“NO PHOTOS! NO PHOTOS!”, shouted a Vietnamese security in green communist uniform as I was pointing my mobile phone to take some pictures of a JetStar plane flight 3K 395, which was surrounded by fire engines in red flashing lights. The fire crew were inspecting the engine for potential fire. “OK”, I thought, “I’d better not take any otherwise I might end up getting interrogated in a dark room inside some kind of detention centre”.
In case you don’t know, we just got out that plane whose pilot performed an emergency landing in Ho Chi Minh City due to an engine problem of the plane.The situation was tense, but at least we made it in one piece and we boarded a bus that took us to the airport terminal.
Long Night At the Terminal
As we entered the building, we were each given a special sticker by the airport ground staff. We were held in a segregated area of the airport under the watchful eyes of the Vietnamese security, all of them have at least 3 to 4 stars on their shoulder tabs. We weren’t sure if they were relatively high ranking officials, but all we knew was that they were very grumpy and were not keen of us taking pictures. They probably didn’t want people to post things on Twitter or Facebook.
Relief slowly become boredom, and people slowly realised that it may not be possible to travel to Hong Kong on the same evening. There was no communication or information from the ground staff or from the JetStar staff. All we got from them was either ‘we are working something out’ or ‘there should be news in 30 minutes’. Of course there was nothing after 30 minutes, again and again. People slowly become impatient, especially those ‘Big Bosses’ who had important business meetings in the following morning; they were shouting at the ground staff… Of course nothing was achieved.
A few hour went by and rumour began to fly around amongst the passengers that the airline were going to arrange an emergency visas with the immigration and a night stay of the hotel. Well we were thinking, “Score! We can explore the town a bit and can have a bowl of pho in town.” (Vietnamese noodles soup). It turned out we didn’t do any of those 😦
Stranded and Passports Confiscated
Time slowly passed and there was no actual confirmation from the staff as to what was going on officially. A bus turned up and everyone got on like a herd of sheep. I guess everyone were fed up sitting around. We later herded off to the arrival hall and directed to the immigration desks, which were specially opened for us.
Still confused, we didn’t know what was going on. So an English speaking immigration officer came along and confirmed the rumour was true. He was shocked that we weren’t told anything. At least we had a night stay in a hotel.
When it was my turn, I handed my passport over to the officer for passport check. He scanned my passport then he said, ‘ok, you can go’. I asked for my passport back, but he held up a stack of passports on his desk and said in the matter-of-fact tone, “come back and pick it up tomorrow”, as if we would run away and work there illegally.
So a plane-load of people were stranded in a random country with our passports all confiscated! It felt weird and certainly uncomfortable to say the least. How would we even get our passports back? Well at least, we can get emergency passports from the nearest British embassy if we ever need them, right?
After more confusions, we picked up our bags and got a bus ride to the hotel. Still we didn’t have any ideas on when the next flight out of Vietnam. We arrived at the hotel late at night and finally managed to check-in for a room. We were given some dinner vouchers for late night dinner buffet that they hotel prepared for us.
It was finally nice to sit down. We didn’t feel too hungry, but we gathered we should have something. We had a walk around the buffet counter and guess what we saw? Stir fried snails and veg in chili sauce (and yes they were still in shells), some deep fried fish bones and other unidentifiable meat. While Hayley and I are adventurous when it comes to food, we didn’t fancy anything overly exciting, so we just settle with a plate of beef noodles, boil veg and some fruit before turning in for a night.
Finally, Homeward Bound
On the following morning, we were woken up by a phone call 5am in the morning saying that our flight out of Hong Kong would be at 9am and we should get ready to be picked up outside the hotel around 7am. Yes, that was an early start, but at least we were on the way to the airport after having some quick breakfast.
Once we got dumped at the airport, no-one was there to tell us what to do. We didn’t know what to expect. So Hayley took the initiative and told the group to go to the check-in counter. So there were over 200 people walking through the terminal and surrounded the JetStar counter. The check-in staff didn’t expect us to be there and had no clue what to do.
After more than half an hour of waiting around, the staff carried out some paper boxes and went behind the counter. It turned out to be our passports. The staff got them out and shouted the names of their owners so that they can collect them. Attempts to separate various nationalities into different queues failed miserably since there were about 10-15 nationalities travelling on the same flight and there wasn’t enough space around the check-in counters. So it ended up as a free-for-all situation of grabbing your passport.
After more queues, we made our way to the plane and by the way, it was exactly the same plane that we took the night before. At least it was fixed!
I have to say, the Jetstar arrangement was reasonable, given that we were provided with a night of hotel stay and some food. However, they could have done much better in communicating to people. It felt like as if no-one wanted to take the responsibility to speak to everyone.
Did you get stranded in a random place? What was your experience? Comment below!