- How do you get off the airplane? Do you use a jet bridge or portable stairs? Chicago, Singapore and Hong Kong all provided our planes with jet bridges but Pekanbaru, Indonesia used portable stairs. Pakistan was also portable stairs. Costa Rica I do not remember for sure, but I think it was portable stairs as well. Dubai, UAE was a jet bridge as well I believe. In other words, jet bridges are a luxury item, portable stairs are cheap. It is a simple one or the other option that gives you an idea of the economics of the entire country.
- Who do you see first? In Hong Kong, Singapore and Chicago there were a handful of airline personnel at the end of the jet bridge waiting to give directions if we asked. In Pekanbaru, Indonesia there was a collection of airline personnel, and there were also some security personnel directing us onto the bus to the terminal, customs, and immigration (all essentially the same place). This brings up a follow up question, how well are the security people armed? In Indonesia simple badges, blue uniforms, and a security look or stance signified the security officers, much like in the United States. In Pakistan however, machine guns are the standard. I am not talking little Uzis either, more like M16 or AK47 kind of automatic weapons. The visible presence of machine guns signifies that shooting machine guns happens. I did not go running in public in Pakistan. In Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai I was honestly hard pressed to identify the security presence. In the case of those three countries that signifies to me a safe place. In Costa Rica and Singapore I ran so far that I had some trouble navigating back to my hotel. I only do that in safe places.
- How are the signs or documentation? In Pakistan, Indonesia and Chicago it was follow the crowd. Not terribly friendly to out of town people. Also, there were relatively few advertisements. Singapore signage was good throughout the airport. The directions to immigration, baggage, and customs (all essentially the same place) were quite good. The directions to ground transportation were good as well. Moline, Illinois, USA is one of my preferred airports, as well as Detroit both are simple to navigate. Detroit is in fact great for such a large airport. Hong Kong was a mess. There were billboard advertisements for Samsung and HSBC on the walls, but we had an awful time figuring out where to go. We ended up going to one counter to get our tickets stamped with some sort of exception to Hong Kong security or something. It was a mess. It was like we were the first people with a stop over from one international flight to another international flight. Also, keep in mind that English is not the official language throughout the world. Signs may be in a different language or use pictures. Stay cool. As with most travel, you will get to the next destination eventually.
There you have it. Three and a half things to look for in the first minute in a foreign country you are visiting. The Isaiah Janzen Complete FREE Guide to the First Minute in a Foreign Country. Print it. Email it. Copy, edit and add to it. Take it and call it your own by correcting one grammar error. Hopefully this helps your foreign travel go a little more smoothly.