Global travel in the time of Ebola, and other sundry musings

IMG_3310_2I SURVIVED Malaysia Airlines not once, but twice! But the bigger story was my successful attempt at eluding health inspectors at Kuala Lumpur international airport while nursing what I felt like a low-grade fever.

A month or so ago, I shared with friends on Facebook the prospect of covering the annual Malaysia Fashion Week in KL. Since the event was partly run by the Malaysian government, it was inevitable for them to fly many of their guests via the country’s flag carrier (MH).

CAN lightning strike thrice?

CAN lightning strike thrice?

Given the recent string of unfortunate events that befell it, I was initially apprehensive to even think of flying MH. My worries, as you all know by now, were unfounded.

Uneventful flights

My flights to KL and, five days later, to Manila on a small Boing 737 were uneventful. Both flights weren’t full, but neither were they nearly empty.

I’ve flown MH several years back. And like before, its flight attendants during my two recent flights were as efficient as ever.

Although I flew economy on both occasions, I was even able to use the airport lounges in Manila and KL. How come?

A slow day for Malaysia Airlines at NAIA 1

A slow day for Malaysia Airlines at NAIA 1

The person who booked my tickets (God bless him or her) used an elite credit card that doubled as a frequent flyer card. In short, the transaction entitled me, the ticket holder, access to MH’s airport lounges. Thank you!

Allow me to digress a bit. We all know Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) terminal 1’s reputation as one of the world’s worse airports. But I never knew how bad things have become until I passed through it two weeks ago on my way to Malaysia.

Boarded and lined up

ELECTRIC fans at the NAIA 1's lounge? You better believe it.

ELECTRIC fans at the NAIA 1’s lounge? You better believe it.

Since practically the entire terminal was (and is still) undergoing a makeover, certain sections of the airport were either boarded up or lined with whitewashed plywood walls. In most places, the airport was also warm.

Because there was really nothing to see and do at NAIA1, I immediately went to MH’s airport lounge, which the company shared with other airlines.

Either the AC at the airport lounge was barely functioning or there was no AC at all. I couldn’t tell anymore. In its place were several huge electric fans.IMG_3300_2

But nothing could have prepared me for the ultimate shocker. Since the restrooms at the lounge were also undergoing renovation, we were directed by the receptionist to use adjacent restrooms meant for the general public.

What greeted me at the men’s room left me speechless: a plastic pail of water with matching dipper (tabo!) by the sink and a bigger plastic drum also filled with water near one of the cubicles.

Yes, NAIA 1’s restrooms these days are a total throwback to the days when huge sections of Metro Manila didn’t have running water.

But this time the situation is magnified globally since we’re talking here of international airports—the first and last impressions that stick in the minds of arriving and departing passengers, including foreign tourists and investors.

Poor janitor

In fairness to manong janitor, the restroom looked clean and was far from smelly. But I hated the thought of entering one of its cubicles for fear of being further assaulted by unwelcome floating objects. Ewww!

BALDE'T tabo republic at a NAIA 1restroom

BALDE’T tabo republic at a NAIA 1 restroom

If I were the janitor, I would demand hazard pay. Seriously! As if explaining to passengers the reason for the restroom’s sorry state wasn’t difficult enough, the poor man had to be up on his toes all day shadowing users and flushing urinals and toilet bowls with the trusty balde’t tabo (pail and dipper).

BUSINESS as usual on board Malaysia Airlines

BUSINESS as usual on board Malaysia Airlines

Renovations are fine. In fact, work on NAIA1 is long overdue. For some reason, our government, who says that it’s bent on attracting foreign tourists and investors to the country, is doing it only now at everyone’s expense.

Before working on NAIA 1, the government should have closed it temporarily and moved all its operations to NAIA 3. Not only would such a move spare passengers, it would also facilitate faster and better renovation. I don’t think a purely cosmetic makeover could change the way things are at the old airport.

In contrast, I felt like a globetrotting celebrity at KL’s airport lounge on my way back to Manila, as I and a few other guests had the huge space brimming with food and drinks all to ourselves.

WHEN was the last time you reviewed a plane's safety card? Well, I'm reading mine just in case.

WHEN was the last time you reviewed a plane’s safety card? Well, I’m reading mine just in case.

Give me chardonnay any day

With a glass of chardonnay in hand, I welcomed the respite at the KL lounge. In my mind, it was my way of celebrating after escaping possible detention several days ago. Let me explain.

Back in Manila, I was already beginning to feel a bit under the weather. I had no fever, but it was as if I was on the verge of getting the flu. On the day I was about to fly to KL, I took my temperature. Thirty-seven degrees C. Fine!

But just in case, I stuffed a thermometer and a few tablets of Biogesic in my carry-on bag. In fact, I was so paranoid that I found it necessary to check my temperature twice inside the plane’s restroom on my way to KL.

On my second attempt, less than an hour before landing, the reading climbed to an alarming 37.5! I was beginning to feel a bit warm inside. If my temperature continues to move northward, I thought to myself, then I’m in trouble.

TODAY'S special on board is...

TODAY’S special on board is…

It would be a fate worse than that of a passenger who was refused to board a plane after making an Ebola joke.

Yes, making Ebola jokes these days is tantamount to making bomb jokes. They’re enough grounds for airline personnel to bar you from flying. A joker of a traveler abroad found this out the hard way.

If memory serves me right, he was sneezing (or was he coughing?) as he entered a plane. Instead of downplaying the incident, the man reportedly looked at the flight attendants and played a joke on them.

He’s screwed

“Aha, I have Ebola,” he said, in between his sneezing fits. “You’re all screwed!”

I'M still alive! This calls for a selfie upon arrival.

I’M still alive! This calls for a selfie upon arrival.

Well, the joke was ultimately on him. The flight attendants weren’t amused. And they made it known by promptly asking him to leave the plane accompanied by the airport’s ground personnel.

Imagine if Malaysian health authorities spotted my elevated temperature at the arrival area. Not only would I miss my coverage. It could lead to something more costly and troublesome.

Given the paranoia Ebola has created globally, I would probably be detained indefinitely until they had ascertained that I wasn’t a health risk.

So, I promptly preempted my fever by taking a tablet of Biogesic. With barely 30 minutes to spare before landing, I went back to my seat and said a quick prayer.

All thoughts of crashing and missing MH flights left me, and in their place was the prospect of being caught, interrogated, detained and, in all likelihood, humiliated by Malaysian authorities should my pseudo fever fail to subside.

Like dying in midair or spending endless hours aboard an ill-fated MH flight before the plane finally plunges into the deep, dark waters of the Indian Ocean, nothing of that sort came to pass in the hands of friendly Malaysians on the ground. Again, it was just my imagination running away with me.

GLORIOUS food choices at Malaysia Airlines airport lounge at KL

GLORIOUS food choices at Malaysia Airlines airport lounge at KL











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