24 Hours at Incheon International Airport in Seoul, South Korea

10:42:00 AM Jerik De Guzman 0 Comments


My trip to Seoul was quick. I thought a couple of days to get my mind off some things would be great. Alas! My experience there didn't. Apart from the fact that i had to layer a lot of clothing, and i forgot a couple of stuff (my mind was somewhere else) so i had to ride trains and make special trips to buy them even though i already have them, it's simply a precursor of things to come. 

Fast forward to the day of my departure, and i was thinking ahead. The last time i was in Seoul which was a couple of months ago, the unexpected happened. I missed my flight. Yes, i did. And lost a couple of hundreds of dollars because my ticket was non-refundable. There were still protests happening in the city center. I saw one near Dongdaemun, and another near Seoul Station. The unthinkable happened, and lost a lot of time because of the heavy traffic and number of people during the rally. 


I arrived at Incheon Airport, practically 5 minutes late. And the ladies at the check in counter wouldn't let me in. So. There. I basically had about an hour to sit and take it all in. I always do that. Whenever i'm about to make a decision or a choice, or if there's something i need to do, i sit and stare and do absolutely nothing. Sometimes, i look for a sign. Thankfully, the universe usually helps me. He knows me more than anybody else. So i know i am well taken cared of. 

Last week, i arrived at Incheon Airport about 4 hours ahead of departure time. I had all the time to relax, and maybe even shop some more souvenirs for the people back home.  But the problem is the counter check in wouldn't open until 11PM, and my flight is at 2:30AM. The problem with this airport is that it's rockin during daytime and dead as fuck at night time. Fell in line for almost an hour in the wrong counter. Apparently, there are two flights from the same airline, leaving at the same time. The only difference is that the other flight is an A320 and is 5J1878, and my flight was supposed to be 5J187. 


When i went to the right counter, the line was long already. Because i wanted to check in quick, get pass the immigration right away so i can roam around the pre-departure area, i fell in line instantly. The flight was late of course. 2:30AM was supposed to be the departure time, now it was the boarding time. Got to the pre-departure area which at that time was around 12MN, with no shop open except for one or two shops selling American food. It was definitely a very sad pre-departure area. But it's also friggin' 12MN.

2:30AM departure time didn't happen of course. At around 6AM, many are already asking for a formal announcement from the ground staff re the real departure time. They told us that there was a problem with the aircraft, and that additional maintenance was needed to make sure we have a good working aircraft flying us back to Manila.


An hour or two later, the sun was up high, and the patience of the passengers were already out of hand. I don't have a total headcount of the number of passengers, but given the capacity of an A330, we're probably around 300 in total. It was supposed to be a full flight. By 9:30AM which meant i was already waiting for 7 hours. This means, it's already past 6 hours, and this airline needs to find accommodation for us. The ground staff decided that because fixing the aircraft is taking a longer time than expected, we need to be booked to a hotel and wait for further announcement. Problem with this is that we need to get our baggage, and that means we need to pass through immigration again to get our luggage at the carousel. We cannot pass through immigration again because technically, we haven't left the airport yet. We didn't fly. So how can we arrive at Incheon Airport when we haven't departed yet. 

What the ground staff did was all the passengers of this flight were directed to the a separate counter named Failure for Departure. We got a lot of questions from immigration officers, of course. But we were able to pass through. 

It feels weird having to exit the arrival area again after getting our luggage and transferring them all one by one to our designated bus. By this time around, i was hungry and sleepless. This has made me slightly nauseous. I was just trying to stay calm because complaining about it, and making a scene wouldn't do me good in a foreign land. Worse, it wouldn't help me fly back home faster. 

Rode the bus, and was dozing off even before the bus left. After about three quick naps, i woke up to find out we're right at the departure area of this blessed airport. WTF??? I gave it to them, thinking the hotel that will billet us would probably be the airport hotel, only to find out we were directed to the check in counter. Apparently, our flight was now scheduled to depart at 2:3OPM because the aircraft by this around was already fixed. 

It was redundant actually to do this thing all over again - fall in line at the check in counter, pass by immigration and roam around the pre-departure area until boarding. The only difference is that the place is now lit up, all the shops are now open and there are already so many people roaming around the airport. All in all, it's a totally different scenario from before. 


