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Commentary

Stranded in Langkawi - how effects of haze hit home

I was one of the nearly 3,000 people left stranded in Langkawi recently because of the haze.

What was supposed to be an 85-minute flight back to Singapore eventually turned into a 41-hour-long adventure involving two cancelled flights, a three-hour ferry ride and a 10-hour bus journey.

During the five-day vacation on the island of Langkawi, located off north-western Malaysia, the haze kept its nose out of our itinerary - which consisted mostly of swimming, diving and lazing by the beach.

That is, until last Tuesday, when my colleague and I were due to fly back to Singapore from the Langkawi International Airport.

We were given some idea of how bad the situation was on the way to the airport, when the taxi driver complained about how the jerebu - Bahasa for haze - had returned with a vengeance. And he warned that in the past, the haze had forced planes to be grounded.

This was exactly what happened when we reached the airport. First, we were informed that the 3.40pm Tigerair flight we were taking back home had been delayed.

Then, our worst fears were realised at about 5pm, when the sign came up to indicate that the flight had been cancelled. We were told that poor visibility meant aircraft could not land.

The next flight was at 11am the next day and the airline put us up at a nearby hotel.

But the next morning, that flight was first delayed for four hours, and then cancelled.

By this point, the small Langkawi International Airport was filled with stranded passengers huddling near charging points, or lounging in any available seat.

But people seemed mostly relaxed and we did not encounter anyone making a fuss.

The staff were also helpful and polite, patiently answering our many questions.

The next Tigerair flight for Singapore was scheduled to depart only on Friday, and even then there was no guarantee it would not be cancelled.

So, at about 3pm on Wednesday, my colleague and I decided to find another route back - a three-hour ferry ride to Penang, then a 10-hour bus ride to Singapore.

And we had to make these arrangements within an hour if we wanted to make the last ferry to Penang.

As we scrambled to call home, send e-mail to our bosses and change more money, Rachel and I met two other Singaporeans who helped us book bus tickets online.

We arrived in Singapore early on Thursday morning - tired, hungry and glad to be home.

As an environment reporter with The Straits Times, I have written much about how the haze has affected lives.

But it took an incident like this to drive home the long-reaching effects of the haze.

Imagine how much worse it is for those living at ground zero.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 25, 2015, with the headline 'Stranded in Langkawi - how effects of haze hit home'. Print Edition | Subscribe