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Solo flight

Right that moment, I knew my guardian angel just caused a miracle.

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I was thinking about the first time I boarded a plane. However, that’s not so interesting to tell. It was a junket to Iloilo with reporters covering the Department of Education and Sports, as it was known then, to observe a national teacher’s convention. It was exciting for a first-time flyer — and we all know what that feels like.

However, it did prepare me for my first trip abroad — alone.

It was March 1993 and President Fidel Ramos was on a state visit to Tokyo. We were there a week before the cherry blossoms bloomed, so it was a missed experience. All we saw were trees with the pinkish white flowers just peeking out from their buds. This would have been an ordinary trip with the Malacañang press corps, but it wasn’t.

Rather than book my trip with Malacañang’s travel agent, the office booked my own ticket. We were cutting costs; I just booked my hotel from the agent.

Of course, it’s not as simple as that. The office found a sponsor for my plane ticket, so it didn’t cost us a cent.

There I was at the airport at 5 a.m. on a Saturday. We were checking in at the domestic airport, because we were taking a bigger plane that was picking up passengers in Cebu.

I was so excited. My first trip abroad was taking me to Japan. It would be a lie if I didn’t admit that I read up on everything I could find about Tokyo — where to go, what to see, what to eat, where to shop. My editor even had me chat with her sister who lived in Japan for some time. This was all before there was Internet.

So, there we were all lined up to check in. After a couple of guys passed through, it was finally my turn.

I handed my ticket to the man at the counter, he typed in my details, and then he looked at me.

“Sir, your flight has not been confirmed.”

What exactly did he mean, I asked.

He showed me my ticket, and in that box where it should say “confirmed,” there was something else. I don’t remember anymore if it was “waiting,” but it meant I had not confirmed my flight.

Can’t I confirm my flight now? I’m already here.

“Sorry, sir, but the flight is full.”

Silence.
“I can book you on the 1 p.m. flight. It goes direct to Narita. I can confirm you right now.”

I said yes.

So, while I was saying goodbye to my companions, there I was thinking what to do next.

I went home before the sun was up, and my folks were surprised to see me home. I went straight back to bed to catch up on sleep.

At 11 a.m., I was back at the airport, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport this time, to check in for my flight. There were no hitches this time.

I got a window seat — the lady at the counter recommended it — and I settled in praying that all will go well on the four-hour flight.

A few minutes later, the flight attendant (FA) was handing out snacks. I smiled and said no. Was I supposed to pat for them, I thought to myself. The man beside me asked for extra packets of peanuts because he said he was really hungry.

A little later, lunch was served. The FA asked me what I wanted — chicken or fish. I said chicken, sheepishly.

I was too busy then thinking how much this meal might cost me, considering that I would have to find a way to get to my hotel from Narita. The guidebook said a cab ride would take about $100. Whoa. That would eat up my shopping money.

By the time the plane landed, I still hadn’t any idea how I would get myself to the hotel. I just followed the couple before me as we all proceeded to immigration.

While on the line, someone had a chat with me.

What are doing in Japan? Is this your first trip?

Somehow, I blurted out that I was covering the president for the state visit, that I missed my flight in the morning, and I didn’t know how I was going to get to the hotel.

The line in front of us wasn’t getting any shorter, and I was just getting antsier because of the wait.

Suddenly, the diplomatic counter opened and a couple of guys fell in line before it. The man who was talking to me suggested I line up there, too.

I told him I wasn’t a diplomat, and I couldn’t possibly line up there.

“Don’t worry. We’re all from the DFA. We’re all traveling for the state visit.”

DFA. Department of Foreign Affairs. Right that moment, I knew my guardian angel just caused a miracle.

As I picked up my bag the DFA people asked me if I wanted a ride to the city. They would gladly take me to my hotel.

I said yes.

I was so quiet on that ride into the city, but I was thankful that somehow, I survived my first flight alone.

And you know what? I’ve been taking a couple of trips alone through the years. That trip to Japan started me on it.

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