In September of 2006 my colleague and I were on a four country conference tour of Asia. I would speak about AIX and virtualization and my colleague would cover Power Systems hardware.
The first two events in KL and Singapore went off without a hitch but we couldn’t go to the third event # in Thailand because the military had a coup the day I was to arrive. I didn’t know it until then, but I have a firm travel rule : “Never go to a place that has tanks in the streets”
Because we had already canceled one of the four events, we were really determined to do the fourth event, in Manila.
There was only one little problem, and that was that a category 5 typhoon was headed straight towards Manila.
The Manila team assured us that the conference would occur that Thursday morning as scheduled despite the weather. Despite my gut feel that this was a mistake, we dutifully flew to Manila that Wednesday night.
Well the next morning the typhoon was starting to hit Manila in earnest and the winds were blowing at least 50 miles an hour. Our local country hosts called us and said “Err – we noticed that the wind picked up overnight so we are canceling the conference!”
You can imagine my thoughts. I said a few choice words and then we checked out of the hotel in an attempt to get out of the country before the typhoon struck. We made the drive to the airport in blinding rain and hurried to the counter. Unfortunately by that point the Manila airport had lost power and it was a surreal tableau of desperate people in the dim light of a few backup lights and lightning flashes. All the computers were powered down and the airport was shut down. Nobody was leaving.
After waiting in line for several hours, the airline (Singapore) finally decided to escort us to their lounge past the unpowered security checkpoint. But before we could leave, we had to check our luggage. The clerk HAND WROTE my baggage tag and I remember looking wistfully at that bag as I left the counter. I never expected to see that bag again.
The business class lounge didn’t have electricity but they did have candles, ice and booze. I proceeded to medicate myself in preparation for the typhoon. I was really concerned about my safety and after the vodka loosened my tongue, I spent a good part of the time giving the local team a frank appraisal of their weather prognostication abilities via my cellphone.
The typhoon went directly over the airport and we watched the typhoon rip pieces off of airport buildings through the big picture windows in the lounge. The lounge was luckily on the leeward side of the storm so none of the lounge windows were broken.
Eventually the typhoon passed and the airport resumed operations. We boarded a flight to Hong Kong about 10:30 that night on an extremely lightly loaded Singapore Airlines plane.
As expected, my bag did not arrive with me (remember the hand filled out baggage tag?) I filed a missing luggage report but frankly thought it was a lost cause. The next day we managed to make the long trip home from Hong Kong, sans luggage.
Over the next few days, when I inquired about my missing bag Singapore Airlines could only tell me that they were searching for it but had no status or information on where it might be.
Three days later, out of the blue, I get a call from American Airlines in Austin – my bag had managed to make it home after all!
That was my first real trip to that part of Asia and it took five more years before I ever got the nerve to return to Manila.
Things I learned on that trip: Go with your gut feelings. Be flexible. Stay at the hotel if there is any doubt about your flight. Don’t worry, it’ll (probably) work out all right in the end and never, ever, ever check a bag.
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