Our Non-Trip for Chinese New Year (aka Gong Xi Fat Chance)

I am sure we never thought when we arrived at the wrong terminal on Chinese New Year that that would be our smallest problem of the day. Seeing the long lines for the free shuttle, we hopped in a taxi and headed to terminal 3 to catch our Lion Air flight to Lombok where we planned to spend 4 days in the sun. As expected on a holiday, the airport was bustling. The departures hall was more crowded than I had ever seen but it was a holiday. We saw some friends that were on the Lion Air flight before us and knew right away there were delays. We passed the time catching up and chatting. Our friends’ flight was finally called and they left. A bit of confusion with flight numbers had us now waiting in the security hallway adjacent to the departures hall, separated by glass. It was less crowded and so we settled in to wait there. Our flight was supposed to be at 10:30 am. At about 12:00 our friends returned, their plane had a flat tire and they had to wait for it to be changed. Eventually some food was made available, rice, fried noodles, and a spoonful of chicken. At last the 9:00 am flight was off and we anxiously awaited ours. From our perch in the security hall we could see the planes as they unloaded and loaded passengers. The information desk for Lion Air had a steady group of people around it, hopeful for information about delayed flights. Every time we checked we were told to “just wait”. As the time passed, fewer and fewer Lion Air staff were available. Even airport ground staff removed their name badges so as not to be harassed. Emily taught herself the ukulele. We were patient. Most people were patient. Indonesians are an infinitely patient people. Traffic, floods, overcrowding teach those lessons. But now it was getting later. They kept saying wait. There were rumors of government audit, damaged planes, and bankruptcy. It was more crowded. People were smoking wherever they wanted. Cleaners were no longer picking up trash. We were told that the flight coming in at 6:00 pm would be the flight we boarded as soon as it was cleaned. We waited. Scott went for sandwiches and beer. The flight came in but nothing was happening. Word had it that they were looking for our flight crew. By 8:00 pm we were ready to call it. The crowds around the desk, clearly seen from our position on the other side of the glass, were getting angry and frustrated. No Lion Air employee was in sight. I walked over to the Air Asia desk to ask the procedure for getting luggage after check-in. (Note: I love Air Asia and would have flown with them except they do not fly to Lombok. Only Lion Air and Garuda fly there.) They were very kind and directed me back to check-in downstairs to recover my bags. As I returned to Scott and Emily, the doors to the security hall were all closed except for the one closest to the Lion Air desk. I had to weave my way among the hundreds of passengers waiting for news. As I got to the doorway a Lion Air employee came out and told us that the plane was there but the crew was sick. Several people started yelling one man pushed the Lion Air guy into me as I was trying to pass. I got out of there as quickly as I could and told Scott and Emily it was time to leave. As we worked our way back to the main part of the terminal a passenger had grabbed the mic and was beginning to incite riot. People were yelling. It was chaos. Check please!

