Stranded by a Typhoon

In my recent years and old age, I’ve become something of a homebody. Especially in Cairo. Offer me a weekend in Dahab or a weekend on the sofa, and I’d happily take the latter. (With certain conditions, of course.)

Determined to turn over a new leaf and put my jetsetting pants on again, I opted for a trip to Boracay this past weekend to mark our very first – and well-earned – three-day weekend. After all, we’d been encouraged to explore the islands and take advantage of these three-day weekends, so I figured, why not?

I’ll tell you exactly why not.

It’s no secret that we are currently in the middle of rainy season, albeit a mild one. The worst we’ve seen has been occasional, aggressive downpours that wear themselves out after an hour or so. But if you know me and you know my travel luck, you know that I should’ve taken this into consideration and expected a typhoon to hit the islands on the weekend I was about to leave.

Later, when we all swapped stories in the lunch room, I repeated an observation some of my newbie colleagues and I had made over the weekend: None of the returning staff went away.

“It’s like you all knew better,” I told the lunch table. The woman beside me smirked knowingly and said, “You have to experience it for yourself!”

We would have left for Boracay on Thursday after work, but we had an English department gathering. For this, I am grateful. Here’s why:

  1. The first group leaving for Boracay departed on Thursday night, a few hours after we’d received an email about updating our emergency phone tree because a typhoon had entered the area. They were delayed by 3 hours, and then it took them a boat and car journey to reach their hotel.
  2. Another group leaving for Porto Galero Thursday evening was turned away because the coast guard was not allowing boats to depart.
  3. While these groups did eventually reach their destinations, one group experiencing an understated “rough ride”, they spent the weekend taking shelter from a continuous downpour.

Me? I spent my Friday at the airport with my friend Sam, a Brit with a dry sense of humor and a penchant for math. We arrived for our 11:55am flight at around 10, were whisked through check-in and security with zero hassle, and found ourselves happily awaiting departure in a dark airport restaurant with two cool cans of San Miguel.

Preston and Darren, who were flying to the same airport as us but ten minutes later and on a different airline and from another terminal, had texted to say that they’d been warned by the check-in desk to check for cancellations because of the weather.

At 11:25, we headed down for boarding.

“We’re sorry, but the flight is delayed,” the woman at the desk told us.

“Do you know for how long?”

“No, sorry ma’am.”

iPhone to the rescue! A quick scan on the Philippines Airline website showed our flight estimated to depart at 2pm. Not entirely trusting of this website’s reliability, we decided not to go too far and hung out upstairs in a relatively quiet departure area. Sam suggested San Miguels.

“What if we get arrested for drinking here?” I asked in slight panic.

“What, arrested? No warning, no, ‘Put that away’?”

“I don’t know how it works here.”

I was really tempted to stick the can in the plastic bag it came in and drink it like I would if I lived in a boxcar, but instead I left it on the floor.

I would’ve been content not to drink the beer, except three things happened at around the same time:

  1. Preston texted to say that his flight was canceled due to bad weather.
  2. Karoli told me that Philippine Air never cancels flights because it doesn’t want to lose money.
  3. The sky had suddenly become ominously overcast.

I cracked open the San Miguel. I suddenly began having thoughts of me sitting in an airplane on the runway, waiting for hours to depart, and then getting struck by lightning. I know airplanes are designed to disperse the lightning bolt strike but don’t you dare tell me that you would find comfort in this tidbit if you were soaring through a typhoon.

The longer we sat, the more I became convinced that if I boarded this plane, we were going to die. What made me even more frustrated was the fact that I could choose: get a cab back to Manila and relax or get on the plane and fly into the typhoon. And I was reluctant. What is wrong with me?

Part of my hesitation came from the fact that I was with Sam, and being that I don’t know him very well, I didn’t want to come off as a yellow-bellied American who didn’t care that she’d spent over $300 on this plane ticket because she was scared and wanted to go home. Part of me – a very small sliver, like maybe 9.7% – thought that maybe the weather might clear up.

I passed the time Googling Typhoon Goni and looking at terrifying pictures underscored by captions reading “Typhoon Goni lashes the Philippines!” or “Typhoon to Clip Luzon” or “Goni to Become Supertyphoon if Winds Increase by 15 MPH” or “Two Supertyphoons in the Pacific is Unheard of! (since 1997)”. Nothing like alarmist headlines to really put me off.

Outside, the rain came down hard. Sam went to get us two more San Migs and suddenly the window I was looking out of was completely drenched. I was reminded of times when we were little and my mom would let us ride in the car through the car wash. The airport was just some tiny little building and the typhoon was a gigantic, horrible car wash pissing down (as they say in England) and delivering occasional jagged lightning bolts onto the runway and Philippine Airlines was DELAYING their flight because of money and suddenly I hated them with every fiber of my being for not canceling the flight and for trapping me in an airport – and not a fun one with dark pubs like Munich or Heathrow but an old one – and I was mad at myself for not having the grit to stand up and walk out.

Yes, planes can see where they are going in this weather. (Yes, I said planes, not pilots. We all relinquish control to the aircraft when we fly.)

Yes, planes can see where they are going in this weather. (Yes, I said planes, not pilots. We all relinquish control to the aircraft when we fly.)

Sam and I took turns walking down to the gate to check on the status of our flight. It was a long walk down a floor and through a massively congested waiting area pungent with sweat and impatience, which was why we’d sought solace upstairs. At a little before 2, when it was my turn, I asked the gate attendant what was going on.

“The flight has just arrived from Caticlan,” she told me. “But we don’t know how long until boarding.”

“Is there a chance the flight will be canceled?”

“No, ma’am.”

I wanted to scream. I wanted to believe in the “secret” like Gretel did and will the flight to be canceled. Instead, it just got delayed until 4:30.

I started making comments to Sam.

“If you weren’t here, I’d probably have left by now,” I told him.

I texted friends hoping that they’d tell me what to do.

“I don’t want to take this flight,” I texted Preston.

“Well, whatever you decide to do, let me know. I’m back at home now.”

I sighed despondently. At 4, Sam and I headed down to board. If I didn’t make it, my friends and family would be left with strings of conflicted text messages. They’d all shake their heads at my funeral.

“She knew the flight was doomed,” they’d say. “Why didn’t she trust her instinct?”

At 4, they still weren’t boarding. Maybe 20 minutes, they said.

“I don’t know about this…” I said.

“You know, I’m really not bothered either way,” Sam told me. “I could easily go home at this point. It’s just $300.”

I wanted to leap out of my flip flops. I didn’t care if we weren’t getting a refund, although Preston had seemed to think that we could ask for one. (In what world does that happen? You opt out of a flight and they give you your money back?)

I was ready to bolt, but Sam, being wise and mathematically logical, suggested we tell the gate agents so they weren’t calling our names and waiting for us to board.

“We’re not going on the flight,” he said, handing them our passes.

“Oh. You want a refund?”

The day just kept getting better!

Upstairs in the ticketing office, I felt like my soul had been lifted. I’d been wading into the river with rocks in my pockets and decided to empty them out at the last minute and float to the surface. If I tell you I felt relieved, that wouldn’t do it justice.

We were fully refunded for “excessive delays” and happily en route to our flats by 5pm. And although I’d spent my Friday in airport limbo, I was alive, safe, and in possession of good company and two for the road.

Oh, and our flight was eventually canceled.

Yes, a plane can land safely in this puddle.

Yes, a plane can land safely in this puddle.

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