The preparations continue…


I’ve booked and purchased our flights.  $1,380 including the stopover in Seoul.

Praxy will leave on 11/3 and arrive in Cebu late in the evening on 11/4.  She will fly to Tacloban the next day (5th), and catch a bus to Salcedo the next day after that.  I still have to make her flight reservations on Cebu Pacific for the afternoon of the 5th.  The vans and buses are first come first served.

I will leave on the 11th.  I plan to spend at least one extra night in Cebu so I can visit the many friends I’ve made in Cebu.  I will also need to purchase a cell phone.  I’ve decided to go with a better quality phone for this trip, so it will probably set me back about $50 or so.  I’ve got to have it to let people know where I’m at while traveling alone in the Philippines.  Travel alone?  Scarey?  Nah, easy to do.  In front of the van or bus driver, you call and loudly say which bus/van you are on and when you will be at your destination.  The driver then KNOWS to keep an eye on you or he is going to be in big trouble if you disappear.  Of course that might not work as well for the natives, but not many bandits will be interested in waylaying them anyway.

[(Later edit)  Uh oh, If you were reading above carefully, you can see I may have a problem.  My wife and I will not be on the same flight from the US.  I some how have to deal with that problem at customs.

I talked to some friends and they said that this is not really a big deal.  They traveled without their husbands many times.   “You will have to copy your wife’s passport, flight itinerary, and your marriage license and show them all to customs in the Philippines.  No problem.”   Nope, that is not the case.  I HAVE to arrive with her according to the Philippine Embassy website and the copied paperwork is “officially” of no use. 

But…I know someone else who has a relative that works customs there in Cebu.  I will have this friend contact the relative before I arrive and explain the situation.  I was assured (gulp) there won’t be any problems.

This all revolves around visas.  Most foreigners normally need to be on some sort of visa after 21 days.  However, if you are married to a native born Filipino, the normal visa requirements are waved if you and your children arrive with your spouse.   The balikbayan visa applies.  You have one year free, with the option of getting tourist visas for another year.  Then, you must leave the country for at least one day.  Upon returning, it starts over again.  Many married couples fly to Hong Kong or Singapore for a few days of shopping to fulfill this requirement.

So, what DOES happens if you don’t arrive with your wife?  What rule will be enforced?

I simply do not know.  There isn’t any information posted about this that I can find.  My guess is…it depends on the customs agent’s attitude towards you.  I do have proof in my passport that I was on the balikbayan visa on the last trip, with entry and exit clearly stamped.  That, and the copied paperwork, may be enough.  Especially since I have a return flight booked.

Who knows?  I may have to purchase a 59 day tourist visa for $30USD.  If there is going to be ANY type of hassle, I’ll do just that.   I will be there EXACTLY 59 days as long as I wait until the next day on the inbound flight (10 extra minutes) and go through customs before the “flight day”, about 1 hour early.  Whew, that was pure luck and not at all planned.  The 59 day tourist visa can easily be taken care of before I leave.]

Both of us are scheduled to leave the Philippines on the 10th of January.  We have 5 nights in Seoul Korea.  I’m looking into motel and hotel rooms in the downtown area.  Prices seem reasonable.

The house in Salcedo is secured, we can stay as long as we like.  The price is definitely right.  Since the house is new, there is no air conditioner.  Hah, our rent payment will be the AC, installed and working.  Plus paying the maid/caretaker and electricity.   I’m thinking that we will spend most of our time in Salcedo, Asgad, and Guiuan.  I will rent a decent motorcycle so we will have the freedom to explore and check on the construction to our beach house.   Praxy says there are expats in Guiuan, so I will hook up with them.  I need to understand the banking system in the Philippines and how to deal with the foreignness of the country.

The house/cat sitter is lined out, thanks Scott!

