We are one blessed people

- Rey Gamboa - The Philippine Star

One with the Filipino Catholic community, we welcome Pope Francis to the Philippines!!!

The country stood still last Thursday, Jan. 15 as the Sri Lankan Airways flight that carried Pope Francis and his entourage prepared to touch down at 5:30 p.m. Like thousands of others, we stayed home and watched the momentous event unfold on television, somehow feeling part of the Christian flock that welcomed the ‘Pope of the people’ at the airport, less privileged perhaps than those who saw him in the flesh and shook his hand or kissed his papal ring, but we were there in spirit.

We marveled too at his boundless energy, going straight away from a tiring Sri Lankan trip to meet and greet the humongous crowd that camped overnight for a glimpse of this holy man.

We are truly blessed that the Vicar of Christ walked our soil.

What Air Passengers’ Bill of Rights?

Thursday last week, the family went on a short holiday to Hong Kong, which we haven’t visited for more than a decade. We looked forward to a great long weekend, for a change opting to spend my nth birthday there instead of going the rounds of endless dinners with varied groups of family and friends. It’s not always easy to mix utterly different cliques.

Anyway, we took the 7:40 p.m. flight of Cebu Pacific, which surprisingly was on time.  Well, almost. Being among the last to board at 7:15, we still had to wait at the tarmac as, according to the flight attendant, they had to wait for some of the passengers yet. After about fifteen minutes of waiting, they announced that some 20 passengers failed to show up, so now they had to offload their baggage. It was difficult to understand how it happened that the all the suitcases, etc. were there but the passengers were not, but we were just happy to be finally able to take off.

I remember that in the nineties when Hong Kong was a favorite destination for us, long before Bangkok, China and Korea overtook this tiny colony as a shopping paradise, flying time was only an hour and a half.  Now it took two hours.  Traffic?

We finally touched down at 10:00 p.m. The Hong Kong airport is enviably efficient, smooth and easy, so we couldn’t understand why our luggage was not on the baggage conveyor. We stayed until there wasn’t a suitcase in sight, and the airport police directed us to a booth set up precisely for this, (lost baggage) and there was a short queue, some passengers of Cebu Pacific flight that just planed in from Manila.

The airport officer who handled our case was all business, very efficient, and in no time he had e-mailed our names to Cebu Pac Manila.  The reply came quick too:  our luggage was among those offloaded at the last minute for those no-show passengers. Meanwhile, my son Ray Louis spotted his baby’s carriage lying unclaimed in one corner.  Thank God for this, but we were aghast at the news:  how were we going to sleep that night, tired after a flight and running around looking for familiar-looking suitcases all over the Hong Kong airport.

We were told, and the Hong Kong airport officers were repeatedly assured by Cebu Pacific Manila that there was an early morning flight from Manila, as early as 6:00 a.m., and our luggage was going to be loaded on this flight. As soon as this is received by Hong Kong, they were going to deliver the baggage to our hotel.

After filling up the necessary documents, we were ready to leave, but to compound our woes; there was no sign of our shuttle service outside the airport. By then, it was shortly before midnight—we were not only tired and harassed; we were cold and hungry as well.  My wife, Babes, son, Wee and his wife Kaycee packed their jackets in their suitcases, and the wind outside was freezing and fierce, but we had to brave this. When it rains, it pours indeed.

It was a 45-minute ride with not much traffic to speak of, but Hong Kong drivers are notorious for their driving prowess and we sat through this in silence. Anyway, we were finally settled before 1:00 a.m. and fortunately, there was hot food to be had at the nearby 7-11 store. Hot noodles never tasted this good for all of us! A warm bath would have been nice too, but we had no fresh clothes to change to, so Babes had to make do with the bulky hotel bathrobe. Oh well, when we wake up tomorrow, our suitcases would be waiting outside our door – that was the thought we slept with that night, after a highly stressful evening.

We were up at 9:00 a.m. the following day, Friday, and there were no suitcases outside our door. After a frantic call to the hotel concierge, we were told that none came.  They tried calling the contact numbers that were provided by the airport staff and like us, they had no luck. The numbers simply didn’t connect.

We decided to have breakfast at the hotel because we didn’t feel like going out in our rumpled, slept- in clothes of yesterday and waited it out in our hotel room watching old Elvis Presley movies to mark his birthday. By then, I had made several calls and e-mails to friends in Manila to connect with Cebu Pac and try to make sense of all these.  What happened to the first flight out of Manila to Hong Kong that was supposed to bring our luggage? 

I must point out here that the hotel concierge of Holiday Inn Golden Mile at Tsim Sha Tsui was a very friendly and helpful guy who commiserated with us, but what could he do? He patiently took our calls the whole day as we followed up on our luggage, and tried to connect with the Lost Baggage Section of the Hong Kong International Airport, to no avail.

To cut to the chase, our suitcases were brought up at 5:30 p.m. immediately after they arrived, and we couldn’t wait to take a long, hot bath.  But by then we had already lost a full day, wasted and agitated to boot because Friday was our scheduled visit to Disney Land, our treat for our 3-year old grandchild Bella.

I remember writing about the Air Passengers Bill of Rights just a week or two ago and advising our readers to check it out in the Internet.  Now it’s my turn to brush up on it.

Mabuhay!!! Be proud to be a Filipino.

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