In our bid to cut costs, we had booked ourselves by Tiger Airways from Singapore to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). We had been warned about the inconveniences that we would have to put up with in this sector. Right from having to report at a lousy terminal to limited baggage allowance to hefty penalty if the limit is exceeded to having to pay even for the water served on board.
We were, however, in for a very big surprise. The ‘Budget Terminal’ was better than most terminals in India. Tiger had certainly cut corners where possible (like the boarding passes which were on continuous stationery unlike the thick cards you get in the ‘full-service’ airlines, but it hardly mattered).
The seats were as comfortable as any Airbus 320 aircraft. In fact, compared to the cramped seats in the ‘full-service’ provided by Jet from Chennai to Singapore, these were really good.
We were surprised to see that all flight crew and the ground duty staff – barring a few doing low-end jobs and pilots – were women. They were smartly attired and went about their duties with clinical efficiency.
It was a different story in HCMC though the aircraft touched down a few minutes before schedule. We were to be given the visa on landing. On handing over the relevant documents, the cop on duty motioned us to a row of chairs.
As we waited, a woman of a different nationality who had obviously been waiting for long and had lost her patience, got up from her seat, walked up to the counter and enquired about the status of her visa. The cop spoke no word, gave her a dirty look and rudely gestured her back to her seat. As I did not want such ignominy to be heaped on me, I waited patiently. The formality, which, according to me, should not have taken more than five minutes, took a good one hour.
The next port of call was the immigration counter. When we reached the spot, there was a long queue because ‘the system was down’. What surprised me was not that nobody seemed to be doing anything about it (We are so used to that in India), but that people seemed to be resigned to the fact and waited … and waited. The personnel manning the counters just sat there doing nothing, waiting for the system to come alive. It took over an hour for the snag to be resolved.
HCMC to come alive to complete the immigration formalities,
There was no way we could pass on the message that we were held up to Hari and Radhika who were waiting for us in the terminal. (Later we realised that there was no need for that: such delays were usual.)
By the time we were cleared by the immigration, the registered baggage, after a few free rides on the carousel, had been removed by the security personnel and given to the ‘Lost and Found’ section. We collected it and joined Hari and Radhika who had been waiting for us for two hours.