Monday, 21 April 2008

Terminal Confusion

How hard could a 10 day jaunt to Hong Kong be? Quick taxi to Changi T3, drop off fellow traveller and then SkyTrain to T2 for shuttle bus to the Budget Terminal as per instructions. Except JetStar flies from Terminal 1, so back outside onto the same shuttle to T2, then the cute, runs-on-rubber-wheels Skytrain over to T1. Talk about unnecessary. Fortunately it's all eTicket these days and without check-in luggage I was in the 25min immigration queue tout suite.

The lady at the neighbouring check-in was being stung S$200 (£70) for excess baggage (box of business samples). Seeing me unencumbered, I was propositioned as a courier but declined on good sense grounds and departed with sympathies towards her wallet.

The departure lounge had free, working Internet access and a free, non-working drinking water fountain. Given the restriction on carrying fluids onto planes it was misjudged priorities.

They called for boarding, starting at the back; there's only about 30 rows in an Airbus A320 so first up were rows 20 and up. But this is a budget flight from Singapore to Hong Kong so the passenegers are a cosmopolitan lot and announcing only in English is, frankly, a mistake. English speakers in rows 20+ and everyone else in all rows raced forward with those ineligible for boarding being asked to wait (in Cantonese). The effect was to create an increasingly dense scrum of people just standing around the door, each held by the invisible force of authority like mimes pressed up against glass windows. Welcome to queuing, Chinese-style.

The flight was okay, 3hours, 20mins but JetStar takes no frills flying to heart. There are no drinks, snacks or food available free of charge on board. Canned drinks: S$3. Tea: S$3. Mars bar: S$3. Tiger beer: S$4. Hot meals: S$8, Those in the know, despite several announcements to the contrary, brought food with them but you can't bring drinks, hence the skewed priorities back at the terminal.

The Chinese aunties all had plastic bag bundles of green vegetables as hand luggage and bid a collective "bye bye Singapore" on takeoff. About 1 hour to go, I had the thought that being stuck in a confined space, surrounded by strange people speaking in tongues, unable to leave and at the mercy of the staff is possibly as close to being in an insane asylum as most people experience.

No frills landing means no jetway, but rather bus to the terminal, mocking the efforts of the people who pushed their way along the aisle to get off quickly. All airports look the same these days because the design requirements are the same. Dash up to immigration and you were cattle-prodded into what turned out to be 3 or 4 TensaBarrier mazes with, in our case, 1 guy, yes, 1 immigration official on duty processing the queue. To say the crowd was restless is an understatement. The Aussie cricket team dispersed through the queue kept up a running commentary, checking their watches anxious that the bars were going to close. When a second immigration official turned up he received a round of applause and assorted "Good on yer mate" endorsements. I got through in 45mins which I felt was lucky in the circumstances.

I think we were ripped off on the transport into town. The (newish) airport was an engineering marvel at the time, levelling mountains and reclaiming acres of land. The train was HK$90 each (£6) but would drop off at Kowloon station so add HK$40 for the taxi to the hotel. The bus was direct drop off but HK$130each. Still, a bit of devine intervention on the way into town as the driver triggered the Gatso on the approach road to the pretty Tsing Yi suspension bridge. That'll teach them to overcharge tourists.