Our final destination: Manila, Philippines

“Expect the worst and hope for the best.” It has been one of my mantras in life, and it has helped me manage my expectations, especially when I’m experiencing distressing situations. The past few months have been crippling, physically and mentally. But with God’s grace and with the help of loved ones, we got through one of the most challenging times of our lives. After three months, we’re finally back in the Philippines.

My husband and I were already awake at 3 AM on the day of our flight back from Dubai to Manila. After having a small breakfast of Gooday pistachio biscuits and Nescafe instant coffee, we packed up our three pieces of luggage one last time. By 5:30 AM, we were on our way to Terminal 3. The cab ride probably took less than 10 minutes. We stayed at the Premier Inn Dubai International Airport Hotel so we could get to the airport right away. And as soon as we arrived at the terminal, we lined up by the check-in counter by the time the clock struck 6 AM. As we approached the line to our counter, an airline staff handed a travel hygiene kit that contained gloves, 3-ply masks, hand sanitizers and and hand sanitizing antibacterial wipes.

We were a little worried about our three luggage being overweight, which we confirmed upon weighing at the airport. Upon paying 2 dirhams per bag, we found our total excess baggage at 1.4 kilos. It was too late to buy extra as an additional 5 kilos would cost us 300 dirhams. So we decided to just risk it. We just hoped the staff would let go of our small excess instead of making us pay extra. Good thing the employee let it slip and printed our baggage stickers with “3 bags/60 kgs total”. And then we were through! Now, all we had to worry about was our hand-carry bags, as each one of ours weighed almost 9 or 10 kgs (the last time we checked). A few airline staff were already checking people’s bag weights randomly. But my husband urged me to walk as fast as I can, yet looking as calm as possible, as not to attract attention. Again, we passed through that without a hitch. If we were to be stopped, we were going to let go of the two boxes of Toblerone chocolates that we bought reasonably at Baqer Mohebi - a supermarket in Dubai that’s famous for selling quality dry goods for dirt-cheap prices.


We were happy that we still had around two hours to spare, thinking we’ve passed baggage check seamlessly. But we thought wrong. The local immigration officer stopped my husband from passing through as he had a fine for overstaying in Dubai. It bewildered us. We thought it was impossible as his company canceled his visa just a week before his actual flight. All canceled visas were provided with a 28-day grace period given that you change your status or you exit to a different country. But he did neither, thinking he had enough time to leave the UAE without penalties because he had 28 days ahead of him. Then again, with our assumptions, we overlooked his form. What was written on the paper was that he only had one day to leave Dubai, which was impossible, as his flight was still in 8 days. In all fairness, overlooking that detail was my husband’s only fault. But we blame his HR coordinator for being lousy at her job, most especially his former company, for canceling the visa, while knowing his flight details (they were the ones who booked the ticket). The reason he requested his visa to be canceled a week before his flight was for his end of service benefits to be processed in time. He wasn’t given the 28-day grace period, and he couldn’t call anyone from the office because it was still too early in the morning. The immigration staff just gave him the hard choices of either missing his flight or paying the hefty fine. It took a while before it got resolved. Good thing I saved some dirhams inside my pink passport holder, which I slipped into his bag early that morning. Who would’ve thought that would save him later on. And so he used that last money to pay for the overstaying fine. He got a “discount” in exchange for having a 1-year ban from traveling to the UAE. He just took the deal as we had no plans of returning.

It was past 7 AM when he finally passed through immigration. I met him by the screening area, and we went up the elevator together to walk to our boarding gate. It was almost 8 when we found some seats close to our gate. But before heading to line up at our boarding port, we passed by Duty-Free to spend our very last Dirhams. It was going to be our final spend. We weren’t coming back, anyway.

We booked our seats on row 25. My husband sat in the middle while I sat by the aisle, which we pre-selected on the airline app. The plane didn’t look that full as the row (24) in front of us had no passengers. I asked the male cabin crew if we could transfer to those seats after take-off, but he insisted we stayed on ours unless we paid for the chairs. So we just stayed put. We were just glad no one was in front of us.

The 9-hour flight was probably the worst for me, as we experienced distressing turbulence. Shaking my legs and lightly stomping my feet on the carpeted floor didn’t help distract me from the major shakes in the plane. I always feared turbulence and wished I wouldn’t experience any while traveling. But somehow, this flight to Manila was the worst one for me in all of my air travels. It was also stressful for my husband as I had to grip his hand to help myself feel assured of some safety net. I felt regretful for the many times he had to voice out his pain from my squeezing too tightly. I couldn’t help it. Oh, if COVID-19 wasn’t enough to worry about, I also feared for our lives onboard. 

In all the 9 hours, I only slept for 30 minutes. It was uncomfortable sleeping with a face mask on, along with a pair of safety plastic goggles that didn’t fit my face. It kept slipping, yet I continued to push it back towards my head to keep my eyes safe from traveling particles in the cabin. Even if the airline boasts of HEPA filters that get rid of 99.8% of viruses and other particles, I still can’t let my guard down. I could only hope there weren’t any passengers who were COVID-19 positive on board. Heck, I was hoping we would never contract it while on the plane. Oh, and meal times on board the aircraft weren’t the same. We weren’t able to enjoy our meals anymore without worrying about inhaling particles while eating with our masks off. I guess this is the new normal.

I am, however, thankful for the all-black Neoprene face mask that my friend MJ slipped in my bag as we left their house. It relieved me that I did not have to endure the long-haul flight with a tight surgical mask. With my new protective gear, which had our Ladies Who Online logo printed on it, there was ample room to breathe in. It helped that it was tight on all sides but was spacious for my mouth and nose to move around. It was a lifesaver. 

I was also feeling an anxiety attack about to happen given the closed space around me, but I thankfully controlled it with a grounding technique and with deep breathing. Oh, it was hard to breathe, but the mask made it bearable for me. It took an hour before I calmed down. There was a lingering feeling still. I kept checking my heart monitor on my watch every few minutes. When it got down to the 80s mark, I knew that I was finally calming down. I just distracted myself more by tuning on a few movies on the in-flight entertainment screen, which helped me get through. I probably watched four movies but only finished three until landing.

After 9 hours, we were finally home. Now, we are bracing to face the worst: swab testing and long airport lines. (NOTE: Head to the next blog post to know how our experience went - from getting out first PCR-test at NAIA 3 to checking into Fairmont Hotel Makati.)

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