I had to purchase new luggage as my old ones are starting to rip out.  We are getting boxes for shipping extra stuff early from the US.  I don’t know the cost, but I believe that a 20x20x20 inch box ships for around $85 with no weight restrictions.  You can ship bricks or packing peanuts for the same price, as long as everything fits in the box..  It takes about 2 months as these boxes go on an otherwise empty shipping container from the US to any point in the Philippines.  Praxy had three waiting for us in Salcedo on our last trip.  Things to ship that may be difficult to find in the Philippines…ground coffee, dill pickles, made-in-America gifts, books, vegetable steamer, snorkeling gear, I’ll think of more and add them.

Time to move on.  Lets “Visit” a place you may never get to see.  A 12 hour trans-Pacific flight.  If you are a veteran of trans-oceanic flights, skip this if you like.  A flight this long gets boring, the reading about it might be boring as well!

The following series of posts are for people that may never fly and are curious about the trip, may fly or are going to fly and want to know what to expect, or have flown and want another take on how to make the trip more comfortable.  I’ve only logged 4 such flights, so I’m not a big time veteran or expert.  However, stories of such a voyage seems to be lacking on the internet.  I’ve read several different brief accounts, but nothing that is detailed.  I will take what I’ve learned, add in what other people have experienced, and try to make a detailed description.  I will start with…

Clothing–Seems pretty obvious, right?  Comfortable clothing and shoes.  Duh!  But, there is more to this than you might imagine.  For instance…the flight is overbooked in coach and there are still some seats in business class available.   The gate agents will upgrade some lucky coach class person or persons to business class for free, a HUGE perk.   Jim and Betty Smith volunteer, they are wearing jeans, T-shirts, and tennis shoes.  Jim has a Chicago Bulls baseball cap and a skull and crossbones tattoo poking under the sleeve of one arm and a “Mega-Death” slogan on the other.  Betty has the quote “I got lei-ed in Hawaii!” on the front of her T-shirt, frayed “designer” jeans, and suggestive cleavage.  Both have been drinking and are a little bit loud.  Ken and Praxy volunteer as well, they are wearing smart casual clothing. Ken has on a jacket, tie, and a just got a nice haircut.   Praxy has beautiful medium heeled shoes and a nice pant suit.   They sit quietly and respectfully where the gate agent can see them.  Who will get the upgrade?

See what I mean?  Of course, my example is simplistic and you can wear whatever you want.   That “whatever” can make you uncomfortable, so choose wisely.

Heavy coats, cowboy hats, baby strollers, seats and diaper bags, fragile items, and anything bulky are a liability once you are out of the airport parking lot.   Think about it carefully, you’re going to have to live with it or ditch it!  Don’t let children have small, messy items with them.   Glitter, small toys with little parts, and food fall into this category.  The mess may be with your for hours and hours and hours.  Sometimes it is impossible to change seats.

Starting from the top.

You might want to consider knitted hat in if your head gets cold easily, especially in the winter time.  This can really manifest itself if you happen to end up near an emergency exit as this area is sometimes a bit chilly.  I’m not big on baseball caps on aircraft, they seem to get in the way as real estate is precious when you are crowded in a passenger cabin.

Shirts, pants, blouses, and dresses, and suit coats should fit well and comfortably.  If you are uncomfortable while getting dressed before the flight or during the ride to the airport, the discomfort will be magnified 10 fold 6 hours into your flight.   Underwear.  Well…You got a pair of Sponge Bob underwear that has a tendency to crawl around?  Don’t wear it on the flight.  Put it in checked luggage or in your carry-on.  Close your eyes and imagine.  You are in the middle of 4 abreast seating on a Boeing 747 and your favorite g-string (or Victoria’s Secret lacy) feels like it’s up around your throat.  It will be just about impossible for you to squirm it into the correct position without alerting your seat mates and dealing with the amused or shocked stares.   So…you have to excuse yourself, shuffle through your neighbors, head to the restroom, wait in line, sneak in for the adjustment, then return.  To shuffle back to your seat and re-wedge yourself on the armrest just as you are sitting back down.   Don’t laugh.

