Crossing to Hong Kong in style

Danee Samonte - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - “Chop chop chop chop” went the loud noise overhead the turbo jet shuttle I boarded on the way to Hong Kong from Macau. I squinted and looked up from my window seat to see what it was. Oh! The sky shuttle ferrying passengers to Hong Kong. My wife mumbled, “I wonder how it feels to ride a chopper.” I told her that one day soon she will experience it. She smiled and said, “I hope it’s sooner than later.”

I’ve flown on four different choppers only six times in my lifetime. In contrast, I’ve flown on planes on almost a weekly basis for decades and have logged millions and millions of miles. In the period of 1994 to 1996 alone, I flew 1,300,000 miles on Northwest (now Delta).

For me, the chopper experience is totally different from flying on a plane. Flying vertical has a certain excitement similar to flying like Superman. My first chopper experience was in the ’80s on the Pan Am (now defunct) shuttle from JFK Airport to the Pan Am building in Manhattan. In the ’90s, I flew twice with Channel 5 CEO Edward Tan on his few chopper hops from his Makati HQ to Channel 5 studios in Novaliches. In the first decade of the new millennium, I flew to Subic from Corinthian Gardens with my compadre King Aguiluz in 20 minutes flat. I could never get enough of chopper flights.

Three years ago, I surprised my wife by buying chopper tickets to Hong Kong from Macau. Alas, the flight was cancelled due to heavy fog. On our second attempt, we had too much luggage and we would have spent twice the airfare amount just to get our excess baggage on the flight. Our third attempt was a charm because the flying conditions were ideal and we had no luggage. It was green and go on the sky shuttle. After weighing in for the flight, a hostess ushered us to a private elevator that took us atop the immigration building to a spacious waiting lounge with lots of food, drinks and reading materials.

In contrast to flying on a plane where passengers are provided with comfort amenities like cosmetics, head sets, sleep masks, grooming utensils, pillows and the like, our only comfort amenity were ear plugs in case we couldn’t tolerate the noise. A minute before our scheduled flight, me and my wife together with three passengers made the bee line for the platform to board the sky shuttle. It was a big chopper capable of ferrying 12 passengers in comfort. Up front were the pilot and his assistant. As soon as we boarded and snapped on our seat belts, the ground crew slammed the chopper door and gave the captain the thumbs-up to move. Our chopper sluggishly taxied to the designated take-off spot. Moments later the engine noisily revved to take off speed, and the chopper jerked and shuddered. My wife closed her eyes and clasped my hands, and off to the blue yonder we went.

As soon as we got to cruising altitude, the chopper eased off and sped forward to the China Sea overhead ships, junks, speed boats, turbo jet craft, catamarans and the like. The view was breathtaking. My wife felt comfortable at this point and started taking photos. We flew over uninhabited islands, private resorts and beachfronts.

Just as we began enjoying the sights, the 15-minute flight, which normally takes over an hour on the turbo jet craft, was over. As we approached Hong Kong central, the ear crunching “chop chop” sound got louder and louder as we landed on top of the terminal. Disembarkation was very similar to helicopter landing scenes in the movies and we felt like actual VIPs being fetched and tended by a retinue of assistants. As I scanned the wondrous view of the Hong Kong skyline before entering immigration, I wondered when this would happen again.


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