm city lights below. It looks vast, perhaps the size of Metro Manila, judging from the number of visible city lights. It felt like we circled around before we finally descended. Another busy airport?
We touched down but I don’t remember using an airbridge. This is not Indonesia’s main airport. But certainly, it handles several international flights to Singapore, Malaysia, etc. Medan is one of the main cities in the island of Sumatra. However, the airport is not as equipped as either of Cebu or Davao. Looks like the passenger traffic has long exceeded the airport’s capacity.
I would have to spend the night in Medan. After the immigration counter, I spotted immediately the hotel representative. His name is Jeffrey, and he’s got a paper board indicating my name. I waited for my checked-in stuff. Afterwards Jeffrey immediately ushered me to the transport bay. Thankfully, he can converse a little bit in English, so we did not have a hard time understanding each other. The hotel is only 15 minutes drive from the airport. But with that duration, I already learned a bunch about the place and its people. Thanks to Jeffrey. He started opening up about his childless marriage. In this part of the world, as elsewhere, having a lot of kids is a measure of a couple’s success. I remain it is a distorted view. I listened patiently trying to be sincerely sympathetic.
I spent the night in Angkasa Hotel. The room is sizable. Price is just right. Only about 55 dollars a night. I thought it’s a good deal. I had to leave the hotel before 7am to catch up my early morning flight to Sibolga (AES).
Morning came, and I prepared my stuff for the onward flight. I checked out first and then took my breakfast. The breakfast offering was generous.
Then I, together with another passenger, were taken to the airport via a Toyota Avanza car. I realized two weeks after that Avanza is common in Indonesia. As the traffic was a bit terrible, I engaged the other passenger into some conversation. Our conversation went a long way. He was an Operations VP of one of the country’s petrol companies. He assisted me in going around the airport. He was a big help. I felt like a first time traveller. Lol….
The check-in lobby was a bit dark. I had to pay for the excess kilograms. The international flight allows 20kg weight. But this one is only 15. It’s an ATR domestic, so I should not be surprised. One will have to pay a terminal fee before getting into the departure hall. Sounds familiar!
The departure hall is shared among several gates. I think 4 of them. But these gates lead directly to the aprons where you will have to walk your way to the aircraft. But if your aircraft is too far to walk, a shuttle bus is provided.
The airport is already busy during this time of the day. I realized there’s Air Asia flying around Indonesia, and there’s another Air Asia flying to and from its hub in KL. The airline is only starting its local operations in the Philippines.
We took an ATR 72-500 of Wings Air. Departure was delayed due to the arrival of some C130s and military planes. Landing and take off do not follow one direction. Landing aircraft are directly facing those taking off. I don’t know the reason for this. But this scheme makes the airspace of Medan busier than it already is.
Garuda with its LCC partner Citilink
It flew smoothly over the thick forests of northern Sumatra. No food is served. Expected of this short hop for this low cost carrier. Apparently, this is the only flight to Sibolga airport for this day. Other days are served by Merpati jets, which, based on what I have read, has a less than stellar safety record. I will be fine with this ATR.
On final approach, we were side by side with a nearby hill. One good reason this airport should only be served at daytime. I can also see the vegetation below. I’m delighted to see greenery, a lot of it.
Disembarking was done quickly. I spotted immediately the local affiliates, one of whom, I have met before in the Philippines. It turns out that I was flying on the same plane as another affiliate from Jakarta.
We were taken by a 4×4 to the mine site. I was expecting to get some rest first at the hotel. But I did not complain about it. I was on work assignment, not on vacation.
To be continued…