Well, this continues from one of my other posts where in I wrote about ‘7 hacks to get the best deals on your flights’. That being done, this is a hilarious (in hindsight) story of my airport travails once upon a time (read, recently) and how a simple web check-in, saved my, for lack of a better word, behind.
The bride looked pretty. With a flowery headgear that adorned her hair, and almost, I thought what looked like a pair of headphones.
No. Don’t crack a joke like that now I supposed, it wouldn’t go well with the bride.
A minute later, I did. She laughed. Although, she followed it up with a sly remark.
“I heard you almost missed your flight.” I looked at Nikita*. She smiled. Obviously, she did tell her best friend.
“Ok.”, I said warily “Do you want the short story or the long story?”.
In this well-lit street of a city that once home to many lakes, time seemed to stand still at this hour. It was a cold windless morning. Not a leaf moved on the few trees that lined the roads on either side. The concrete jungle had not been kind to them. The roads were empty at this time, apart from a few dogs sleeping soundly on the pavement; their bodies snuggled up in a curl. Occasionally, a breeze drifted through, causing a slight shiver through their ranks. Other than a few unruly of their species, who howled at seemingly invisible enemies, it was as silent as a husband’s round in an argument. Not unusual for this hour.
A series of shrill beeps broke through the silence. It was three thirty in the morning, quite unusual for an alarm. A couple of dogs were roused from their slumber, watched interestingly for a moment as the sound was silences and a light was flicked on in a room. Shadows moved behind the curtains as if a puppet show was being conducted at that very moment. The dogs watched the backlit window for a while and as sudden as it came on, there was darkness once again. Not unsurprisingly, their eyes drooped low soon enough and they went back to revel in their dreams. It was not long after that a volley of footsteps passed by them in a blur. That was me.
I needed the adrenaline to start my day. Not much, just a bit. To get the day started. There was something extraordinarily exciting about starting your day on a high. And it had the added benefit of being good for your cardiovascular health, blah, blah… And importantly, I was barely going to get any exercise the next couple of days. It was Samiksha’s** wedding, finally. After a couple of misses, you always get it right, they said. She took and hundred and ninety five (hyperbole, obviously). But now she was happy. And I was happy for her too. A jumble of thoughts entered my mind - right from how much fitter I was since the last 6 months to a line in the book I was reading (Patterson) to the fact that I had a flight to catch in a couple of hours. I stopped abruptly. This was far enough. I retraced my steps back home at a rather quicker pace. I was panting as I found myself at the door, my dryfit T-Shirt drenched in sweat, ironically. That was unintendedly intense.
The clock showed 4:15. Wow, I had barely 45 minutes to leave. I jumped into the shower quickly. It is said that cold showers help recover and reduce muscle soreness. I didn't really care about that now. I liked warm showers. 5 minutes later I was done. Although I did switch off the geyser to end it with cold water. At least a few seconds. Wiping myself down, I reminded myself to call Nikita before I left. It would bode well to be early. As I dressed up to travel I prepared myself a breakfast of 2 omelettes and a couple of slices of toast.
It should keep me till the meal on the flight. I thought
It was already 4:50. Checking to see if I had gotten everything, I rummaged through my backpack one last time; the suitcase already checked and locked the previous night. The backpack felt heavy with the camera, the laptop, 2 books and a whole lot of other small essentials. I considered for a moment and then decided to leave the laptop behind anyway. A backpack was not meant to be heavy, especially when I already had everything I needed to carry in the suitcase.
I picked up my phone and fired up the Uber app.
App cabs have made life so simple. It registered in my mind.
Just a few touches and a company based on the other side of globe would co-ordinate with its drivers, nay partners, and a cab that was closest to you, based on your choice of economy or luxury would magically reach you.
Isn't this the closest thing to magic of Harry Potter? I laughed in my mind at the absurd comparison. Mr. Weasley would agree though.
The cab arrived soon enough and I got in, making myself comfortable as he started towards my destination, the airport. I reached for my phone and dialled her number.
“Hey Nikita. Good morning.”
“Are you awake yet?” I asked, knowing her late night sleeping habits.
She laughed slightly. “I am. Almost. Ready.” She replied staccatically.
