Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Plane & Simple

For my first blog, I'm going to go against my plan to write about daily life in Jakarta. Instead, this entry is going to be about air travel in Indonesia. The inspiration for this is (you guessed it) that I just returned from holiday in Bali & Lombok. It is a given that the worst part of any trip is the transit itself. Air travel in Indonesia always fascinates me. I often feel like I'm watching an episode of The Simpsons that I've seen so many times that I know the dialogue by heart. I say this because every time I'm in an airport/plane, the same things seem to happen without fail. Here are some examples

  1. There is a good chance that I will choose the shorter check in line only to be stuck behind the person who doesn't understand why they are not allowed to check 4 suitcases, 11 twine tied cardboard boxes stuffed with various of oleh-oleh (gifts) and 2 taped up plastic bags full of clothes on a domestic flight. These items will inevitably weigh 40-50 kg and the lone traveller will be shocked when the clerk informs them that they must pay an excess weight fee. Their shock will turn to dismay when they learn that the fee is rp 500 000 (50 bucks) as was the case in the airport yesterday. Said person will then ask if they can leave their parcels at the airport and will be informed this is not allowed. This man or woman will then decide to call a friend or relative to either come give them the money (which they don't have because ironically, they've spent it all on gifts) or to take the excess baggage away. I sometimes manage to swiftly check in while this person is on the phone calling for help.

  2. More likely than not, there will be an important looking man (probably wearing a leather jacket) who will try to cut in the check in line until I tell him to get into the back of the line. He will then reach over my shoulder whilst I'm checking in and yell at the clerk to take his ticket. Once that ordeal is finished, the same important man will force his way into the airport tax line and shove his ever so important hand full of cash inside the window and demand that the cashier take his money immediately instead of giving me my change first. This same man (batik shirt optional) will then proceed to shove my travelling companion out of the way in order to get through the security check faster. Once through the metal detector, he will move my bags out of the way so that he can promptly get his bags and enter the terminal. Once in the terminal, he will casually sit and wait one hour or more for his plane to board. I hope I grow up to be important one day. The idea of explaining this pointless rush to the important gentleman crossed my mind but I was afraid that he might have tried to put me put in prison.

  3. On the best day ever, the plane will board at the time it is meant to take off. On an average day, the plane will be an hour or 2 late. On a bad day, it will be 3 or more hours late. Yesterday's plane was 2 hours late which meant that all passengers got a complimentary McDonald's hamburger. I wonder if they upgrade to cheeseburgers after a 3 hour wait.

  4. When they call boarding for the plane, everybody will run to the gate and try to be the first one to jam their way through the door. I will casually wait until the line slows down but will absolutely definitely without question be pushed and elbowed by the person behind me in a vein attempt to board the plane faster. I'm not sure if people think that the plane is going to leave without them or if they think that they will reach their destination faster by shoving. The worst instance of this was when a man in Medan was using his baby to jab me in the back. His persistence guaranteed that the plane took off 1.5 seconds faster than it would have otherwise. Shamefully, I have given the backwards elbow to a few shovers who wouldn't stop. I managed to resist elbowing the baby in Medan though.

  5. There is an 64.6% chance that there will be somebody sitting in my seat. When I politely show them my ticket and explain that they are sitting in my seat, they will sometimes persist that I am wrong. I will then show them my boarding pass and the little sticker with the aisle numbers and letters on top of every row of seats. Then one of 2 things will happen. 1) they will bashfully get up and go to their assigned seat or 2) they will tell me that it is ok lah and that I can sit somewhere else (I'm convinced that these are people who have never been on a plane before) I will insist that I must sit in my seat because I don't feel like being kicked out of another seat when that assigned seat holder appears. They will then begrudgingly move. Yesterday, there was a young girl and a child in our seats. Their father insisted that they were their seats until I respectfully showed him our boarding passes and the sticker with the aisle and seat number above the seats. He then called the flight attendant over and explained to her that he needed 2 more seats since these girls had nowhere to sit. The attendent looked at their boarding passes and informed the kepala keluarga (family boss) that all 7 or 8 people in his family were in the wrong seats and had to move. After some banter, he picked up his half-bottle of vegetable oil (with a plastic bag and elastic under the lid for safe keeping) and directed his family towards their assigned seats.

  6. There will occasionally be someone within my vicinity who will pray with a prayer book for the entire flight. There seems to be no religious preference. I am curious to know if they pray on the motorbike ride home since riding on a bike is exponentially more dangerous than flying. Thankfully, their prayers worked and we landed safely.

  7. Upon landing, 9 out of 10 people will turn on their cell phones at the first possible opportunity to inofrm somebody that they landed 5 seconds ago and that their plan is to leave the plane, get their luggage and then leave the airport. Around the same time, the praying stops.

  8. Not one single person at the luggage claim with the exception of yours truly will seem to be the slightest bit concerned for the safety of the child playing (most likely running) on the conveyor belt.

  9. I will intentionally choose a section of the luggage carousel that is not crowded. At this point, there is a 1 in 3 chance that somebody will come and stand directly in front of me and put their luggage cart directly behind me.

  10. My taxi ride home will without a doubt be long and traffic filled. I've had rides home that were longer than the flght itself.

I have to look on the bright side. At least I don't have to take my shoes, belt and jacket off. It is not necessary to answer questions about what I plan to do with the 2 lighters in my backpack. There will be no lecture about not being allowed to have more than 150 ml of fluid in my posession. The security check people are not going to yell at me for not knowing airport security check procedures & regulations. It is not necessary to arrive at the airport 2 hours before, 45 minutes will usually do. After some reflection, flying in Indonesia isn't that bad. After all, you almost always get to see volcanoes peeking up through the clouds.

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