Have a nice, warm pair of socks in your carry on.  You will appreciate them during the long periods of sitting you will have to endure.  Shoes need to be chosen carefully.  If you must have those designer clogs or high heels, they had better be comfortable, at least for walking.  International airports tend to be very, very large.  Hong Kong for instance is about a mile across.  Plus, if you are transferring, you will be waiting in screening lines.  There are two in Seoul and Hong Kong, or you have to queue for customs.  I have very comfortable and nice looking black loafers with added arch supports that I can walk miles in.   Don’t worry about shoes too much once you are on the plane.  Most carriers have free slippers.  The slippers don’t have arches (saves storage space), but you aren’t walking much on the jet anyway.  On my last trip, I found my feet had swollen to the point where my shoes hardly fit when I reached Seoul (from Seattle).  Yowser!  Lucky for me, the swelling was reduced in few minutes once I was able to move around (this will be covered in more detail in a later post).

There may be other items of clothing that can be helpful in your situation.  Since I travel to tropical areas, I tend to go short on heavy clothing.  My stopover in Korea on the return may be problematic, I WILL have to pack something warm and tote it around the Philippines or purchase some warmer clothes in Seoul.  Pack your carry on bag with your final destination in mind, it is possible your luggage could be delayed or (ulp!) lost.  The airline will compensate you, but your favorite clothing items will likely not be available at your destination or, they may be VERY expensive.

Things in my carry-on bag are…A complete change of cloths.  Spare underwear and socks.  Medicine and pills.   Destination info including the address of where I’m staying (for customs).  Airline tickets, itinerary, and boarding passes.  Book.  Small notepad.  Puzzle magazine, pen and pencil.  Valuables.  Toiletries including toothpaste, brush, deodorant, sterile hand wipes or very small bottle of hand cleaner, hand lotion.  Sunglasses.  Reading glasses.  Cell phone.   Spare credit card and cash.  Mini poncho.  Netbook computer with headphones.  Still and video camera.  Binoculars.  Newspaper.  Earplugs, sleep mask and sleeping pills.  Inflatable pillow.

TSA will confiscate these items… http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/prohibited-items.   We lost umbrellas in Manilla, we owned them for less than 20 hours.  Sigh.  Pointy ends.  Surprisingly, I was able to bring a set of stainless steel chopsticks through security in Seoul.

Sounds like a lot in a carry on, eh?   Yeah, it’s a pain.   Weighs in around 15lbs and I still have room for a few souvenirs.

For the big-time valuables (money, passport, credit cards), use a hidden pocket.  Type “hidden pocket” into a search engine and check out the ideas.  I have two, one around my neck and another that loops through my belt.  Use two and split up your money and cards.  Put a third and smaller cash and card stash in your carry-on and guard it carefully.  Why split them up?  Because…

Don’t use safety pins to hold them in place, they need to either be around your neck or around your belt.  Someone I know lost $500 in a pinned hidden pocket when the safety pin opened unexpectedly.  Another person I know got all his money and credit cards pick-pocketed when the wallet in the back of his pants was lifted, an easy target.  You’ve been warned.  I sometimes carry bills in my socks.  Yes, I wear shoes in the Philippines.  Very light weight and well ventilated tennis shoes.  I don’t like walking long distances in flip flops.  Bills are very hard to pick-pocket from socks, tuck them in deep, though.

You got valuable jewelry that is precious or heirloom?  I ALWAYS recommend you leave that home, especially if you are traveling to countries with lots of poor people.  An RVer I met in Mexico nearly had his finger ripped off because of the valuable diamond ring he was wearing.  He was handing a tip out the window.  He was still hurting two days later.  Another person lost a Rolex watch in a motel room.  My wedding band is plain and I wear a $10 watch that I can live without.  Praxy guards her wedding band and leaves all her other valuable jewelry home.

You now have some ideas of what to wear and carry, now you need to choose an airline.

Most people go for the cheapest fare.  While that is fine on short flights, this may or may not be a good idea when you are stuck in a huge flying cylinder for 16 hours.   A hundred dollars more may be well worth it.