“Oh, great. I should reach your place in around 10 minutes.”
“I don’t know exactly where you live. Can you share your location with me?”
“Oh, alright. WIll send it to you.”
“Cool. See you in 10.”
The driver was chatty. He spoke about his time driving the car. He worked nights and his brother did the day shift. Double the income, he said. I switched on navigation on my phone and directed him to her place. It was still dark as I reached the tagged location. It was a series of lanes with no clear indication of either street or road. Even the landmark she mentioned was not visible. It was still early for people on the street, so that was a problem as well.
I ringed her again.
“Hey. I am somewhere near you, but I can't seem to find the building.”
“Wait. Tell me where you are.”
I was a hundred metres off. She directed me to where she was. We reversed our tracks instantly. In the distance, the driver sighted her with some luggage, indicating with his arm.
”Woh madam ko pick karna hai kya?” He enquired slightly, hoping, in his mind I reckoned, to pick up a pretty young woman like her.
“Haan.” I nodded vigorously, equally delighted to see her.
I got off as soon as he stopped the car.
“Hi” she beamed
“Hey.” I said, loading her luggage in the boot.
We got in and set off.
“I am so sleepy.” She sighed
“Haha. What time did you sleep?”
“12:30.” She grimaced. “And I haven’t watched the sangeet videos even once. I am so gonna do badly.”
“No you won’t. You dance pretty well. If anyone has reasons to worry, it will be me.” I countered.
“You will be fine. Everyone will be looking at you though.” She stated in her raspy voice.
We talked about travel, to London, to Harry Potter, lost in conversation. It wasn’t until we actually reached the airport that we realised we had covered the distance pretty quickly.
“That was cheap.” She noted, looking at the meter.
We paid the driver and set off towards the entry. It was 6:10 a.m. Hardly did we suspect that the next hour would have all the elements of a fast paced movie - shock and awe, a pretty girl, running, fighting (not literally), chase scenes, and finally saving the day.
As we brought out our boarding passes for inspection, I rummaged my wallet for my ID. She handed over her’s to the guard. He looked at her. Then again at the pass. He explained with a sigh.
“Madam, aap galat airport pe ho” Madam, you’re at the wrong airport.
“Jet ki flight International Terminal T2 pe aati hai.” Jet operates from International Terminal T2
“Oh, shit” I muttered, starting to drag my suitcase back to catch a cab to my apparently new destination. She followed hurriedly.
There was a yellow cab which had probably just dropped off another passenger. I was wary. I was no stranger to cabs at airports charging multiple times the fare to unsuspecting passengers. I enquired the fare for taking us to the T2 terminal.
“Meter se chalenge?” I will go by the metered fare he offered
Agreeing, we decided to get in. As she boarded the cab, I hoisted our bags on the overhead luggage carrier and followed her in. He keyed the ignition and barely had we covered a hundred meters, he foisted a meter card towards us. It was an official looking document which had fixed prices for various locations. I scanned quickly as my finger traced the destination point. I stopped. The amount mentioned was exorbitant.
“Gaadi rok do” Stop the cab I requested
He drove on.
“Gaadi side main laga do. Main utna nahi de raha” Stop the car. I am not paying that much I demanded this time
“Utna hi hota hai sahab” It costs what it says he countered
I got off anyway. Nikita followed. As we dragged our bags on the side of the road, an autorickshaw approached us.
“Kaha chalenge?” Where to?
“International Airport. Kitna loge?” International Airport. How much?
He mentioned the amount. It was a third of what it would cost us in the cab. I agreed.
We loaded our bags in the auto and set off.
“Wow, this is turning into quite an adventure” I exclaimed
She laughed, “Ya”
Little did we both know that these very words would be quite prophetic. (In hindsight, I shouldn’t have. Hindus believe that Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, wisdom and learning, sometimes blesses what comes out of your mouth. Who knew this moment would turn out to be the exact one?)
When the auto dropped us at the unknown terminal, it was already 06:25. Being the first time to this terminal I was simply in awe of the way it was constructed. Striking designs made it look more glitzy than practical, but when did a designer start caring about practicality. And this terminal was colossal, where one could easily lose oneself, amongst the numerous gates and terminals.
