A bleak afternoon, thunderstorms and driving winds. I arrived at Kota Kinabalu International Airport 4 hours early for my flight back to Sandakan. Very early I know, but being the conservative person I am and the water rising in the street, persuaded me to err on the side of caution.
This airport is only 6 years old and I must say usually a pleasure to arrive or depart from compared with most. It’s medium sized as airports go, the third biggest in Malaysia after KL, catering for about 12 million passengers a year who visit Sabah. It’s modern, metallic and has 12 air bridges, never feels busy and you can easily find a place to sit away from others.
After disembarking from the taxi drenched, I sloshed towards the check-in counter and waddled through the x-ray past immigration that appeared to make only a cursory glance at the screen whilst continuing their more important discussion on the day’s current gossip. Maybe I don’t look like a terrorist.
I arrived before my wife and her conference colleagues, waited in a state of misery, some what exacerbated by the building’s cold air-conditioning.
Being a creature of habit I had immediately gone straight to my flight’s departure gate, indicated by the electronic board as A8.
My wife and her friends duly arrived and as per usual discussed work, ignoring me. Feeling neglected, I got up and wandered around the terminal which is mostly empty of things to do.
The major shortcoming in the departure hall is that most of the allocated shop spaces are empty. There are dozens and dozens of empty ‘shop fronts, in a myriad of short passages coming off the main thoroughfare. It’s possible to go into the bowels of the retail area and be completely alone.
Interestingly there are two terminals at this airport which are diagonal across the runway from each other. The low cost terminal which is smaller is always very busy. It seems odd to me that they don’t incorporate both under the same roof; more efficient way of using space and I suspect a way to enliven the retail areas. Anyway, the authorities must have their reasons, I suppose.
I happened to glance up at the departure board to discover, to my surprise, that the gate had changed to A6. I duly informed the others, so we gathered our belongings and moved to the new allocated gate.
Upon arrival, only a small group of tourists were milling around, we sat ourselves close to the front counter. The electronic board flashed up Sandakan and the flight number. A man sat there doing his paper shuffling and all seemed well. Except…
The gate next to us was experiencing some sort of commotion with a group of about 10 passengers milling around an official all looking very animated. I had no idea what it was about, but can only assume it was something to do with a communication breakdown. ( maybe the infamous departure board) I couldn’t hear anything from where we were, but it was highly entertaining and helped while away the remaining 45 minutes.
Being the observant creature I am , I noticed as the departure time approached, a distinct lack of passengers and no aircraft in the bay. Besides that, the little man at the front counter had suddenly disappeared and the electronic sign board had stopped flashing Sandakan. I walked to the departure board and as I am sure you have already guessed, discovered we were now back at A8. !!!
A mad dash to the new gate ensured where we joined the throngs who were about to board the aircraft. ( How did they know and not us?) Throughout all of this there were no announcements on the intercom that things had changed.
Lesson to be learned. Mistake on my part – If I hadn’t constantly been checking the departure board we would have been blissfully ignorant of the transitory change. Don’t assume officialdom will tell you everything you need to know in this part of the world. Most information seems to be gained by the mysterious process of mental osmosis, you are just expected to know. For some reason, the authorities don’t like giving out info unless it’s deemed unequivocally necessary (to them). Who decides this is anyone’s guess, so be prepared to expect the unexpected.
One little side issue to finish, Just before take off, after the safety video, a short prayer was offered for the safe passage of the flight.
Now that really does instil confidence!