The toughest flight in my life was my first trans-Pacific flight on a 747-400.   It was 13 hours of misery, I will never do that again.  My seat-back electronics were not working correctly, I had four working movie channels (two were in Chinese) and 4 music stations (two in Chinese as well).  Lucky for me, one music station that worked was American classic rock.  However, I listened to that 1 hour music loop at least 10 times.  Every time I hear Neil Young’s “Old Man”, my thoughts go back to that flight (I love the song, though).

But the real problem was related to the aircraft routing and passengers.  This particular aircraft flew from Hong Kong to New York.  Then Vancouver Canada.  And finally back to Hong Kong, my flight.   This itinerary will have a lot of people getting off in New York, and then will refill with passengers going to Hong Kong.  These people are on a cross North America flight for 6 hours.  The flight lands in Vancouver and those people are ready to get up and stretch their legs.  While you are trying to get on board.  Of course all the overhead carry on space was full.   I had to stuff my bag on the floor for the whole trip, and that meant I couldn’t stretch out my legs or even move them very much.  All around me were babies, screaming at the top of their lungs about being disturbed and/or bored.  Turns out we were sitting near the middle bulkhead, where there are 5 bassinets across that front wall.

4 hours into the flight, I was looking for a place to jump out.

Nah, I’m just kidding.  The passengers and babies finally settled down or went to sleep after two hours and a meal.  I got some sleep.  The flight attendants did their best, but the restrooms were trashed by 10 hours into the flight.  The aircraft was getting pretty dirty and disgusting.  Many people had been on that plane for close to 22 hours.  The children were going crazy from boredom.

The return across the Pacific on the same airline was very, very nice.  That plane was going Hong Kong-Vancouver-New York-Hong Kong.  Oh boy for those people boarding in Vancouver bound for Hong Kong!

I have switched to Asiana for the flight across the big pond.  That aircraft itinerary is Seoul Korea, Seattle, Seoul.  11 hours and 45 minutes westbound.  There is a complete passenger turn over in Seattle, a big plus.  Lastly, the food and passenger service on Asiana are outstanding.

If you are flying to a larger country it is usually best to fly on one of their home-based carriers, even if the price is slightly higher.   Making connections in the winter time is not a good idea if you can avoid it (I can’t of course, no one flies directly from the US to Cebu).  I have time AND money budgeted on the off chance that flights are late, diverted, or cancelled due to weather.  And, it is possible the airline will have little or no compensation for the cancellations other than booking you on the next available flight.

Lastly, if something truly extraordinary happens (like a winter storm or volcano closing down numerous airports simultaneously), gate agents may not have enough time to serve everyone.   Let’s see, two gate agents, 300 passengers on one flight that are delayed or stranded.  Now multiply those numbers by 20 gates and 20 flights.  Or 50 gates and 50 flights.  In situations like this, unless you are near the front of the line, you are basically ON YOUR OWN!

If that happens, the last thing you want to do is whine or complain.  The airline is doing everything they can and situations can be totally overwhelming when 100’ds of flights and tens of thousands of passengers are affected.  Remember my Caribbean cruise blog.  We left two days early to insure were in Tampa on time for our ship’s departure.  Returning, I didn’t care.  If your schedule is that tight, you had better be flying on the job with a boss looking over your shoulder.  Vacations are for relaxation.

So your flight is canceled.  Worried about getting booked on a later flight?  Don’t.  Do your very best, but if there is a sea of people in front of you, find a motel room.  Just come back later or call reservations when the dust settles and explain the situation.  More likely than not, the airline will be glad you waited and will give you a decent compensation package or refund.  Be polite, friendly, and firm.

How do I know all of this?    Why would I know the nuances about aircraft routing, positioning, flight operations, cancellations, and the consequences?