With enough instructions to go around, we did manage to enter the gate in the next 10 minutes. The Jet lounge was right in front of us and we got into the queue. It was 6:35.
A minute later a Jet ground crew announced, “Anyone for the 7:30 Delhi flight, please come on ahead” and passed by. I drew her attention towards me.
“Excuse me ma’am, what about the 7:20 flight to Hyderabad?”
“That’s closed.” she retorted and went away. It was as if I was hit by a Vajra, the legendary thunderbolt of Indra. What did she mean by closed?
I waved frantically, trying to get her attention, but she was barely looked in my direction. In a panicked rush, I handed my bag to Nikita and ducked under the ropes towards her.
“Ma’am, we need to get on the 7:20 flight to Hyderabad”
“You’re late. We have already closed it.” and she turned her head to talk to her colleague
“Ma’am, we mistakenly travelled to the Domestic Terminal. Please, if there is anything you could do.”
“No, I cannot do anything.”
“Please, ma’am” I tried to do the puppy eyes thing, but apparently it only works if you’re 3. Not 25 years later.
“What can we do now? I even have my boarding passes. We just need to check this luggage in”
“No. You can get a ticket for the next flight which is at 10 ‘o'clock.”
That’s probably the first time I had heard a ‘No’ thrice in 2 minutes. So much for my ego.
“Ma’am, that cannot be the only option. If we can just board this and you could probably send our luggage in the next flight”
She looked at me as if I had asked her to charter a plane for me. With her own money.
“What???” She looked positively angry now. “That’s a security violation. I cannot do that.”
Panic rose as much as trepidation, about the fact that I was about to miss this flight. I looked at Nikita. She had a questioning expression on her face. I waved her and asked her to come over ahead.
Maybe, a pretty pavam looking girl ought to make her see reason
Nikita, all of 5’ 3”, lugged, 2 of not too small suitcases behind her, as she approached me. I approached the Jet lady again, slowly, wary and cautious.
“Ma’am, please. We have the boarding tickets too. We just need to check in these bags” I said, pointing towards Nikita.
“How can I allow you so late?” she countered. “The boarding time is over 45 minutes before the plane takes off.” she said, as a matter of obvious fact.
“Ma’am, the boarding pass mentions 25 minutes. And that’s 10 minutes more.”
I don’t know what happened at this point. Maybe it was my intelligent point about her lapse or it was the pretty girl with a helpless look and carrying two suitcases, we will never know. Who’s to say which one was it? It was the pretty girl. Obviously, it was the pretty girl.
She finally muttered, “If you have the boarding pass, try at the gate and see if they let you in.” and dismissed me with a wave of her hand, as if I was one of her subjects in her darbar
I looked hopefully at Nikita and said, “Let’s run.” And we did. Till we reached a security checkpoint with a policeman checking bag tags.
“We will need bag tags”, she affirmed, as a matter of fact.
“Oh, shit” I muttered. “Hold these” I handed her the bags and made the run back to the Jet lounge. The Jet lady looked at me suspiciously. I avoided eye contact with her and ran straight to the helpdesk and asked for a couple of bag tags. I ran fervently back to Nikita, to our bags and a waiting policeman who looked exasperated at a couple of young people who were again, in his experience, late.
It was 6:50.
As he let us pass, no Gandalf jokes came to my mind then as it did now, we had to go down an escalator (a descalator…..or whatever it is called), I looked at Nikita’s face and blurted out, “We are so, so late. I hope we get through.”
With a zen like calm on her face, she replied, almost peacefully, “We will make the flight.” I was doubtful.
I thought She’s taking it in too calm a manner
And maybe she thought Why is he looking at me like that?
Because I was unsure. So damned unsure of what was to come. And my fears were rational. As soon as the handbag screening checkpoint came into view, I had no hope left.
They had separate queues for men and women. The score of women was shorter, I decided. I pointed out to her end of the queue and added, almost prophetically in hindsight,
“That’s your line. If you get done faster, go stop the plane.” She nodded in agreement.
Go, stop the plane! Really? That’s what I said? As if anyone could. I thought wondrously
The queue was long. I had no hope. Only prayers to the gods, known and unknown.