I didn't tell you that to be fair, i got a lot of meal vouchers, at about 8,000 KRW per meal to about 16,000 KRW which was a pretty good deal, and that helped me lessen my stress. There were more restaurants open which means i have more food choices. Because i have 16,000 KRW, i have more money to spend on food. I went to the best restaurant in the airport at the Chinese restaurant at the Food Empire. I ordered Crab Fried Rice and Wanton Noodles. I even ordered fruit ginger ale to feel good. The food was amazing, and everything was tasty. I paid my lunch for about 22,000 KRW which means i needed to add some more thousands for this lovely meal. 


It's now almost an hour before departure at 2:30PM and no sign of the crew. What happened after? Of course, our flight was delayed again. There were a lot of options handed to passengers. They could cancel this flight, and rebook their own. But who will rebook the flight? Who will shoulder the expenses? That is the mighty question. Up until now, i still don't know who.


Little by little the 300 passengers grew smaller and smaller. There was significant reduction in the people waiting at the gate. The aircraft is parked right where it was hours before, meaning it was just there. 

At around 7:30PM, the flight was delayed again for five hours, which means from the original departure time of 2:30AM, the flight was delayed for a total of 17 hours. 


There were a lot of commotion already at the boarding gate. With airport police on standby just in case somebody breaks down and fights with any of the ground staff. There was one Korean man who was seemingly quiet the whole, eventually breaking down, and decided to cancel the flight and the trip to Manila. 


As many as hundreds already cancelled their trip altogether. With some who have plans of a four-day vacation, minus the flight delays would mean they will only spend overnight in the Philippines. Worse, there were others who would later arrive in Manila and leave the same night.


I talked to a Korean couple who got married recently, and decided spend their honeymoon in Davao. With no direct flight, this means they need to stop over in Manila and onwards to their destination. Given the flight delays, that wouldn't give them enough time. So, sadly they decided to cancel the flight and the whole trip altogether. They love the Philippines, but they wouldn't visit anytime soon. I cannot blame them at all.


We're now about less than a hundred in the boarding gate. And because the real and supposedly final boarding time is back at 2:30AM, i now have a couple more hours to kill. I went upstairs to the lounge and took a shower. It was so refreshing. Afterwards, i discovered an area where i could lay down properly and managed to doze off for a couple of minutes. I woke up hungry. I used my voucher at Taco Bell and ordered all the stuff i wouldn't eat in Manila given my semi-strict diet. 

There was a family, with senior citizen parents and their two daughters. I cannot imagine if my parents were in the same position - experiencing a delay for 24 hours and sleeping in the airport. That's too much for them to handle. Add to the fact that i have nephews who're kids. Earlier, there were a lot of children sleeping on the floor. Later on, they were able to board the Philippine Airlines flight. 

There was also a teacher who just finished her term in Seoul. She's very calm and collected. She knows a lot about Korea, and our conversations were even more enriching because of her stories.

There was mother with her child. She's Filipina and her husband is Korean. The little boy same age as my nephew only speaks Korean. Amidst the long waiting time, he was actually pretty behaved. Good job! 

Then there was a Turkish man who lives in Seoul but whose wife is back in Manila. Apparently, he only has about three days to visit Manila to be with his wife before he returns to Seoul to work. Given the flight delays he will arrive in the same day as his flight. 

Then there was a couple with a strong fierced woman who carries a huge Louis Vuitton paper bag. She communicates well, and her strong demeanor helped us actually convince the ground staff to have it our way. Her boyfriend, i assume, was also equally eloquent who was very calm yet strong with his request. 

There were even more characters, like the American guy who swear never to ride Cebu Pacific again. But would probably ride again because of it's low fare. There was a Filipino who had to take an emergency leave again because she was stranded. As soon as she arrives back in Manila, she will have to go straight to the office. 


And as for me, i dozed off right at the moment we boarded the plane after having spent a whopping 24 hours at the Incheon International Airport. And it was only more fitting to know that during the red eye flight, it was blue moon which made the whole flight scary and interesting at the same time. And yes, we're about 20 people on this A330 flight. 

I still believe things happen for a reason. Call me now the eternal positive. That's what i learned from this experience.

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