How did U2 quietly land in Manila?
EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - December 12, 2019 - 12:00am

I stood at the arrival area of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport’s Terminal 1 at exactly 5:45 p.m. on Monday, just as I was instructed.

There I was on a spot under the letter “U” not because my name starts with U or I suddenly had a name change. I did not. But I thought it fit well – U as in U2. After all, I was going to be part of a small group that would be welcoming members of the Irish rock band when they land in Manila for the Philippine leg of their Joshua Tree Tour 2019.

My handler, on board a black vehicle with an orange siren, fetched me right on time. We went inside a restricted area of the airport and waited in another office where U2’s handler would then fetch us.

In a few minutes, the driver of U2’s handler, Globan Aviation came to pick us up in a white van. I jumped on board, every inch of my body giddy with excitement.

Everything was running like clockwork. The band’s private jet, a 757 Dreamliner, was scheduled to land at 7:15 p.m.

We entered another restricted area, but not before going through stringent security check. Just when I thought everything was okay, my U2 adventure hit a snag. There was a problem with my security pass. I could not get through and the airport security personnel - a kind but firm lady – would not budge. She wouldn’t let me through. It made me anxious thinking I might not see my favorite rock and roll band of all time after all, but deep inside I was actually quite impressed with the security measures.

My handler did the necessary changes and in a few minutes, I made it inside. It was my first time inside this sprawling portion of NAIA accessible only to a few people.

Trip to Balagbag

It was a long drive to the spot where U2’s private jet would land, the Balagbag area, perhaps the farthest and most isolated edge of the roughly 600 hectare airport.

Notwithstanding my excitement, I caught a good glimpse of airport operations during this drive, things we don’t usually see as passengers.

In the area where they move the luggages, hundreds of airport personnel – nameless men and women – were busy doing their tasks ensuring that the bags reach the conveyor belts on time.

An employee of the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA), operator of the airport, said the workers wear body cameras and the whole area is monitored through CCTV to prevent incidents of theft. True enough, she said, such problems have been reduced significantly.

I was glad to hear about these developments. I hope the positive changes continue.

Seeing the airport in a different light

Past this area, I also saw how everything seems organized – from the landing of the planes to the movement of the tubes. These are things that passengers don’t see.

Props to MIAA general manager Ed Monreal for these positive changes. I hope these developments will continue.

Ground handling services: A big industry

We finally reached the Balagbag area.

It was a waiting game. Personnel from Globan Aviation constantly updated us of the plane’s arrival.

“They’re now at 11,000 feet....,” said our two handlers from Globan.

While waiting, I interviewed them and learned that there is a huge ground handling service industry in the country, handling the arrival of uber VIPs – from rock stars to global business tycoons.

They know what they are doing. It was as clandestine as can be.

The ground handling company keeps the information about its clients strictly confidential. It does not even inform the airport of the identity of the VIPs and when exactly they will land.

They only provide the estimated dates of arrival and a time window to prepare the airport operator.

Only on the day itself would they really provide detailed information on the arriving VIP to prepare the necessary arrival procedures such as customs, immigration, and quarantine.

Globan Aviation’s services cover a full suite – from getting landing permit to full ground handling services.

For U2’s arrival, Globan Aviation partnered with Lucio Tan-owned MacroAsia, which also has a ground handling service.

I was amazed with all the preparations and in awe of how everything worked smoothly. And very quietly.

Just landed

I was jolted out of my thoughts when I heard that deafening sound of a giant aircraft landing.

U2’s sleek silver aircraft with the words “U2 The Joshua Tree Tour 2019” appeared before my eyes.

From this point on, it was all a blur. The greatest rock and roll band had just landed.

Bono was the last to deplane and when I saw him, it was just so surreal. I’ve never been so starstruck in my life. I grew up listening to U2’s songs, dealt with every heartache with their music, and celebrated my triumphs with their words.

I didn’t know if I could take a photo, but Bono gladly called our small group of NAIA personnel, ground handlers, a MIAA employee and myself for a much-awaited photo. No mob, no paparazzi, no fanfare – just me, Bono and a handful of men and women and a faint moon above.

It was a night I’ll never forget. Thank you to my secret source for giving me my pass. You do not wish to be named, but I will forever be grateful.

Life, they said, isn’t perfect, but there are many perfect moments. My U2 moment is one of those times. And as they said in one of their songs, I’ll be stuck here for a little while.

Iris Gonzales’ email address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at eyesgonzales.com

BALABAG NAIA U2
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