Sunday, August 2, 2009

Rendezvous with Mumbai

The young and exuberant yellow-blue clad staff stood at the doors of that huge monster and was jubilant at my arrival. They cheered me with “Welcome… Welcome….!!”. Yes, I was responsible for delaying a Jet Airways flight on the ever busy Heathrow airport.

I don’t remember the exact date of this event but, sure enough, I was heading to India after almost a year and a half. Well, for many this might not be a long duration but for me personally it was just getting overboard and had to make this trip. I had a simple itinerary, Houston-Heathrow-Mumbai, with a layover of 90 minutes at Heathrow. From Houston it was United Airlines that bore my weight and from Heathrow I would be in the custody of Jet Airways.

Everything was going per plan. I had 2 bags that were checked in and one carry bag. Besides that I was carrying a laptop bag with only a laptop and it’s charger in it! I bid goodbye to roommates, to the fella who dropped me at IAH and finally with the engines roaring it was time to “¡hasta luego!” Houston. The flight took off bang on time and the journey to Heathrow was absolutely pleasant without the slightest chassis vibration.

Good morrrrrrninggggggggg Heathroww….!!! Least did I know that this was just the beginning of a thrilling 90 minutes. I got off the UA flight and walked through the gangway into the hustling Heathrow airport. For a moment I thought that this was not Heathrow, probably I have landed in Bhatinda….!! It was around 7 am in the morning and had a connecting flight at 8.30 to Mumbai. I walked per directions towards the gate of departure and had to stand in queue for the regular security check. Suddenly a heavy British accent caught my attention and this Caucasian asked me, “Sir, is there anyone else with you? ” I said no, as I was travelling alone. He jolted me saying, “I am sorry sir, you may not carry 2 bags on board!!” I was like “You must be kidding me.. where do you see the second bag?”. He told me that I could carry either the “carry-on” bag or the laptop back-pack. I said, US port of authority and United Airlines had no issues with this, so why is London making a fuss out of nothing? By this point both of us were frustrated and I had to bow down for the sake of LAW (did not have time to argue on racial grounds…. J )

He then suggested that I walk down the hallway to yet another officer who would grant (or may not grant) me the permission to take this bag on! It was about 7.15 am. I walked down the hallway to this huge hall where there were multiple huge queues. I approached a tall lady of Indian origin who spoke fluent English with a Punjabi accent. She pointed at a queue and asked me to wait for my turn. I was getting impatient and frustrated all the more.

It was my turn to explain the situation to the officer behind that small desk. It turned out that he was least interested in what I was saying probably because employees at Heathrow have to pay for their breakfast. This sucker was so slow in asking and responding that I could have had my breakfast and gone to bed having a heavy dinner. After about 15 minutes he tells me that this is the wrong place to settle this issue and I should be talking to the Jet Airways personnel who would be at the baggage belt checking in baggage.

This is about 7.40 and I have to run a cross country across the airport to reach the baggage check in area. Now I am having a laptop backpack and a carry-bag that weighs around 22 pounds (18 Kgs) and am running all over the airport. Totally exhausted my body nutrients are depleting. At around 7.55 am I reach the check in area only to realize that the check in counter was closed. Check in closes 30 minutes prior to take off.

I am shell shocked and run frantically to a security officer and he directs me to a Jet kiosk. A young lady speaking fluent English with a Gujrati accent greets me and I tell her the story. She drops “fat-man” on my saying “Yes sir that’s correct! We cannot allow you to carry 2 bags on board!” Here is the dialogue between the 2 of us:

She : Yes sir, that’s correct! We cannot allow you to carry 2 bags on board

Me : Then what’s the other option?

She : Sir we can put you on the next flight to Mumbai.

Me : Alright, when is the next flight?

She : Tomorrow morning sir!

Me : Whaaaaattttttttttt!!!!!!!!! What do I do till then?

She : Sir you will have to stay over here.

Me : What do you mean by here and who will take care of the expenses?

She : Sir you will have to bear your expenses and you cannot leave the airport premises as you do not have a transit visa.

Me : Ok. So you are telling me that some airline could not transfer correct information and I am being forced to stay over on this airport over night fending for myself? There should be some other carrier flying to Mumbai or anywhere in India in the next few hours. Put me on one of ‘em. Lady, I have waited one and half years to see this day, and I will not let it go just because some airline failed to convey this information.

