The Long Journey Home

We’re 46 minutes away from landing in Manila and I am excited beyond description. This is a very emotional homecoming for me after not having been able to go home the last three years. My last departure from Manila was in July 2019. My trips in 2020 and 2021 were cancelled because of the pandemic. When restrictions eased and fares went down reasonably, I grabbed the chance to go home.

I just want to see my mom. She’s 82 now and the only reason I have worked so hard to come home every year the years before Covid broke. And she knows I will no longer do the yearly journey when she’s no longer there.

Even with preparations beginning weeks before, I found myself doing more than my share of last minute errands that had to be done. And of course, there were things that I ended up forgetting, like my neck pillow which I had proudly taken for at least three trips back and forth between New York and Manila. It was ready, but I ended up buying a new one anyway.

This has been a very eventful journey.

First mishap was the handle on my balikbayan box breaking before I could even leave the house. Fortunately, it was strictly 50 lbs and so my Uber driver was able to lift it without my help.

I ended up getting lost sending my Uber driver to the wrong terminal at JFK and we had to hop to another two before landing the right one. I’d normally be totally upset after the first miss but I was in the zone and calmly handled the detour as a simple mistake. I had plenty of time, I had already checked in, and I had all possible tests done.. although I had miscalculated the timing.

When I got to the check in counter, I was informed that two of my four checked bags might not make it on this flight because it was full. (Yes, despite the fact that I paid for them.). I was asked to choose the two that I wanted prioritized. I was told the gate personnel would be able to confirm if my bags made it on the plane— but even after I boarded, that information wasn’t available. I guess I will find out when I get to baggage claim.

The boarding process itself wasn’t as chaotic as previous flights, but we had many kababayans grumbling and acting grumpy giving the ground crew such grief. For all their shortcomings, this crew actually performed better than the last few that I went with. I’ve always flown Philippine Airlines since they started offering New York- Manila flights again.

My only beef was they boarded from the front to the back, and I always take an aisle seat in the middle section at the far end. I will write about my logic behind that in a different post. It seemed more efficient to board in reverse order after the First Class passengers had boarded, but who was I to argue? I just wanted to board.

I got my seat without issue and my three seat row only had two passengers. Myself and a big burly guy in the middle. I told myself he will probably move to the other aisle seat when everyone got settled, but he didn’t. My thinking is he took the aisle seat because he didn’t like being jostled at the aisle, so instead he jostled me.

The crew for this flight was definitely better than the last crew I flew with who gave the passengers the cold shoulder, sans the usual efficient service. This crew was friendly, courteous, responsive and showed me they enjoyed what they did, despite flying with a full plane for 17 hours. Kudos to the crew who handled the second half of the cabin, most specially to Ma. Gizella Gonzaga. I made sure I got her name — displayed on her name plate— because I like recognizing good service. Not only was she so pretty even behind her mask— she served the passengers with a smile in her eyes, and she was not stingy with pleasantries or small talk. She addressed the passengers warmly, both in English and Tagalog. That’s the kind of service that we look for when we shell out our hard earned money to fly home. I am sure the group of seamen seated to the left of my section felt the same way.

The food was welcoming and homey.. from the adobo and then the pasta with meatballs, down to the corned beef with rice for breakfast. Drinks were plentiful and were supplied with meals and on demand. The common bathrooms were well maintained despite the constant flow of people. I’ve flown flights were the bathroom floor got nasty midway through the flight. This never got anywhere close

The group of seamen to my left were counting the hours as indicated by the flight tracker on the individual screens we each had. So after breakfast, I casually asked one how long he’s been away. He said 42 days. I told him he’s lucky. I haven’t been home in three years.

Like I always do, I changed from my cold weather clothes ( a turtleneck this time) to something more apt for the warmer temperatures in Manila. I put on just enough color on my face – just lipstick and eyeliner. I collected ng things in the bins in front of me and braced myself for touchdown.

I’m watching the sunrise across three men to my left and I am full of emotion. It feels good to be home. I am exhausted and ready to crash but I feel my adrenaline beginning to build. Mama must be as excited. My brother and niece are meeting me at the airport, and I am hoping all my 4 checked in luggage will meet me at baggage claim.

I can’t wait to breathe the air of my homeland.. to be in the midst of my people and the heat and traffic that goes with it. I can’t wait to be with family. Headache from lack of sleep notwithstanding, I am stoked.

Manila, I’m coming home.