Monday, October 2

Ladies and gentlemen we are sorry to announce …


IT is not very often that one has to eat one’s words twice in a matter of days. That I had to do this week.I was on the way to Kapalai, near Sipadan, which necessitated taking the early morning flight from Kota Kinabalu, an hour’s coach trip to Semporna, and another 40- minute fast speed boat ride to the resort. Such was the excitement over visiting that diving haven and paradise island that none of us complained about having to get up at the unearthly hour of 5am to get ready to be at the airport by 6am. As is always the case, “the spirit may be willing but the flesh is weak”. So when the alarm clock went, my hand automatically came down hard on it.

Then it was the usual story — the mad dash to the hotel lobby, into a taxi and fretted all the way to the airport. When I rushed up to the man at the check-in counter I noted that he was suspiciously calm and serene. I was expecting something like “Quick, the plane is about to take off”. No, he was Mr Patience himself.

“Do you like aisle or window seat?”

“Hmm,” I thought, “This must be the reason this airline is getting all those awards.”

Then he said apologetically, “Sir, I would like to inform you that your flight has been retimed to 8am”.

I could have blown my top, thinking of the extra 60 minutes of sweet snooze that I missed, but I was too tired. So I just trudged to the nearest café. Thankfully, the airport was blessed with a good free wireless Internet connection. So I was able to get onto the Internet and vented my frustration on Facebook, that popular cyber social network.

“I am sitting in a cafe in Kota Kinabalu airport waiting for my flight to Tawau. It was supposed to be 7am and so had to get up at the ungodly hour of 5am. At the airport I was told that the flight was ‘retimed’ not ‘delayed’ to 8am. So I am sitting here, bleary-eyed, drinking insipid coffee. Grrrrr.”

However, the hot coffee, whether insipid or not, did perk me up and by the time we got into the plane, I had calmed down and was regretting my outburst in cyberspace. I felt that I had whinged too much. On the plane, the pilot apologized and said that the plane was delayed because the weather was bad and also because of the late arrival the night before, the flight crew was barred from flying until they have the requisite number of hours of rest. The lady sitting beside me said, “This is good. I am glad they delayed the take off. It just goes to prove how careful and concerned about safety this airline is.”

I felt even guiltier when a number of my Facebbook friends chastised me for being such a moaner.

“Oh, it was only an hour’s delay, I was stranded in Hong Kong airport for eight hours!” wrote someone from Manila.

Personally, I think he is even more of a whinger, for if there is any airport in the world that I don’t mind being stranded in, it is Hong Kong airport. Why, the place is actually a giant shopping mall, and they have so many good restaurants.

Anyway, I did feel sufficiently bad about my impatience and ate my words publicly; well at least in cyberspace. I ended up singing praises to the airline and wrote “… (name of airline) bolehhhh!”

Now fast forward to four days later. I was sitting in Tawau airport waiting for my 2.40pm flight to Kota Kinabalu (KK). With me were two couples. Julie and Hector had to catch a 6.30pm flight to Taipei that same afternoon. Angeline and Wolfgang were to take part in the Borneo International Marathon at 4am the next day. The flying time from Tawau to KK was a mere 45 minutes, so there would be plenty of time for everyone.

We were sitting at the café, sipping coffee, waiting for our boarding call when an airline staff approached us.

“Are you waiting for your flight to Kota Kinabalu?” He had this somewhat shy smile on his face.

I was intrigued and having proclaimed this airline was ‘boleh’ on the internet a few days ago, I was thinking, “Wow, the service is so good. They even have a staff member to invite us to board, and we were just travelling economy. Another reason it won so many awards.”

His next line explained to me the somewhat shy smile was in fact a sheepish grin. “I am sorry to say that your flight is delayed.”

“For how long?” we chorused.

“Just wait for the announcement” he answered and hightailed out of there.

“Ladies and gentlemen, gobble, gobble gobble …12.20am.” I don’t know if it was because the airport sound system suck, or the announcer was in dire need of an elocution training, or a combination of both, we just hadn’t a clue what she was saying but we did pick up the 12.20am bit. It took a full minute for us to register the implication of that bombshell. Julie and Hector would miss their flight to Taipei. Angeline and Wolfgang would have less than one hour’s sleep before their marathon race.

We all raced down to the airline office. Mr Wong, the duty manager, was a picture of calm. He had a line of irate passengers in front of him but he coolly collected our board passes and asked us to take a seat.

“I will take care of you,” he declared confidently. Apparently, there were only two options: wait in the airport for 10 hours or the airline could put us up in Tawau and reschedule our flights to the next day. Both options were unpalatable to the two couples.

Then salvation came in the form of an alternative airline. That airline had a flight scheduled for 4.40pm and there were still seats available. Both couples grabbed the opportunity. However, since it was a last minute purchase, they had to pay hefty sums. I was in no hurry so I accepted the offer to visit Tawau for a day.

Mr Wong methodically dealt with my case, as he did with all the other rather upset passengers. He confirmed my flights for the next day, gave me taxi vouchers, an executive studio suite complete with dinner, breakfast and lunch at one of the better hotels in town.

That Mr Wong was so calm and efficient in dealing with such hiccups made me wonder. Was he so calm and efficient because he was just one of those bullet-proof guys or was it because such crisis was normal with this airline and so, he had a lot of practice?

This time the airline could not give the “due to bad weather” excuse because I saw at least two planes from the alternative airline land and take off. I reckon the total cost to the airline for putting me up in Tawau to be around RM300 plus. My round trip fare (Kuching-KK-Tawau-KKKuching) worked out to a grand total of RM309. Incidentally, of the four flights I was supposed to take, one was on time (hurrah!), two were delayed by one-and-a-half hours and of course, the last one by a whopping 10 hours! No wonder some cynical people have made the allusion about the lack of system of this airline. Having declared it ‘boleh’ now I have to eat my words again.

The writer can be contacted at [email protected]