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Tuesday June 28, 2022

In the Nick of Time

funny account of travel

I have a long and illustrious history of reaching the airport at the nick of time to catch a flight. This particular trait of mine is not limited only to my visit to airports, I extended this to almost every facet of life where time is of essence which includes among various things doctor’s appointments, workplace meetings, social gatherings and casual rendezvous. I will warn my friends that the story is a bit long and I will not blame anyone who ceases to read this but I am obliged to inform you that by not reading this story you will indeed miss out.

 

The story was staged quite a few years back at the airport in the city of my birth which arguably had the distinction of being the busiest airport in Asia around fifty years back. The incident took place before the construction of the new terminal at a time when terminal facilities were very much stretched (and aerobridges were not available for all the flights) to generate a lot of disgruntlement among airport staff if three aircrafts used to land in a span of an hour.

Somewhat uncharacteristically I reached the airport at scheduled check in time to fly to a prominent destination in South India and I did not realize that I have not flown in the Indian domestic sector for a quite a long time. After waiting in the serpentine queue for over 30 minutes with occasional eavesdropping of some delightful conversation of fellow passengers I was greeted at the check in counter by a pleasant but tired smiling face to be informed that I have to prescreen my check in luggage. After digesting the fact that the past half hour was wasted I rushed to the luggage screening center with my customary agility and after a few bouts of severe weightlifting I was back in the queue at the same spot where I originally started. 

 

Now judging the gravity of the situation with the prospect of missing my flight I had to cajole, bump, cut and influence my co travelers in a very uncustomary manner to make my way to the most coveted immediate destination– the check in counter. I was successful in that endeavor but not without invoking some eloquent discourse on ethics of air travel. My somewhat uncharacteristic pessimist frame of mind was pleasantly jolted by a swift check in process where I was handed over the boarding pass and I carried it like a prize-winning lottery ticket to rush towards the security check. Security check was quite thorough, I had to take out my DSLR camera from the cabin baggage and asked to explain why I was carrying this in a laptop bag. 

The security proceeding followed the chain of command where probably I was granted the privilege of meeting the highest ranking security official in the airport to explain the nuances of digital SLR cameras. Somehow my passionate and emotional response to some of his probing queries was good enough to incite enough confidence and sympathy to grant me the clearance. The official in a majestic way directed his subordinates (team members) “usko jane do” (let him go). Immediately a security personnel came with a rubber stamp and asked me “where is the baggage tag ?”. I said that I did not collect the tag thinking that was optional (conveniently forgetting that baggage tag plays a pivotal role in security check in process in this part of the world) but I was quickly reminded that I had to go back to the check in counter to collect the baggage tag if I was serious about catching the flight. I went back, collected the tag and was about to fight my way back to security check in then I heard my name announced in the public address system to immediately board the aircraft. 

Well, this is not the first time I was hearing my name pronounced in a public address system at an airport, I heard it many times before with a wide variety of my name’s pronunciation and I learned over time that remaining calm in such situations is the best course of action. The good thing was that I had established enough familiarity with the security personnel with my previous appearance so that this time around I was let off to proceed to the next step to pass through the metal detector door. After crossing the door without raising any undue alarm I was subjected to some serious frisking when I saw two or three airport staffs rushing near the security gate uttering my name (in the exact way it should be spelled for a change) loudly enough to grant some leniency from the security staff. Those airport staff came to me and said “ki je koren na apanara, taratari asun” (means “what do you guys do?, come with us quickly”). 

I was not at my best as far as my physical demeanor was concerned and had a hard time to cope with the pace of those dashing airport officials who showed no concession to an overweight passenger. However my story was not without a silver lining as I was whisked into a car reserved for airport officials (a Maruti Omni) instead of the airport tarmac passenger bus (the aircraft boarding was not through an aerobridge). Just when I started relishing this rare privilege I realized that the dark cloud which I saw on my way to the airport had not only cast a spell on my fate but also culminated in to a thunderous norwesters (a tropical storm system of the region) and a heavy downpour. The wind gust and lashing of rain was so heavy that even the seasoned van driver uttered quite a few words which were not very friendly to mother nature. Though I had no doubt at that time I would be able to catch the flight and the hazy sight of the aircraft through the heavy curtain of shower further strengthened my belief. However when we drew closer to the aircraft we noticed that the aircraft ladder was being pulled away from the aircraft and my accompanying officials started displaying some serious nerves. They almost started yelling at me saying “taratari namun” (“get down quickly”) and I had to step down on the tarmac to withstand the torrential rain. 

After a few exchanges between my accompanying officials and the man operating the ladder I saw the ladder again pushed towards the aircraft door. Well not many times in your life you think of yourself as the leading character of “Mission Impossible” so when I got a chance I demonstrated that with my firm and determined steps leading towards the aircraft door. I was not expecting a warm welcome with garlands at the door but I was surprised to see it closed when I reached there. I waited a while with my customary politeness with completely drenched outfits and cabin baggage but with minutes passed which seemed like hours there was no sign of impending welcome. I am not sure how many of my friends had an experience of knocking an aircraft door but I started really softly but gradually increased its tempo and strength in tandem with the passage of time. I don’t recollect how long it took in the metamorphosis of knocking to a banging and whether it was the arm or other parts of the body was in use but I do remember that I shouted at my top of voice to inform the man operating the ladder that “Dada, dorja kulchena” (Brother, the door is not opening). 

 

Not sure whether it was my persistent knocking/banging or some wireless exchanges between airport and aircraft staff, the door finally opened.I was not expecting the entire crew to be present at the door and I realized that there were times silence is not bliss as I was tormented by their looks (which I think was a blend of awe and anger) as none of them spoke a word and I had to make my way to my designated middle seat near the rear end of the aircraft. I am not very accustomed to ramp walking but when I did so in front of two hundred odd bewildered bemused yet agitated spectators I had to ignore my completely soaked and dripping attire to put up a performance like a winner who against all the odds could step a foot in the aircraft. I think I retained this stoic composure on my cat walk almost towards the end of it till the time I realized that I was walking into a large group of people who were possibly going to a wedding ceremony and considered the aircraft as an extension of the venue. 

 

When I was finally escorted to my middle seat by an air hostess I realized that I had to sit between two very well ornamented ladies wrapped in silk who were well beyond their prime but with their stature commensurate with their wealth made the middle seat almost invisible (and I realized why the air hostess accompanied me to that seat and did not take any chance). Not being very well versed on the effect of dripping rain water on the finest silk I tried to shrink myself (succeeded more in spirit than anything else) and judging by the reaction of my co seaters it became quite clear that my effort was not good enough. I could strike some deadly blow to them. Again being a positive person I realized the benefit of sitting among a large party of family, you can try to make out the family tree instead of playing sudoku, listen to family jokes and try to arrange them in order of silliness, try to make a rough estimate of each member’s worth going by the ornaments they are wearing and so on so forth.

 

All these things happened in a span of a few hours and barring a few moments of uncertainty the time flew fast with a whole lot of excitement. My friends and foes alike tell me all the time that I should reach the airport with enough time in hand but my question to them is that “will you have this kind of colorful experience if you reach the airport on time ?”

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