Honkers The thriller via manila

Second weekend of the year and I’m already skipping parkrun, because there isn’t one in this country. D’oh. Probably a little too exhausted to do it anyway; I went to work on Thursday and didn’t then go to bed until 2am Saturday morning... sort of.

Getting from my office near Tower Bridge to Heathrow in the evening rush hour is a royal pain. At least I get to start off by walking over Tower Bridge itself and around the Tower of London, all of which would be even more pleasant were it not for the hordes of other people.

But then it’s all a bit nasty. At Tower Hill there are no suitable district line services until the 3rd or 4th train, giving me ample time to wander up and down the platform trying to reach 10k steps for the day. I’m going to get the tube to Barons Court, where the change to the Piccadilly is trivial. Unfortunately it also involved waiting for the third train or so before I can just about squeeze into one. Apparently everyone is fucking going to Heathrow today, and I should’ve taken Helen’s advice (and Mike’s) and just paid the high price for the Heathrow Express. Next time...maybe.

I already have the boarding pass on my phone, so once I’m at T3 I head straight to Fast Track security and am through in a flash. Emerging into the main departure area I wander down to the lounge complex, heading for the Club Aspire lounge. This involves walking past numerous other lounges my shiny BA card would get me into were I flying a oneworld alliance member, but I’m not; Club Aspire is a pay lounge, a Priority Pass member, and also the designated lounge for some of the smaller airlines departing from here including the one I’m on, Philippine Airlines.

After handing over my boarding pass I expect to just be welcomed in, but actually I’m asked whether I’d like some indistinguishably prounced Filipino food. Eh? Well go on then. The lounge looks busy but there’s an empty table by the wall that seems out of place, I don’t know why it’s not taken – until I see the “reserved for Philippine Airlines” sign. Cool!

The promised food arrives promptly; it’s a dish of chicken and rice that’s kind of halfway between a soup and a rice pudding, and the internet tells me it’s called Arroz Caldo – as does, subsequently, the Filipino version of the table reservation sign. It’s very nice.

My phone has been going mental with notifications all day, making me think perhaps I should remove an app or two. Do I really need all this? At least it’s reassuring that my flight appears to be on time.

There are many tables of Filipino folk to my right, and a free bar in front of me. This is not the classiest lounge I’ve ever been in, evidenced by their whisky of choice being Bell’s, but hey, the beer is nice and free (albeit served in tiny glasses).

I don’t have a huge amount of time in this lounge, partly because the journey here took so long and partly because my flight boards from the most distant gate possible from here. I leave with plenty of time so that I can walk rather than use the travelators, ending up walking along a long corridor all to myself.

For some reason I end up singing “Unbreak my Heart” by Toni Braxton out loud to myself for the length of this walk. I must’ve heard it on a tannoy or something somewhere, I can’t fathom why else it would be in my head. Un-cry these teaaaaarrrrrssss....

By the time I’m at gate 42 my step count is up to 11.2k. That’s good. There are plenty of people but still plenty of seats. Almost as soon as I arrive a long list of perhaps 20 names are read out and asked to make themselves known to a member of staff at the gate; literally no-one stands up.

A couple of minutes later, just as I’ve sat down, more names are read out and one of them is mine. Eh? What? I approach the desk and hand over my passport and phone and they say hello Mr Foreman, we just need to check your passport. They issue me with new boarding passes, the one for this flight still says Gate TBD. Eh? How is it TBD when THIS IS THE ACTUAL GATE?

The lady also tells me where the lounge is but says it might not be worth going there since boarding is about to start. She seems surprised when I say I knew about it and had already been there. Anyway, having been to the desk I now spot the dedicated business class waiting area and take my place there, alongside no other people.

Consequently I am almost first on the plane, making a beeline for seat 7A. This is an A350, my first time on this type of plane and Philippine Airlines are making a big deal out of it. The seat looks impressive from the outset and I’m looking forward to 12+ hours here.

