“Ending my 2017 with a Christmas trip to the Philippines, the unthinkable happened.”
Finishing my last day at work before Christmas on the 22nd (3 days before the holidays), I decided to make a quick 2 week trip to the Philippines, to spend Christmas and New year with the rest of the family. I booked myself a standby ticket (airline staff), knowing very well it was going to be very busy. The flight I took would be a London Heathrow to Hong Kong and a Hong Kong to Manila journey. Keeping in mind standby tickets are basically chance passengers I would have to check my luck in each sector. Heathrow was fine, I checked in as normal and a ticket was given to me. However upon arriving in Hong Kong (now 23rd, 2 days till Christmas) the unthinkable was a reality. There was about 7 flights to Manila (from Hong Kong) in total spread across a single day, so I thought my chances of getting a flight in a day would be easy, but I was very wrong. Due to the festivities, all airlines weren’t only fully booked but overbooked (a usual for all airline companies at busy times), meaning even full paying passengers would get bumped off. To add to the problems, I weren’t the only chance (staff) passenger, which put me way down the pecking order to get a seat. We were all given a ticket number, and hearing this from the announcement, would be like winning a lottery.
Hours passed and flights went by, with only a few ticket numbers being announced for lucky standby passengers, but still a waiting game for me. One final flight before its game over for the day and would need to try my luck in the next morning, but still hopeful. Thinking of a plan B should the last flight be full, I went over to the nearest hotel (airport hotel) to enquire for their availability and price. Nothing was going my way and the hotel was fully booked and only had an Executive suite costing £300 which i would only need for approximately 5 hours should i miss the last flight of the day.
Walking back to the terminal, accepting that there was no plan B should the last flight of the day be full. Seeing the number of people still waiting in front of the check-in desk my head was telling me there’d be no seats left whilst my heart was still hopeful. After about another 1hour of waiting and wondering the airport, it was time for the final call-up for hopeful standby passengers. There was still a huge crowd of people waiting for the same flight. One by one numbers were called up (far from mine) about 3 or 4 numbers were called up until the sentence everyone hated to hear “sorry the flight to manila is full, please try again in the morning” was announced. My head just turned and with no more flights and the nearest hotel fully booked, I realised that I’d be sleeping rough at the airport.
Being my first time to sleep at the airport, I looked for a good spot to take a little rest, I found myself a little bench where I just put my luggage as a foot rest and my jacket as a blanket. I got a little to eat and drink then managed to get a rough 2-3 hours of sleep.
24th December Christmas Eve, hours before Christmas. After waking up from a restless sleep, more bad luck came and a new wave full of (Manila bound) passengers came, and I was contemplating on returning back to London. However after a few hours and a couple more full flights, at around 2pm luck turned my way and from what I believe was a small gesture of the airline changing a smaller capacity aircraft into a large one, a huge amount of standby passengers going to Manila were called up and hearing my number felt like hearing a winning lottery ticket.
As a staff standby passenger I would probably never travel at super peak holiday seasons again such as Christmas, Easter and children’s school holidays where airlines are expected to be overbooked.
The flight got me to Manila safely and in time for Christmas eve dinner. At the time I was very stressed (although I had no right to be as a standby chance passenger), however thinking about it I’m glad Ive experienced it. Missing a total of 9 flights and 2 days (as a staff standby) is not normal but given the festivities the amount of people were plenty and as any airline staff know travelling standby you always come last which is understandable.