Shared Misery: A Step Towards Friendship

What’s the saying: “Misery Loves Company?”

Maybe this is a better saying: “Misery Builds Friendship.

My excruciatingly long flight back to Malaysia had an unexpected turn last evening. As the massive A380 aircraft landed in Kuala Lumpur, it stopped on the tarmac for quite a long time. Then the captain came on to say we are waiting for another aircraft to leave the bay before we can pull up. Another ten minutes or so.

That’s fine.

About fifteen minutes later, the captain announces that the Malaysian officials told them it will be another thirty minutes. There’s a collective groan on the plane, but we bear it, hunker down and wait it out.

Thirty minutes later, a clearly perturbed captain apologized to us saying that the Malaysian officials have been “lying to us,” and that he has been in contact with Emirates headquarters in Dubai and is trying everything to get us unloaded. It would be another 35 minutes.

Well, that was it. I was going to miss my flight to Penang. After the hour and a half wait on the aircraft, we debarked, and the ten of us who were flying to Penang, were called aside from the ground staff and told to wait until an Emirates representative would deal with out situation.

Well, here’s what dealing meant. They informed us that the first flight to Penang they could book us on would be the same flight the next day. That is, 24 hours! All other Malaysian Airlines flights to Penang were overbooked all day. That was the first one we were guaranteed on.

So they said they would provide us with hotel vouchers and meals, and we would need to go to baggage claim to pick up our luggage.

Ok, fine. Just give me a bed! Well, little did I know!

We were escorted through immigration by a Malaysian Airline official and we waited for the bags to come. All bags for the Dubai-KL flight came, except for the bags going to Penang. I asked the staff, Don’t you think they put our bags aside? Only Penang bags are missing. He said, No, we told them to send them through.

Forty-five minutes later, we are confirmed with this announcement: all Penang bags have been brought to storage. It will take two hours to get them for you.


At this point, I got talking to the several people who were stuck in the same situation. We conjectured how long everything was going to take. We commiserated with our circumstances. We all agreed on the incompetence on display.

A German girl from Frankfurt, who was trying to get to her boyfriend in Bayan Lepas, Penang, was in need of some guidance. I was able to help her know which bus station to go to if she didn’t want to wait for the flight. A student, who hadn’t returned to Penang for two years because she was studying in London, needed some help and guidance to get to the hotel. I chatted with another. I chatted with another young man and a person coming in on a diplomatic passport.

What struck me was how easy it was to talk to these people. We quickly had things in common, and when we started talking, it was obvious we had more things in common as well. We, or perhaps I should say “I”, tend to treat strangers with distance and indifference. Not that I don’t care about them, it’s just that I’m an introvert and I don’t care to talk to people I don’t know. I barely care to talk to people I do know, so you see my dilemma.

But this little travel mishap has reminded me that there isn’t much difference between me and a complete stranger. Including the Saudi Arabian man who I sat beside on the plane from Dubai. He was a big guy, like me, and we were jockeying for position the whole plane ride, but he was very friendly, constantly asking me what the announcement meant. I found out that he was on his honeymoon, and the two lovebirds sat beside each other with much tenderness during the flight.

I could see how I could become friends with any one of those people if our paths continued to intersect. It was a good reminder to continue to build bridges and get to know the people around you. You might be sitting next to a friend, and friends love to be in agony together.

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