Downstairs the news crews were already set up. At this point we had been at the airport for 12 hours. We were hungry, tired, and just wanted to go home. So we headed back to check-in to get our bags but were told that they were no longer behind the desk and we had to go to baggage lost and found. We went there only to find our bags had been loaded onto a plane and the plane had been moved to terminal 2 and we had to wait. In the meantime other passengers from our flight came looking for bags. They said there was a full on riot, the overthrowing of chairs and police and security upstairs. We were glad we left when we did. So we headed back to the check-in to wait for the baggage. Upon our return, the check-in clerks were all gone and passengers were crawling into the back to look for and retrieve their luggage. Anyone scheduled later than us still had their luggage behind check-in. Security seemed to be monitoring the situation but not stopping it. Emily went in the back to make sure our luggage was not there. Then she came running out as well as another lady that I knew from our flight. “They are boarding our flight now!” The baggage guy was calling me. He had our tickets and our flight was boarding. He met us at the bottom of the escalator and we ran, having to talk our way past the police. Finally!!!! We took a bus and high-fived people around us. But they were calling our flight and the 3:00 flight together. They told us it was free seating. Scott found a seat but Emily and I did not. They told us there was a second flight leaving from terminal 3. I threw a fit. They should send the people from the later flight to that plane, not us. No amount of words was going to convince them. Scott got our carry-ons and we were taken to a second plane. When we arrived the flight attendant yelled down to the Lion Air rep that there was not enough room for all the passengers. Some people started yelling. He jumped on a bus and left before anyone could get to him. The pilot was yelling from his window at a guy smoking on the tarmac. We were lucky. We got on the plane and had seats. A guy that we had seen all day was one of the last to get on. He started yelling that he wanted his assigned seat and then stormed off. He had been a troublemaker and I was kind of glad he was not on the flight. So they did the whole preflight thing. Seatbelts, oxygen masks, exits to the front, back, wings etc. We were ready. The engines winding up to go and then….nothing. We heard the dinging that I recognize as the captain calling the crew. Soon the curtain in front was once more closed and the rest of the cabin crew went forward. Scott figured something was wrong with the plane. People were getting restless. And then the captain made an announcement. Unlike most, this was only in bahasa Indonesia, and had words I did not recognize. Scott asked the couple next to him and they conferred, looking for the English word. “We are hijacked.” was the answer. The passengers who did not make it on the plane were preventing the plane from leaving. Later this was called “besieged” in the newspapers. We waited, not sure of what was happening outside. An hour passed, Emily napped, passengers were calm. And then, they turned off the plane. The captain announced that now we had missed the window to leave because the Lombok airport closes at 2:00 am and we would not make it. It was after midnight. They said that everyone needed to deplane. Passengers started shouting in Indonesian for everyone to stay seated and not leave. We were not going to be the first ones up. Then a guy from the back came running up the aisle, yelling and pounding on the overhead compartments. Several others went with him. Lots of shouting. Later we heard that one of the passengers punched the male flight attendant. Now we could not leave until the pilot filled out an incident report for the assault. It was getting warm. They guaranteed hotel and food vouchers and a flight out in the morning. The little old people in the back were fed up and hot. They started to leave. No one stopped them so we followed. Out on the tarmac there was one bus with no driver. Some of the passengers that had blocked the plane were still laying on the ground. All we wanted was to go home. We didn’t need a hotel or food vouchers. We asked one security guard if we could walk back to the airport. He told me it was very far but I told him I didn’t care. He checked with the police who said okay. We started walking. I can’t imagine what the other passengers thought, but no one followed. We chatted with workers along the way. Just as we had reached the last plane and the terminal was not too far away a golf cart with police pulled up and said we had to go back to the plane. We told him we just wanted to go home but he said we couldn’t leave so we got in the cart and went back. There were lots of officials standing around but no one from the airlines. We were told to wait for them to sign a paper. I had the paper from when I tried to get our luggage earlier and it said cancel on the top. I started showing it to the security, asking if it was okay. I was taken to the guy in charge of the whole airport. I just kept telling everyone “mau pulang”. We want to go home. I showed him my paper and he got another guy to come over. I used every word I had in bahasa Indonesia telling them that we lived in Jakarta, we didn’t want to go to Lombok, we didn’t care about hotel or food vouchers, we would come back another day for our luggage, we just wanted to leave. Several people looked at my paper and finally one man said he would take us back. So back in the golf cart we went and they took us to the part of the terminal near where baggage is loaded. They asked us to come into a small office and started writing things from our paper. Two more employees came in, one with pretty good English. We once again explained that we had been here since 8:00 in the morning, we were tired, and just wanted to go home. He told us to come back tomorrow for a full refund or a free ticket. Then he and another man escorted us through the airport to the front. Scott used an app on his phone to book a taxi that was waiting for us outside. We finally arrived back home at 3:00 am. I don’t think I have ever been so happy to see my apartment!

There is an afterwards to all of this. Friday morning news showed even more crowds of angry people at the airport with the shops shuttered and security everywhere. We chose not to return. Saturday morning was much better. We headed to the airport and only had to wait in a line of 5 people to start the refund process. Another passenger explained that we needed to request compensation as well (about $30 US per person). Emily filled out those forms while I waited. They were happy to issue a refund for our return flight but said that we had “used” our tickets for the flight to Lombok. Somedays it is a good thing that I don’t know a lot of words in Indonesian because I would have gone off on him. The word I did remember was the one for “hijacked”. I told him we were on the plane that was hijacked and we couldn’t go. It took 10 minutes for them to get confirmation but then our full refund was forthcoming. Surely someone had remembered the 3 bules walking the tarmac at 2:00 am! We attempted to get our luggage but it was still on vacation in Lombok. They told us it would come at 4:00 pm so we waited….and it didn’t. They promised to deliver them on Sunday in the afternoon. Skeptical, we left and to our surprise and relief they were delivered, as promised, at 3:00 pm on Sunday. The hotel with the no refund policy on prepaid rooms was kind enough to refund our money considering the circumstances. They were more concerned for our safety and will be a place we return to on our next trip there.

Oh, and the plane we had to get off of because of no seats? It was diverted to Bali because the Lombok airport closed. The passengers on that flight refused to let the crew leave until they had assurances of a flight in the morning. My friend that was on that one got to a crappy hotel at 5:00 am and was back at the airport at 8:00. They did eventually get to Lombok.

And the guy that was causing all kinds of trouble on Thursday and probably was the ringleader of the “hijack”? We saw him on the news Friday morning, still causing trouble. I think he just liked the idea of anarchy.

And that is the story of our non-trip for Chinese New Year.