Surprises en route from L.A. to the Philippines

Travel usually runs smoothly for me and Nick, so much so that I’ve come to expect it. So I guess it was about time to have a memorable trip full of blunders and fuckery.

I woke at 4:15am the day of our departure to learn of a tropical cyclone on course to pass through the Philippines right where we are heading, right when we are arriving. Thoughts of dealing with possible delays, missed connections, and travel insurance claims filled my head in those sleepy twilight moments that should have been filled with excitement. I wasn’t worried yet though, we would just see what happens when we get there. No sense wasting my energy worrying.

We had a ride coming for us at 5:30am to make the 2 1/2 -3 hour drive to LAX in Monday morning rush hour traffic. We walked our bags down the dirt hill we call a driveway and waited in the dark and cold, giddy to begin the 40+ hour journey. 5:30 came and went. 5:40am and we texted our ride thinking he may be lost. 5:45am, our call went straight to voicemail. 5:48 another call went to his voicemail.

We were starting to get cold and concerned. I checked our text communication and thought back to our face-to-face conversation the day before. Yep, we planned to leave at 5:30. At 5:50am I decided we couldn’t wait any longer to find out why he was late. We had to make a Plan B or we would risk hitting even more traffic and missing our flight.

I ordered a Lyft and texted our friend not to come. Our Lyft driver arrived in 20 minutes which is exactly when we first heard from our ride. “On my way” is the text he sent. I responded not to come, that we were on the road already.

At 6:30am as we were cruising down the freeway, steadily making up time, he texts that he is at our house to pick us up. Nick called him again, worried that he would go wake up the tenants in our house. Apparently he overslept. But I still don’t understand why he came to our house a full hour after our agreed meeting time and after several texts saying we already left. The trip was off to a rocky start.

As a Priority Pass member, I was looking forward to relaxing in the KAL lounge in the Tom Bradley international terminal while waiting for our flight. It’s a real treat to sit in comfortable seats and drink free cocktails and snack on free foods while the rest of the cattle class pack into the uncomfortable gate seating. But on this occasion, the emotionless KAL hostess would not let us in. The lounge didn’t allow Priority Pass members access until noon, 30 minutes after our departure. I pleaded with her to make an exception for us, that I didn’t know about the limited hours, and we had a lot of travel ahead of us. She had clearly heard it all before.

Our 14 hour flight from LA to Shanghai was a breeze. We had a two-seat row which meant Nick got window and I got aisle, and we didn’t have to deal with anyone else’s shit. The time went fast with some good books and essential travel comfort items like my new leg rest that hangs from the tray table in front of me. It was a life changing flight experience being able to prop my legs up.

We had a five hour layover in Shanghai that we spent snacking and napping in a lounge there. Things were going great. We felt the hardest part was behind us now that we got past some hiccups and the longest leg of our journey.

Nick napping in the Shanghai lounge.

Nick napping in the Shanghai lounge.

Then we boarded China Eastern flight 5023 to Cebu, Philippines.

It was a light flight, so I hopped into an empty row, spread out, and got cozy for our 5 hour flight. I planned to read until I fell asleep, thinking I could wake up refreshed for the next two flights and our first day in the Philippines.

The moment our Airbus 320 had enough speed for take off and left the ground, a guy in the row in front of us threw himself onto the ground wailing and crying that he wanted off. He was getting so worked up in the aisle that he started dry heaving. He was screaming and crying and heaving loudly.

Soon the entire flight crew surrounded him and tried to calm him down. He was heaving more and more and began going in and out of consciousness. The crew seemed worried, some were yelling at him. They brought a portable oxygen tank over but couldn’t figure it out at first.

The surrounding passengers were mixed with surprise, worry, and frustration as the pilot announced we were turning around to do an emergency landing back in Shanghai. I was not happy about this inconvenience and struggled to feel empathy for the guy. A mid 30’s Chinese dude was totally unconscious now from this panic attack, and heaving away, with hands and face white as a ghost, an oxygen mask pushed against his mouth. Had he never flown before? And if he had, why hadn’t he taken the steps to prevent this the way many frequent fliers do? Maybe if I wasn’t so tired from travel I could have had a softer heart.

The crew scrambled to locate his carry on items. He was traveling alone. Once we landed and the ambulance arrived, one crew member heroically hoisted his unconscious, dry-heaving body on his back and piggy-backed him off the plane. I relaxed a little, got cozy again, and was ready to take off again, as it was now over an hour since our first departure.

Then the pilot made another announcement. We were all going to get off the plane, take the bus back to the terminal, and wait to change planes. More than 200 people were being delayed and herded around because of this guys panic attack on a routine commercial flight.

It was now pouring rain outside as we filed down the stairs, into the bus and back to the terminal to wait. I figured we would be waiting two or more hours, but it was all quicker than I imagined. We were soon back on the bus and back in the pouring rain filing up the stairs into a different plane. My carry-on bags, my hair, my clothes, and my shoes got drenched.

I napped hard on that flight, stretched out in my own row and woke up refreshed just in time for landing. Despite this 3 hour set back that was cutting us dangerously close to missing our next flights, the pilots made up flight time and it looked like we would be fine.

On final approach it was bumpy and cloudy. I thought we must be very close to touching down when we suddenly began accelerating and ascending very quickly. The pilot had aborted the landing. We went around and around and around, apparently due to weather. I had never experienced an emergency landing or an aborted landing on a commercial flight before, and here we were getting the royal treatment on this one flight.

Everything went smooth and quick getting through immigration in Cebu, and we not only made our third of four flights in time, we were able to eat some Filipino food in the terminal. And of course, to make up for the eventful previous flight, we got another light flight and had an entire row each to ourselves to relax for the one hour ride.

Once at our final destination of Coron, Philippines, I flopped on the bed in a puddle of relief. 39 hours of transit behind us. 30 days of adventure ahead of us.

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