And almost as if answering them, another Jet staff came to the forefront, announcing
“7:20, Hyderabad, last call”
I waved my hands in the air, screaming for redemption. To no avail. He ignored me as coolly as that Jet lady. Nikita’s feeble voice reached him however.
“Which seat, ma’am?” he enquired
Now he can listen, bugger. I growled in my mind
“Please come on ahead” he invited her to the front of the line.
“I have a friend with me too. We are travelling together” she added quickly.
As she pointed, he acknowledged my presence this time and motioned me to come ahead of the line too.
“Seat number?” he quizzed me.
He spoke softly into his walkie talkie and moved away.
I apologised to a bearded guy whose spot I took in line.
“Sorry bro, got super late.”
He waved off my apology. “No issues. It happens.”
As I put my suitcase and backpack in the scanner, I thanked the gods for this silver lining. But unbeknownst to me, there was more to come. It didn’t take long for my body scan but it was long enough that Nikita was already done. As planned between us, she made her way to the gate waving to me to hurry up as she left. I waited for my bags to get scanned.
My suitcase came first.
Now, my bag. Quickly please
I could almost see my bag peeking out of the scanner as the machine stopped of its own accord. Two beeps. I groaned inwardly.
A CRPF jawan who operated the scanner got off his chair and pulled a bag out of the scanner, calling out to the owner.
“Sahabji, isme scissor hai. Nikal dijiye bahar.”
It had to happen. It just had to happen to me, today. Further delays. As they both rummaged through his bag, I looked wistfully at my backpack. It was already 7:00 a.m. And even Nikita was gone now. Hope was deserting me sooner than logic deserted American voters this year.
It seemed like eternity that the scissors were found and my backpack came through, followed by the tray containing my valuables. All I did in my haste was to unzip my bag and ditch the contents of the tray into my open bag. It was 7:05.
I must have looked like a madman running through the airport looking for my gate. I paused momentarily to glance at a screen displaying gate numbers.
47B. I had to find 47B now.
I ran further with the road ahead no clearer than it had been a few seconds back. As I approached a fork in the terminal, with nowhere to go, I looked at a Body Shop sales lady and squalled quizzingly in my most polite voice,
“47B? 47B? 47B?”
She smiled and directed me to take the left. I thanked her even as I ran faster. It was not until later as I retold the story (many times over) that I realised that had the gate number been even slightly different, it could have been wildly inappropriate. But who was thinking of anything but catching the plane right then?
Now having known my destination I called up Nikita.
“Hey. I am coming towards Gate 47B. Where are you?” I breathed rapidly
“I am almost through. I am….” her voice broke off as someone started speaking to her.
I held the phone close to my ear as she explained to someone that another person (me) was on the way. The other voice spoke,
“....so late. Okay. Do one thing, before you board, tell the staff to put your luggage in the cargo hold and only take your hand bag inside the cabin. Your friend will….”
I kept the phone back in my pocket and ran as if my life depended on it. It was. I hadn’t come this far, ran this much to miss the flight now.
As I got off the lift I ran towards Gate 47B, victory and salvation in sight. There was just one Jet staff at that gate.
“Yes.” I huffed
“You will need to…”
“Yes. I know. Suitcase...cargo hold..I will...put..cabin, bag...yes” I managed to convey, huffing and puffing.
“Please go ahead.” and directed me to the transit bus.
I saw Nikita was right there, with a couple of business class passengers, I presumed. I was sweaty, out of breath and yet, incredibly ecstatic that we made it. We made it to the flight. Huff.
“Arre, bata toh” Samiksha’s voice nudged me back to reality.
“Ok. Short version. We reached the wrong airport, could not check in our luggage, somehow made the final call and got here. Not that exciting.”
I looked at Nikita and as I said those final words, winked slightly.
*Name changed to make sure I don’t get a head bump from something, someone, throws at my head
**Yeah, same thing
The point of this story is 3 fold.
One - Web Check-in, always.
Two - Check your booking details carefully. Some flights take off from different terminals; and in some cases (internationally), different airports.
Three - Leave for the airport well in time. You never know when a new terminal or fresh set of rules and regulations might throw your timed calculations out of the window.