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Almost hassle-free travel.

At 3:45 a.m. last Dec. 23, all my bags were packed and I was ready to go to the airport.

My flight was still more than four hours away but as a frequent traveler, I have learned not to be late. During peak Christmas travel time, there is little chance of getting another flight. And if by some miracle you get a rebooking, it would be very expensive.

I took to heart a Cebu Pacific advisory posted on its Facebook: Leave early to allow ample time to travel and to be at the airport at least three hours (not the usual two hours) before flight as counters will close 45 minutes before the scheduled time of departure.

The closing of the counters is not something you can argue with since it is computer preprogrammed. I have seen a lot of passengers getting really madbut to no availbecause they could not check in as they arrived after the counters were closed. A supervisor needs to open the closed file. In the Manila busy counters I have not seen this ever done. (But a supervisor did it for me in the Laguindingan airport.)

Leaving early made sense as traffic had been terrible near the airport because of the ongoing construction of a skyway. I had been caught in the traffic jam near the airport during three previous trips last Novemberwhen I traveled to Iligan City for All Saints Day and for the death anniversary of my brother Madene; and to Bali, Indonesia. The delay was from 20 minutes to over an hour. I learned that to avoid the traffic, you have to pass through that stretch before 6 a.m.

Indeed, there was no traffic going to the Naia 3 airport. But I found myself caught in another kind of traffic jamof people trying to check in. When I got inside the terminal building, the hallway was a version of Edsa traffic, with every space filled with people, carts and bags.

During peak times, airlines would allow passengers to check in and go inside the checkin area only at specific times (usually two hours before departure time). Since I had checked in online, I could go inside the checkin area anytime and go to the Bag Drop counter. But I could not do this as the entrance was clogged with passengers waiting for their time to check in.

I think both Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific could help loosen the checkin bottleneck by having staff guide passengers starting at the terminal entrance gate. They could advise passengers coming early but could not check in yet, to wait farthest from the entrance to the checkin area.

I had to queue for almost an hour and a half to check in my bags. Why the long wait? Though all the counters were manned, I think there were less Cebu Pacific counters this year compared to last year. A Cebu Pacific security guard and employee had to tell us queuing passengers to sort of squeeze together so we would not encroach on the area reserved for passengers checking in for other airlines (there were no flights nor passengers for the other airlines).

I had bought a digital weighing scale to see to it that the total weight of my four bags would not exceed my prepaid weight allowance. But I could see a number of passengers learning of their excess baggage only upon checking in. They had to transfer contents from the bag to be checked in to the handcarried bag, further delaying the checkin process.

I got to my boarding gate, three hours after I left home. Traveling days before Christmas has never been hasslefree. But I survived another holiday long queue (the others include the long wait and line for a cab, the queue at the cashier's counter of a mall, etc.) with some time to relax. Since I was early, I had time to read a book, play Sodoku and Candy Crush, and take 40 winks before my flight.

Miner Generalao heads the Inquirer Research Department.
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Jan 20, 2015
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