Port and Airport Island

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    • Day 2

      Kosrae to Pohnpei

      July 19, 2003 in Micronesia ⋅ 🌧 27 °C

      Continental Micronesia CS957 | KSA/PNI
      Economy Class
      N14250 | Boeing 737-800
      ATD/1315 | ATA/1417

      Transit passengers were allowed to disembark at the airport. There were no other aircraft on the tarmac.

      In the check-in hall, there were several vendors. Most of them sold tangerines (I later found out that they were widely regarded as the best around), chili lime sauce, and various trinkets. One also had a mangrove crab on sale for $8, and another sold jars of local shellfish preserved in a lime juice-based brine. Even the Captain and First Officer disembarked to buy tangerines. I took the chance to chat with them, and they said that they flew all six sectors through to Guam. The Captain said that this wasn’t too tiring because the skies and airports were uncongested and there weren’t too many hassles to deal with. As with Majuro, the hall was filled with people. Over the PA system, a CO staff was asking for volunteers to offload themselves because the flight was oversold.

      I made my way back to the departure hall (which had only two check-in counters), past security and back onto the aircraft where I lined up to use the lavatory. Inside the galley, Evelyn was cutting slices off a quarter of a watermelon, and she offered me some, which I gratefully accepted. As soon as I got back to my seats, I warned the large guy at the window that the plane was likely to be full. To my surprise, no one claimed the seat between us, and I could count about ten empty seats when the door was closed. I wondered why they were making announcements in the terminal asking people to volunteer to fly another day, and I guessed it was because of weight restrictions. This was confirmed later – a day after my arrival in PNI I learned that quite a number of passengers were denied boarding at KSA, including one of my client’s staff who was boarding there.

      The aircraft taxied to the other end of the runway, turned around, and the pilots revved up the engines while the brakes were still on. This caused the aircraft to shake quite a bit. They then disengaged the brakes, and the engines roared as we began the takeoff roll. Takeoff was very powerful and we were up in no time. I later found out that because the runway at KSA is short, even the smallest amount of rain would cause some CO pilots to overfly KSA. There was a slight drizzle that day, and the pilots must have been concerned. This probably also explains the denied boarding at KSA. I also learned from someone at PNI that CO recently told KSA that they must improve the runway, otherwise they may consider withdrawing service. Apparently, Chuuk was given this same ultimatum a few years ago and they now have a much better runway.

      Flying time to PNI was about 56 minutes. The flight attendants came round with snacks. Ron distributed the mini pretzels and he gave a chuckle about my “slumming it” comment when he handed me my pack. Evelyn took my drink order, and she laughed heartily when I asked for watermelon juice. In the end I settled for yet another diet coke, and I didn’t get the whole can this time.

      We descended through significant cloud cover, and it was a little bumpy. Like KSA, Pohnpei was very mountainous and lush. It was beautiful. We made a hard-ish landing, and when Ron made his welcome announcement he admonished us to be careful when opening the overhead compartments because our hand carry bags “would definitely have shifted after that landing”.

      I disembarked from the aircraft onto a wet tarmac and walked to the terminal. There were several dozen people on the roof of the terminal looking at us. Because a large number disembarked here, immigration was slow to process all of us. The immigration officer was very polite and he took the time to ask me how to pronounce my name. He even asked for my permission to stamp my passport (erm… of course you can, after all how many people have FSM immigration stamps in their passports?) I don’t think he had encountered a Singapore passport before, so he took a bit longer with mine. Despite the short delay in getting past immigration, this was a refreshing change from the usual surly and sometimes downright rude immigration officers one often meets in the US. After that, I went into the baggage claim area. As with the other airports, the baggage claim consisted of a metal counter about six feet long. Only a limited number of bags could be loaded on, and many people crowded round it. I learned later that some bags were not delivered, but the owners of those bags were not able to report it before the aircraft took off again. They did get their bags the next day, though. As I did not check-in any bags, I went through customs and into the arrival hall. There was a cheery chaos there because so many were arriving for the conference. There were people greeting the delegates, and instead of leis (as is the practice in Hawaii) they presented them with a headband of flowers. Even though I wasn’t a delegate, I still got one. I waited for my client’s staff to come out into the arrival hall, and once we were all accounted for, we packed into a van to get to our hotel.

      While in PNI, I found out that one of my client’s staff used to be a GUM-based flight attendant some time ago. She told me stories about her time with CO when they flew 727s on the island hopper, including how Micronesian passengers sometimes chewed betelnut on board and spat them out into the airsick bags, hairy landings in heavy rain, and pilots having to abort landings because of wild pigs on the runway.
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