Thursday, July 19, 2018

Airport Review: Soekarno Hatti International Airport

That would be in Jakarta, Indonesia. Not to be confused with the other international airport on the other side of Jakarta. I never found out the name of that one. You must be very careful never to ask simply to be taken to “the airport,” or “the international airport.” The taxi drivers in Jakarta can be less than completely honest, I'm sorry to report.

The signage at Soekarno is next to useless. There are four terminals, and they are about a mile apart. As you enter the airport, there are signs directing you to “Terminal 1,” etc., but there is no information about what you may find at those terminals beyond the single words, “international,” or “domestic.” Our driver went to the first international terminal that he saw. It had a conventional curb-side drop-off area, with signs bearing the names of airlines, similar to what you find in most airports. None of these signs bore the name of our airline.

Travel tip for Indonesia: never unpack the car and pay the driver until you are absolutely sure that you are at the correct terminal or hotel. “Oh, you just have to go inside. This is the right terminal,” said our driver, who had seemed like a straight-shooter right up to that moment.

This was only my second taxi ride in Jakarta, but I had learned from the first one that shenanigans are always on the menu. I looked around, and it took a couple of minutes to find an airport security guy in whom the spark of intelligence had actually ignited a fire. “Oh, that's Terminal 3,” he said with enough certainty to convince me. I told our driver, who was still hovering around the trunk anxious to unload the bags, and we got back in the car. I saved myself an hour right there.

We got to Terminal 3 within about ten minutes, and then spent another five minutes getting to the drop-off point. The set up might be unique among all of the world's airports. Approaching Terminal 3, you go through something that looks like a toll gate and the driver is issued a parking ticket. The sign says, “Terminal 3 Parking and Lobby.” There was no mention of dropping anyone off or picking them up. You then enter the parking structure and slowly work your way up several levels behind people who are stopping to park and other people looking for the “lobby.”

The lobby was a simple entryway with some baggage carts outside. There was one “departures” board, but my flight wasn't on it, nor were any other flights of my airline. The list was static, and it ended about twenty minutes before my departure time. An unreliable looking young man wearing a shirt that said, “Airport Helper” told me that my airline did, indeed, depart from this terminal, and, being now about 80% convinced that I was in the right place, I unloaded the bags and paid the taxi guy. The inside of the terminal presented its own challenges, also mostly signage related.

None of the signs mentioned check-in counters. Following signs that said only, “International Departures” took us to the entrance to the security area, which we only discovered when two young people were very surprised that we had no boarding passes. They were NOT surprised in a good way. I told them the name of my airline and the young woman of the pair said, “go to Island C.” I noticed the A and the B over in another direction and set off, discovering upon arrival that my airline was actually part of Island B. None of this was marked in one of the usual ways.

Check in was unremarkable until the nice young woman tried to say, “Gate 6.” What she actually said sounded for all the world like, “get sick.” Somewhat puzzled, I asked her if there was a health check, like for bird flu or something. She looked at me as though she were suddenly afraid that I might be contagious. She said it a few more times and I looked at my boarding pass and realized that she was saying the number of the gate.

Security in Indonesia is separate for men and women. There were no other signs about how to proceed. I dropped my water bottle on the handiest flat surface, purely based on speculation that it would be forbidden beyond this point. As I was putting my stuff into trays, a fellow said, “watches and belts.” I put mine in the tray, and left my notebook computer in the carry on, which turned out to be fine.*

I went through the metal detector and it went off. I was sternly directed into the body scanner, the only one there to be so treated. A guard pointed to the image of my wallet and my passport, still resting comfortably in my pockets. I took them out and displayed them, and he waved me on. No one had mentioned anything about clearing your pockets of everything, as opposed to just the metal objects. It's been years since I went through one of those in America, and they've never had them in Thailand or Taiwan, my three most common sites for airport security.

The rest of the trip was just as we have come to expect, generating only the usual ambient stress of flying eight miles above the earth surrounded by fellow travelers who vary only from mildly annoying to actively disturbing. I haven't mentioned the name of my airline. Their service was only okay. For anyone traveling to Asia from America my recommendation remains EVA Air. They're a Taiwan outfit, and everything is really outstanding, every time. I've made ten round trips with them so far. They're in the low middle of the price range, and please believe me when I tell you, air travel that requires almost thirty hours door-to-door is not a good opportunity to save a couple of hundred bucks. Fly EVA, or one of the other very good Asian carriers. You'll be glad you did. Or you can fly one of the American carriers, if you miss those happy days at home with your mom sternly scolding you. The stewardesses will remind you of your mom on a bad day.

I have omitted any mention of my previous arrival at Soekarno Hatti, because I am doing my level best to try to forget all about it.  

*Soekarno Hatti had the lap-top thing backwards. Most airports now prefer that you put your lap-top in your checked baggage. This airport forbids lap-tops in checked baggage. Go figure.

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