How we almost missed the Vietnam trip

I imagined myself sitting at the corner of the narrow streets of Hanoi with my wife, sipping the famed Vietnamese iced coffee, while watching the riotous traffic of two-wheeled machines passing by each other in uncontrolled speed and direction.

But the forces of nature can be so heartless! It will not give a damn if you are going on a trip you’ve prepared for several months…or your honeymoon.  We were waiting for the plane that would take us from General Santos City to Manila for a connecting flight to the 1003 years old city and capital of Vietnam. That imagination barely survived to become a reality because nature is indifferent!

Early for the flight

We were supposed to fly via Cebu Pacific flight 5J 994 at 9:15AM Saturday, but the blue skies over General Santos City were nowhere in sight. All dark gray and the pouring rain pounds the ground with strong gust of wind. It was Tropical Storm Gorio (international name Rumbia) saying hi at a speed of 55 kilometers per hour.

“Attention all passengers of Flight 5J 994...”, I wished it was a good news. But the hazy voice of the lady behind the microphone announced that the plane we were waiting for was diverted to Davao International Airport due to bad weather. Forty five minutes later the same voice announced that the flight was moved to 10AM as the plane is still managing its way to Gensan. Then minutes later it said 11 AM. And at around 11:30 AM, to the shock of half of the crowd inside that claustrophobic pre-departure area, the same voice declared the cancellation of the flight! The plane could not make it…the weather was too bad. Then the rush of the crowd to the check-in area followed.

“Flight 5J 994 cancelled…Free Rebooking/Re-routing within 30 days”, the printed announcement read. But it did not calm the other passengers down. The woman next to me was crying, uttering unclear instructions to someone through her mobile phone. Another woman behind me was wiping the tears off her cheeks. Her eyes were red. But, we had a problem may be as bad as theirs. We have a connecting flight to Hanoi from Manila at 10PM and there are no flights that can surely take us to Manila at least before 8PM. The suggested flights by the Airlines crew for rebooking were 4PM or 7PM Davao-Manila. We had to travel 3.5 hours from where we were to the next airport. It was 12:30 already. Impossible! The typhoon was heading northwest, the 7PM flight from Davao was risky.

The third was a 4PM and 4 hours long General Santos City – Ilo-ilo – Manila flight. It required a one hour stop and plane transfer in Ilo-Ilo City. We were expected to arrive in Manila at 8:50PM. What if there will be delays again, will the Manila-Hanoi plane wait for us? I got no clear answer from the Airlines ground crew.

The weather became worse and worse as we wait for the plane to arrive. Kai was feeling uneasy, so was I. At 4PM a different plane touched down the runway. WTF?!
After 8 long hours of waiting in vain the long-waited Hanoi adventure seemed to be fading away.

We remained calm and took the absence of our plane as an opportunity. I rushed back to the check in counter to ask for another rebooking, this time for that plane heading straight to Manila that has just arrived. After that short moment that seemed forever of negotiating with the ground crew, alas, we were accommodated to fill the vacant seats! Breathing heavily, I rushed back to Kai for the good news and to join the long queue of passengers already boarding for the flight. As we head off to the boarding area, I saw the other passengers affected by the earlier cancelled flight being served of their lunch by the Cebu Pacific ground crew. It was past 4PM.

To cut the story short, despite the delayed take off of the plane, we made it to Manila before 7PM with time enough to breathe, loosen up and de-stress ourselves.
We made it to Hanoi. That vision of iced-coffee with my wife while watching the chaos in the streets turned to reality. We even enjoyed the cruise around Ha Long Bay in Ha Long City. But looking back, day one was like a birth pain for us. But certainly, it was an experience worth remembering with important lessons learned.  
Nature can be so heartless and indifferent but She was our best friend when we toured Hanoi and Ha Long. Cheers to that!

Here are some tips I learned from that experience:

What to do in case of cancelled flights?

Demand for your right.  Airlines have to facilitate the rebooking or rerouting of the passengers once the original flight is cancelled. In our case, Cebu Pacific gave a free rebooking/rerouting of flights within 30 days. They also facilitated the requests of the affected passengers especially of those with perishable goods in the cargo and those with connecting flights like us. They gave us special priority by facilitating us first.
In cases of long delays Airlines should provide food for the affected passengers or hotel accommodations and transportation if necessary. An overnight delay happened to me in 2007. The plane had hydraulic problems and the flight was moved to the next day. Transportation and hotel accommodations were provided for us for free. 

Breathe! Relax, you must. Keep calm. Deep breathes (inhales and exhales) can help release the tension. You need some oxygen running into your system. Uncontrolled tension might add trouble to your objective of getting out of the situation quick. 

Call a friend. Think quick. But moments like this could leave you blank. Call a friend who is familiar with the situation or are frequent flyers. As outsiders to the situation they might have ideas that can help you out of trouble. In our case words from fellow traveler and friend Alfred was a big help from the other end of the line.

Relaxed Kai after surviving day one

What to do when bored in the airport?

Grab something to read. It will divert your mind from the weariness of long wait. I had in my bag Robert Levine’s The Power of Persuation: How we’re Bought and Sold. At some point it became the focus of discussion between me and Kai. I meant to initiate that discussion to keep her mind off the bad things. Hehe. Make sure though that the book is lightweight.

Grab something to eat. There’s nothing more fun and relaxing than giving your tummy a treat in tense moments. Chocolates are good mood boosters; make sure you have some in your bag. As a mountaineer, I make sure I always have “trail foods” in my bag or my pocket. Or you can go to the airport canteens and restos if there’s any. Be ready to pay for the pricey foods though.

Grab a buddy to laugh with. I have Kai with me. A good laugh at some pointless jokes and recollections of funny things from the past helped us a lot. A good laugh is better than a box of chocolate and books.[]

This is the first part of my Hanoi and Ha Long Bay Series. More adventure blogs to follow. Cheers!


  1. What an epic way (read: adrenaline rush) to start the honeymoon too. You guys should consider joining the Amazing Race Philippines next time. ;)

    But I'm glad you made it in time bro for your connecting flight. Looking forward to your Hanoi series!

    1. haha! thank you bro. twas really a rush. we'll think about the Amazing Race thing. LOL.
      thanks for dropping by. rock and roll!

  2. I'm not a frequent flier but if this would happen to me, huh, me? a person with lack of patience, I can't imagine what will happen next. Thanks for the tip though. :)

    Hanoi it is.


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