The first thing that stands out from other airlines is the inclusion of a giant mirror directly in front of the seat.

I put a bag up top and rest another by my feet, which themselves barely reach the footrest at the far end. A man named Paul comes along to serve me some champagne. Not a lot of champagne, just a tiny bit. It’s a good start though. Menus are already here and other drinks are also distributed; orange, raspberry, or jasmine. The speakers are playing instrumental slightly-jazzy covers of Bee Gees tunes.

The giant mirror seems to double up as a spectacularly responsive and excellent in-flight entertainment system, at least in terms of screen and software. First impressions are that it’s the best I’ve ever used.

The selection doesn’t quite match up to the presentation but there’s still plenty to keep me entertained. The movie selection is quite small compared to other airlines, and pumped up by the inclusion of every James Bond movie ever. No idea why.

The system also has the business class menu on it, not only for this flight but all the routes the A350 plies. There’s a cardboard menu too, as well as a sheet explaining how to use the seat.

There’s no refill of the champagne, and when in the air each glass is like the previous: less than half full. I guess that’s the service standard? I’m not too disappointed as, believe it or not you cynical bastards, I don’t want to get trashed on this flight. A L’Occitane amenity kits arrives too, along with slippers.

Food service is available on a dine-when-you-like basis but they don’t proactively offer that (it’s written in the menu) and I’m happy to eat as soon as we’re airborne. On the TV I play Shanghai Knights and get to grips with the fancy remote control that has a slidey-touch bit (not a screen) for use as a mouse cursor.

An amuse-bouche turns up. Dunno what it was except for “quite nice”.

This is the starter I ordered, a chicken guinea fowl terrine. It’s very nice.

Main course is fish with rice. The fish is delicious, but there’s not much to it. There’s no salt or pepper or other condiments provided.

Double dessert. I didn’t order double dessert, but nor did I turn it down. There’s a cheese plate on the menu but it’s never mentioned and I would’ve turned it down anyway. Honestly, I would!

I finish eating at exactly the moment Shanghai Knights finishes. Next up, BlacKkKlansman. I stay awake for the first 20 minutes or so of it but then sleep for an hour; when I wake up I think, OK, give up on that, listen to some music and turn the seat into the fully flat bed it is. Hitting the recline button it gets about 40% of the way into position but then goes CLUNK and stops. I try again, the same thing happens. As I try a third time, there’s a power cut in the whole cabin: everyone’s screen and lights go off and the seat won’t move whatsoever, even back to its upright position.

A couple of minutes later the reboot is complete, screens are back on and now my seat will happily turn into a bed. Huh. Did I reboot the business class cabin with a busted 7A? Surely not... Anyway, now I could sleep, and sleep I did. I guess I got 5-6 hours of fitful sleep, I woke up a few times throughout but still woke up feeling pretty decent.

So, BlacKkKlansman then. Good film that. One of the staff notices I’m awake and asks if I want anything some nuts, yeah go on then. And a glas of whisky please. He offers me something from the snack menu so I say yeah, gimme the beef sliders. They never turn up.

Next up on the screen I go for The Rundown, a film starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and therefore guaranteed to be awesome. It is formulaic drivel and I lap it up.

All the lights come on in the cabin with more than 3 hours until take-off. Drinks orders are taken, a hot towel comes, and they ask what I want for breakfast and to drink alongside it. I ask, again, for a glass of whisky and one doesn’t appear. My choice of hot drink is green tea, so before I know it a man has filled my cup with coffee. The woman who took my order comes and takes that away, replacing it with a cup of hot water. I have a couple of pieces of bread with marmalade and then multiple other things arrive.

This is the Filipino breakfast of rice with scrambled egg and veg and chorizo that I did order. It’s very nice.

This is some asparagus, cheese and boiled egg thing that I didn’t order but one got brought to me so why the hell not.

And this is a small plate of spicy fish curry that I also didn’t order but was happy to eat.