As an former agent and station manager with Cascade Airways, a large regional air carrier in the Pacific northwest of the United States, I’ve just about seen it all.  Passengers smuggling drugs, planes off of runways, cancellations due to weather or mechanical reasons, bird and animal strikes, airsick passengers and the clean up (I sure don’t miss that one!), icing and de-icing of aircraft, irate and belligerent passengers, stranded unaccompanied minors (children traveling alone), and dangerous mistakes.  Obviously, there good things; people greeting loved ones, honeymooners, helping people ship difficult items, helping stranded passengers, and, of course, traveling to exotic places quickly.

The station I worked at, Pullman Washington, had no control tower, fire department, weather man, or restaurant.  The airline agents and manager were the firemen, aircraft spotters, runway inspectors, weather man (or woman), security screeners, you name it, as well as serving passengers, and working baggage and freight.  I even helped our aircraft dispatchers and reservations agents in Spokane when I could.  We worked hard, and I was good at my job.  Pullman station ran very well under my supervision.

Last for this blog entry, how to choose a seat.  www.seatguru.com  This site is totally handy for picking a comfortable seat.  They are not 100 percent accurate, but it great for a reference.  As you look at their seating charts, good seats and bad seats are highlighted and reasons are given.  One note, seatguru does not show the Airbus 321 that Asian flies from Seoul to Cebu.  I ended up with a seat against a bulkhead with limited recline, row 28.  Sigh, I won’t make that mistake again.

Things to watch out for when selecting a seat.  First off, if you have a tight connection, reserve in the front of the aircraft.  Those people get off first (of course) with most aircraft types.  Like looking out?  Get a window seat.  Afraid of heights?   Don’t get a window seat (DUH!).  Got really long legs?  Pick a seat at the emergency exit if you are strong enough to deal with the door in an emergency.  Sometimes a seat just aft of a bulkhead will have great leg room, but there can be disadvantages.  These disadvantages are, the movie screen and tray tables can be set up different and they may not be as convenient.  Also, these areas tend to house bassinets.  I don’t recommend sitting next to the bathrooms because of traffic, odors, and noise.  Got kids?  3 or 4 abreast seating works great with mom and dad on the outside.  Those seats run in the center of widebody aircraft.  On some widebodied aircraft, there are a few two abreast seats towards the front or rear with the rest of the aircraft seating 3 across.  Grab those if you are traveling with one other person.  If you can sleep anywhere and can sleep the whole trip, I envy you.  I recommend a window seat or a center seat on a widebody so no one clambers over you and disturbs your slumber.  These people, however, tend to suffer horribly from jet lag.  Don’t worry too much about engine noise.  Modern jet aircraft are very quiet while at cruise.

Seats in the front and rear of the cabin may be near a galley.  The galley can be very noisy when food is being prepped, but…if you want something, the flight attendants are close.  If the prep noise doesn’t bother you, drinks and snacks are a polite psst away.  Watching the flight attendant go about their jobs can be a welcome distraction, especially if they are attractive.  Because…10-18 hours on an aircraft can be bbbooooorrrrriiiinnnggg!!

Odd things can turn up on different aircraft and different airlines due to the configuration of that particular aircraft.  I told you about the bassinets, for instance.  Sometimes it just pays to be lucky.  Also, airlines can substitute aircraft at the last minute.

I now know to watch out f0r the areas near the center bulkhead, my seat choice will be 11A or 12A.  Although that is near the bassinets, I will have my trusty earplugs handy.  And I don’t really mind kids that are reasonably well behaved.  Another thing, on our last westbound trip, the aircraft only had 1/4 of a passenger load!  If that is the case, there won’t likely be children and I’m going to stretch out in a center seat for a good nap.  I learned on the last trip…DON’T WAIT AROUND.  I’ll move to the center at once after we lift off.

Coming next, a description of the scheduled aircraft type and our route

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About Ken

I am a federal employee that loves to travel. I don't get any time off during the busy salmon tagging season, March through November. So, I save my leave and explore the warmer parts of the world during the winter.
This entry was posted in 2013, back to the Philppines and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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