Saved from being stranded by a mistake

I said a prayer of thanks when I finally got out of Philippine Air Lines flight 1782 from Puerto Princesa Saturday. Up to noontime Friday, I was not sure if I could get a seat as airlines cancelled several flights after President Duterte ordered a lockdown of Metro Manila Thursday night in connection with the rampaging novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

I’m praying that all those who were outside the airline ticket offices frantically rebooking their flights would be accommodated or would find a way to return to their homes or reach their destination safely.

I hope and pray that the young woman who was next to me as I was dropping off my luggage at the PAL counter would find a solution to her problem. She was in the wrong queue. She felt lost and worried when I told her she should go to the ticketing office for rebooking.She looked at the anxious crowd in front of the PAL ticket office. “I’m with my child,” she said nearly in tears.

She said she had a confirmed ticket for the March 14, 7:05 p.m. PAL flight from Puerto Princesa to Manila. That flight was cancelled March 13.

That was also the flight that I and my VERA Files colleagues were supposed to take. The travel agency made a mistake and booked us in the morning flight.

The mistake turned out to be a blessing in disguise. God works in mysterious ways.

But for a few hours Saturday morning, I thought I would be stuck in Palawan for a month.

We were in Puerto Princesa primarily in connection with a Fact Check Training Workshop that we conducted at the Palawan State University under Internews’ Initiative for Media Freedom project. After the two-day PSU Fact Check training workshop, I was scheduled to conduct an Investigative Journalism with Palawan News staffers March 14. My colleagues had planned to go to the world-famous Underground River. The evening flight back to Manila was just perfect.

Friday morning, we got an advisory from PAL that we could now check in online. We were surprised to learn that we were booked in the Saturday morning flight. My colleagues didn’t mind the advance departure. The Underground River won’t be leaving Palawan; they can always experience it next time.

But I have my scheduled IJ training with Palawan News. So, I asked the travel agency to correct their mistake and change my departure booking to 7 p.m.

While the travel agency was doing that, PAL canceled the evening flight. We tried other airlines but there was no seat available.

I decided to cancel the Palawan News workshop. But when I tried to check online for the morning flight, I was dismayed to see that when I was booking for the evening flight, PAL took my name out of the morning flight. I was left with no seat in the plane.

Then came the report that Puerto Princesa city government suspended all domestic travel to and from Puerto Princesa March 15 to April 14, 2020.

I was already thinking of how to spend the whole month in Palawan. Go to Coron in Greg and Viveca Hutchinson’s Sandcastles? Looks exciting but there are so many things that need to be done in Manila.

I don’t know how the travel agency did it but they were able to reclaim my seat in PAL Flight 1782.

Armed with our online check-in boarding pass, we were at the Puerto Princesa airport 5 a.m. The line was loooong. Just one line for everybody- all airlines, passengers who have confirmed flights, passengers without confirmed flights, passengers who have checked-in online, passengers who still have to get tickets.

In the beginning, we were not worried because the flight was still two hours away. But when it was already 6:30 and we were still outside the airport, we started complaining about the airport’s lack of system.

The airport personnel manning the gates said it should be the airline personnel who should be giving instructions to their passengers. But the airline personnel inside were also busy.

Finally, someone made a common sense instruction to give priority to those who were leaving at 7 a.m. We were one of the last few passengers to board the plane.

All is well that ends well.

We face another challenge: quarantined Metro Manila.