Eventually, once everything is cleared away, I ask one more time for a glass of whisky and to my shock and delight, a glass of whisky turns up. Thank you! Salamat po!

Next up on the TV I watch Mile 22, an all action thing with Ronda Rousey and Mark Wahlberg and stuff. It’s fun. There are subtitles, as there were on the prior three films, despite always choosing “subtitles: no” in the options. Never mind.

The entertainment system has a thing where you can pair it with your phone or tablet, and use your own device as a large remote or display the in-flight map and stuff. But the map never ever works, and mostly I have zero clue where we are.

With 2hrs or so of the flight left an urgent call is made over the tannoy for any doctors, medical practitioners or nurses onboard. Uh-oh. :-(

Eventually a member of flight crew comes on to tell us about our progress and how long until landing, and it seems we’ll be just about on time at 1840 or so in Manila. I read a magazine for the last half hour of the flight until we’re in our final approach, during which I’m beguiled by the colours of the local waterfront city (is it Manila? I dunno how far the airport is from the city itself) and in particular the fireworks display. As we get very low I can make out that there are brutal traffic jams on basically every road everywhere. Eek.

We end up touching down late, at 1905, and it’s a viciously hard landing completely at odds with the smoothness of the descent. We’re welcomed to Manila and told the local time and wrong date: “correction, it’s January 11th!”. As usual the instructions are to not stand up until we’re at a complete stop and the captain has turned off the seatbelt signs, and I shit you not I’m the ONLY person in business class that obeys this instruction.

I’m completely vindicated in my supine submission to authority, because everyone else is standing around annoyed for a long time. The signs take an age to come off, because there’s a problem with the airbridge. I can see it, it’s just there.

And it stays there, for ages. Then it comes close to the plane... and then goes back there. We’re told there’s a communication problem first, then a problem with the bridge itself. Lots of airport staff start to appear on the bridge and on the ground, some of them moving the big metal stairs on the left. Are we going to walk down those stairs and then up into the bridge as happened to me... somewhere else last year? I forget.

Maybe not. A mobile set of stairs shows up, all telescopic and stuff.

And there’s a bus. Yes, the airbridge is totally fucked and we’ve suddenly been turned into a bus gate. All told it takes longer than half an hour for this palaver to be sorted out, with the mobile stairs taking 3 attempts to attach as well. A man from further back in the plane barges past everyone else queuing to get off to demand...something, I dunno what, but no-one is going anywhere and the doors aren’t even open yet.

But then the doors ARE open, and the folk in front of me seem to have forgotten how stairs work. These really aren’t as perilous as they make out. The bus is pretty nice, for an airfield bus, and I get a solo seat at the back. We’re driven around the perimeter of the terminal and into a tunnel marked BUS GATE ARRIVALS NORTH WING.

Immediately through the door there’s immigration straight ahead, a transfer desk to the left, and security to the right. I go to the transfer desk despite already having an onward boarding pass, and they tell me my gate has changed. OK then. Security is cramped, with nowhere near enough space or staff for the number of people who have to use it and it’s made worse by the fact you have to take your shoes off as well.

In the lift up to the main departure gate an Australian woman with her son tell me that the chaos there was nothing compared to last time, when it took her more than 50 minutes to get through. Gah! Up and out of the lift I’m in a non-air-conditioned terminal that’s pretty ordinary, and no signs to the lounge. I walk around for a bit, feeling very very foreign because there are very few westerners here.

Up near gate 7 is the Mabuhay lounge. It’s boiling hot and super-busy. I get an unsatisfactory seat by a breakfast-bar style thing on the wall and get a gin and tonic from the bar, plus a beer from the fridge (wherein there is magnificently branded Pepsi) and some sugar. Disappointingly the beer isn’t San Miguel, which is Filipino don’t-you-know. I get online, but the WiFi is spotty as hell, kicking me off every 5 minutes or so. I do wish the people near me would modulate their conversation.