She : I am sorry sir but there is little I can do. That is the restriction due to weight restrictions on the flight.

Me : So now you are trying to tell me that a Boeing 747 cannot carry addition 18 Kgs on a flight which is not at all booked and is going empty?

She : Let me see what I can do sir.

She then picks up the phone and calls up someone; it is about 8.15 am by now and I am all the more frantic!

She : Sir if you will please take you bag and drop it in that steel frame across the hallway, I can allow you to take it on board.

Me : Alright…

I go over and simply dump the bag into the framework and look at her with agony and anger!

She : Alright sir. Let me see what I can do.

Apparently she calls up the personnel boarding passengers by the flight. Some discussion follows. It is about 8.20 am now. She hangs up the phone.

She : Sir, I think we can put you on this flight. Please wait here for some time.

As I wait a Caucasian male runs in with some kind of barcode reader. He ties one bar-coded strip to my “convicted bag” and one to the laptop backpack. He then reads the code from the strip on the convicted bag and then turns to me.

He : Sir, I will take this bag and have it checked-in with the flight directly. A staff will be here in a moment and will escort you for boarding.

I was plain elated. Din’t know how to react. I wanted to hug that lady and thank her for life. But, couldn’t do it….. she was seated behind a desk. I asked her for her email and promptly sent a “thank-you” note on reaching home. Just when the Caucasian male staff finished his sentence a male of Indian origin came running from nowhere and almost dragged me… his training forced him to be courteous!!! We just started running across the airport towards the boarding gate. On the way I could see a huge “zig-zaggy” line to the security check area. But this fella was in no mood of waiting and pulled out all the separating belts and I was placed at no.1 for the check. His walkie-talkie buzzed when we were almost done.

He : We are almost done. How much time do we have? …. Ok.

Me : What did they (by now I knew who “they” were) say?

He : We have 10 minutes to reach the gates.

Me : What if we don’t make it?

He : They leave!!

Me : No way.. not at this point!!

We are done with the check and again resume our cross country. I really felt like I was in front of an x-box maneuvering a road-roller (yeah.. right !! I had grown into a bulky mass then!!! ) and dodging the passer-by’s. As we reached mid-way a lady staff came panting and yelled..

Lady : Are you Mr. Shete?

Me : Yes that’s me.

Lady : Please follow me sir.

And she started running as if taking the baton from the male who had accompanied me so far and as if it was forbidden for him to cross over that point. I think I was emotionless then as I cannot remember what I was going through at that time. Suddenly she comes to screeching halt and asks me to board one of those vehicles they have on airports to carry seniors or physically challenged. They driver turns on the beeper and the entire hallway resounds with the siren. People make way for ME!! Within seconds we are right by the boarding gate.

As I reach for my ticket. The lady there tells me that they have done the necessary things and hands me the boarding pass stub and suggests that I hop on! As I enter the plane the crew is all gathered by the door and welcome me like a victor. That moment, I remember vividly… It was plain joy and I was filled with immense pride for pulling out this one and wonder how I could sustain such action! Once on board I realize that my energy levels have depleted and I need something to rejuvenate. Come in a vodka and sprite and am on my way cruising to Amcheee Mumbaiiiiii !!!


kunal_houston said...

nothing else will do!

shri said...

nice... this inspires me to write about my experience at Heathrow..on my way here to USA for the first time.....u know it :) ..

abhijitmohod said...

nice one :) .. we never realise hw big the experience 'is' until everythin gets over and we ponder over it..

Nikhil said...


shweta said...

good one..viki...where's the "Sir, Please Step aside, You have been selected for a random check??"

AlokJain said...

Nicely written. Great post.

Mayuri said...

Finally! :)

spandan said...

awesomeeeeee!!!!!!!!!! did u mail tht gujju lady back ???????

Ankur said...

needless to everyone else above have said it!!! great written work!!

Vikram said...

thx all.... fortunately that was all to this day.. no random checks and i did email that lady !

Girish Nandagudi said...

ghtetla tu aajshi date mein!

Dreamer said...

ek number...!!!