An Indonesian budget flight experience that nearly left me in pieces
There is just something about ad-hoc traveling that is both juvenile and exciting – such were the sentiments that enveloped my decision to fly to Bali for a truly unplanned holiday that Xmas eve.
Considering we were flying out to Bali from Jakarta the very next day, it was a blessing that our helpful travel agent managed to secure us tickets to fly to the paradise isle. However given the abrupt vacationing decision, we had to be contented with flying on the lower budget local airlines like Lion Air (to) and Batavia Air (fro). With good reason, seats on the more established Garuda Indonesia were scarce.
We arrived at Jakarta’s Sukarno-Hatta Airport on Christmas eve morning at the deathly hour of 7 (I’m not a morning person). Our Lion Air flight to Bali wasn’t scheduled to leave the Indonesian capital until 10. However we weren’t ready to gamble with traffic during the holiday season as it has been known to be notoriously unpredictable.
Upon checking in, we were informed by the attending officer that our flight to Bali was postponed to 1 o’clock in the afternoon, which sent us to feverish fits of frustration for we could have tucked in to a few more hours of sleep at home instead of madly dashing off to the airport at an ungodly time. But we couldn’t have known this predicament, thus we decided to calmly wait the delay out and had a breakfast of Dunkin’ Donuts and rather weak-tasting coffee.
At about 10:30 AM as we tried to decently rest on the hard cold metal benches at the airport, we couldn’t help but notice a slight commotion of people rushing towards a particular gate. My traveling partner swore she heard a faint call over the P.A. system announcing a flight destination that sounded suspiciously like “Lion Air to Bali.” We flagged down a man in uniform with a walkie-talkie to inquire as to what was boarding to Bali. To our alarm it was actually our flight making a last call to its passengers!
Cursing underneath our breaths we sprinted off, nearly tripping in our sandals and misaligned backpacks. We huffed and puffed to the gate and there it was, flight Lion Air all ready and prepped for a one and a half hour cruise to Bali. We were the second last batch of folks to board the vessel and were greeted by seemingly uncaring air attendants masked in oily makeup who offered barely a grunt.
While we were relieved that our flight was taking off earlier than the supposed delay, we were aggravated by the poor announcement of the rescheduled flight. Could we have rested in an area of the airport with poor acoustics, making us miss the announcement of our impending flight? It did seem pretty unbelievable that we weren’t clearly notified considering we had sat not too far off from the gate we entered. I could even spot speakers attached to beams overhead from where we were drowsily stationed. Plus my ears were sticking out further than Dr. Spock’s, alert and ready to jump at the mere mention of our destined journey to Bali in case of a sudden change.
Alas, I have no answers as to why we almost missed our flight.
After hastily throwing our baggage into the overhead compartment and plunking my tired behind down on the airplane seat did reality truly sink into me – the aircraft seemed extremely narrow. Too narrow, I thought while beads of perspiration continued to form wildly on my forehead.
While I can’t tell you right off the plane model number, I remembered it as having two seats on the left and three seats on the right side. The seats were arranged in excruciatingly close ranges and gave one a looming sense of claustrophobia. If you’ve never experienced the phobia of closed spaces, board a Lion aircraft and you’re well on your way.
As if I wasn’t under enough stress, I began to recall tragic incidents of Lion Air planes running off runways and of landings with high mortality rates. In addition, I remembered friends’ glum testimonies of having flying Lion Air. Heavily shrouded with claims of provisioning shoddy service, the Indonesian budget airline is notorious for flying extremely aged Russian planes, supposedly from former Soviet Union days. The aircrafts are so Russian that even the instructions on the Exit doors are supposedly printed in that foreign language.
While I didn’t have time to counter this allegation by actually checking out the emergency doors, I fidgeted absentmindedly with the seat pocket in front of me. What I saw made me sink deeper in my seat with an increasing sense of helplessness.
Instead of the usual instructional flight safety card and in-flight magazine, my hand pulled out a doggy-eared pamphlet: a kartu doa perjalanan (prayers for traveling), as it were. As if one was not enough, the card was printed with religious incantations of 5 different faiths – Islam, Buddhist, Hindu, Catholic and Protestant.
Now I have had my share of global airplane flying, but this was the absolute first time that I’ve ever encountered such a thing. Prayer cards for flying! It was as though passengers were expected to pile up the success rate of this plane entirely in the hands of the Almighty and not on skillful pilots. Ironically prayers are supposed to make one calm, however I was anything but.
I felt mighty perturbed!
As my neighbor continued to murmur bad nothings under her breath about the plane that almost left us, I nervously hushed her with optimistic hopes that we’d arrive our destination in no time, hoping to counteract the verbal jinxes that frothed steadily from her mouth. If surviving this flight meant reciting through all five prayers printed on that darn card, heck I think we all did it. Needless to say nail biting quickly became a sport as I nervously glanced repeatedly over the 5 paragraph of prayers.
After all the nerve-wrecking anticipation and a horrible turbulence as we flew over Surabaya, we landed with a loud thud that caught me between tears of fright and joy. I hurriedly stuffed the prayer card back into its home pocket as we safely made off Lion Air flight JT012 and scurried across the hot asphalt that was Bali’s Ngurah Rai airport grounds amidst the light drizzle that fell from the sky.
Terima Kasih Ya Allah!
While wolfing down breakfast the following morning on Christmas day at our friend's cosy home in Nusa Dua, we were stunned to read in the Bali Pos newspaper about a Lion Air flight that departed from Jakarta, just before ours to Bali. The plane, destined for Gorontalo with a transit in Makassar, actually skidded off Makassar airport's runway but fortunately with no casualties. The incident caused its panicked passangers to shriek in fright before abandoning ship at the first opportune. The aircraft itself was reported to have become immediately defunct after the incident, thus ending its flying days due to irreparable damage. Eek..!
Other wacky MyIndo travel stories:
Have you ever had an unforgettable flight experience?
Readers' Comments: 18 entries
Back to MyIndo.com