I leave the lounge much earlier than I need to, with boarding nowhere near close to starting. A bit of a wander to keep the blood flowing and then I just loiter at the back of gate 7. I’m very amused when they loudly announce how group boarding works and it’s monstrously confusing to everyone. They stress a great deal that these announcements are just how boarding will work, but people should all stay seated because boarding hasn’t started yet. Basically everyone gets up anyway.

When it does eventually start business class folk are allowed on at their leisure, so I’m ensconced in seat 3K in fairly short order. No booze is offered on the ground but I get a “Mabuhay punch” which is pretty nice. There was, in the last few days, an equipment change in my favour such that this plane has the same seats as the last one: big fancy screen, turns into a bed, etc etc, though the remote control is slightly different. Whatever. I’m very pleased to be flying like this.

Orders for food are taken before take-off and I go for the milkfish. No idea what milkfish is.

This particular flight has been anywhere from half an hour to 2 hours late over the past 10 days or so, but today we’re all boarded and ready to go basically on time. I put on the very first episode of Fresh Prince of Bel Air (there are three episodes available) and don’t recognise the second verse of the theme tune. Did it change? Anyway, I doze right through it, and the second episode, waking up properly when we eventually take off at 2205. God damn it, we taxiied for 45 minutes!?

Food comes out almost immediately once we’re airborne, and the service is pretty epic considering this is only a 1h20 flight. It all comes served at once but there’s a bowl of nuts, my pre-ordered champagne, some bread, a starter, the main, and some dessert.

The milkfish is GREAT. Everything else is ordinary, but that’s not a complaint. Unlike the previous flight they are almost filling the champagne glass, and I get a refill too. Just the one though. Double dessert also turns up. Myfitnesspal be damned. Sorry Helen :-(

I watch Shades of Blue season 3, a dreadful Ray Liotta/Jennifer Lopez cop drama that makes me wonder how on fucking earth it ever reached season 3. It’s bloody awful.

You aren’t allowed to use the in-flight WiFi in the loo. Why not? (It hasn’t worked for me at my seat, FWIW, but even so this restriction seems weird)

Have I got this far without even saying where I’m going to? I do believe I have. Well, as we come in to Hong Kong I get a great view of the world’s longest road bridge that recently opened to Macau. We land - breaking very hard - at 2348, which is exactly one hour before the last train to the island. We’re already 15 minutes late but I’m still hopeful of making it.

Oh. It’s a bus gate again. Damn it. I pick my spot deliberately, standing up next to the rear open doors when I board so I can scoot off as soon as we’re at the terminal; when we get there, the rear doors are out of action and I end up being virtually last off. Onboard I hadn’t been given a landing card so I have to source one from somewhere, and the queues for immigration are absolutely enormous.

I’m resigned to getting a cab when suddenly the queue speeds up as if they’ve doubled the number of open desks at the click of a finger. Lo and behold, I make it through the border and customs and onto the Airport Express train at 0038, the last but one service of the day. Klook.com’s app lets me buy a ticket while I’m onboard and holy shit, it’s Friday night and I’m in Hong Kong. Really?

On the island I’ve missed the last tube and a member of staff tells me I’m crazy, it’s impossible to walk to Wan Chai, so I (have to) queue for a cab, which takes ages because there are considerably more people than taxis. I don’t need to fuck around with money because I had, remarkably, £120 worth of leftover currency from my last visit here in 2014(!). The driver seems pleased with my mm goi once I’m sat down and he’s driving me to my hotel. This is past several horrifying British theme pubs. I shouldn’t, I shouldn’t... and I don’t.

There’s no cab scam here, he wants to give me exact change but I just round the drive up to 500 HKD (that’s 5 quid). At reception I’m upgraded to a room on the top floor, an executive premium room ‘n that. It’s about 0130 and I’m quite exhausted, already in the right time zone physically. Hurrah! But I desperately need a shower so I have one, which wakes me up for long enough to have a Carlsberg from the minibar before sleep. Hello, Hong Kong.

Created By
Darren Foreman

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