Monday, January 08, 2007

Catching DL5948

My return trip to US was really eventful. My travel itinerary was Chennai - Mumbai - New York - Cincinnati. (The Mumbai - JFK part was a direct flight via London.) Here is what happened.

Chapter 1 : Heed the omens !!

I should have known that my return trip wasn't going to be smooth at all.

First I learnt that my Air India's Chennai-Mumbai flight timings were changed and that my Mumbai-JFK flight would leave before I reached Mumbai. After about 7 visits to the Air India office in Chennai, I finally had my Chennai - Mumbai travel changed to an Indian Airlines flight.

My Chennai-Mumbai travel was uneventful. Or, so I thought. Immediately after getting down at Mumbai airport, I realized that I had lost my key chain. This was a big deal because:
a) It was a gift and I liked it very much,
b) Already many of my friends had tried to take it. Kannu vaichttanga paavinga :-(
What was really annoying about the whole thing was that I knew that it was under my seat (14A) in the flight but I couldn't get it back.

Chapter 2 : Setup for the finale

After waiting for 45 minutes in the Mumbai Domestic airport, I finally got the shuttle to transfer to the International airport. I couldn't locate any cart to carry my two big suitcases. I had to pull them along, though the baggage screening to the Air India check-in counter.

At the Air India check-in counter, I learnt that my Mumbai-JFK flight had been delayed by 24 hours (Yes, it was delayed - not cancelled !!). I was given food and accommodation at The Orchid - a nearby hotel where I wasted the next 24 hours. The most annoying thing at the hotel was that the Internet wasn't free and they were charging the usual 5-star hotel rates for everything (which is 500+ bucks for 30 continuous minutes of Internet). Finally, I had my JFK - Cincinnati flight reconfirmed and finally boarded the Mumbai-JFK flight the next day.

Chapter 3 : DL4958 to Cincinnati

I have deliberately skipped the details in many places till now. The reason being that the 30 minutes of my catching the New York-Cincinnati flight was the most eventful part of my two day long journey.

Although it was supposed to be a direct flight from Mumbai to JFK, for some reason, they made us all get down at London and re-board the same flight. This ensured that my transit time at New York to catch my Cincinnati flight was cut down from 21/2 to 11/2 hours.

I knew that I would have to hurry if I wanted to catch my flight to Cincinnati. Since I was seated near the exit, once we landed at JFK, I rushed out and ran to immigration counter. Thankfully, the queue there was non-existent.

After getting my I94 card, I was at the baggage claim area by 4:20PM and my Cincinnati flight was to leave only at 5:38PM. I was confident that I will be able to make it. All I had to do after collecting my luggage was get past Customs, drop the two suitcases & get my boarding pass from the Transit Counter, proceed to the required Gate.

My luggage came through the baggage claim only at 5:00 PM.

I didn't have any problem at customs and went straight to the Transit desk. Although I begged my way to the front of the queue, the person who was being serviced took few more minutes. When my turn did come, I was told:

"Oh, you have only 30 minutes to catch the flight. Sorry, we can not accept your baggage. If you still want to try, you have go to the main Delta check-in counter in Terminal 3. You will have to take these two suitcases with you. I don't think, you will be able to make it but if you want to try, take the AirTran."

I decided to give a try. I ran dragging the two suitcases (22 odd Kgs, each) towards the AirTran. I couldn't even use a cart to carry the suitcases because I had to pass through escalators and stairs. My winter jacket made me highly uncomfortable and my personal bag with the laptop seemed heavier than ever. At the AirTran, there were two tracks and no directions as to which one goes to Terminal 3. I took the first one that arrived, which stopped next at Terminal 5 and 6 - clearly the opposite direction. I got down, took the next AirTran in the correct direction and reached Terminal 3.

I forgot. While I was dragging the suitcases towards the AirTran, the zip in my personal bag gave away and my used set of socks fell out. I didn't realize it until someone was shouting and I turned back. I had to do a 360 with the suitcases (they are not very easy to drag along), go back, pick up my socks, stuff them in another part of the bag and resume my run to the AirTran.

Having arrived at Terminal 3, I went to the Delta domestic check-in only to find a long line of people. And it was 5:15PM. I went directly to the front of the queue, begged the people in front again saying my flight was in 20 minutes and got my turn immediately. The lady at the counter refused to give me a boarding pass since there wasn't enough time. I finally managed to convince her as my luggage was already checked in till Cincinnati, and the next flight to Cincinnati was only on the next day.

After getting my boarding pass, I was asked to drop off my two suitcases at the security. Only, I entered the wrong security queue with the suitcases. When I pushed past people to the front to the security queue, I was told that the suitcases were to be dropped off at the adjacent security counter. I had to go back with the suitcases, drop them off at the adjacent counter and come back to this same queue for security check. Since I had pushed my way into the front to the queue twice, the security check in-charge wasn't happy. I was to go through the random extra security screening.

I was made to sit while they went through my dirty socks, laptop, shoes, jacket and everything. Finally when they gave me the green signal to proceed, it was 5:30 and I still had to get to Gate 25. I ran with all the remaining energy I had, pushing past people, continuously shouting "excuse me"s and "sorry"s. I made it to the gate at 5:34 and the status of DL4958 on the screen was still "Boarding".

I showed my boarding pass to the lady in-charge and said "Cincinnati". She replied "I am sorry Sir, the boarding is closed."

I tried convincing her but to no use. Finally, I was asked to go to Gate 24 to get myself in the next flight.

I was on my way to gate 24 when I heard someone calling. I turned back to see the same lady calling in my direction. I ran back to the gate, she hurriedly tore my boarding pass and asked me to run. I heard her voice trailing off "The captain came back to collect some papers, run to the flight before him..." The passage was long and empty and I kept running. I ran past someone in uniform whom I hoped was the Captain. I could see the passage end in the runway and I saw about 4 - 5 planes in the runway. When I reached the end of the passage, I could see a plane taking off on my right. I asked the man nearby: "Cincinnati flight. Delta 4958.." and he pointed at the flight that was moving away for take off.

I was standing at the runway, completely exhausted, and I had finally missed my flight.

I couldn't stand any longer, was about to drop down on the ground when the uniformed man I had passed came past me and asked "Cincinnati?" I nodded. He pointed at another plane a little away on my left and said "Go".

By the time I reached the plane, they had opened the door and placed the steps for me to climb in. I entered the planed, found the first two seats empty and just fell down at the seats. I was immediately given two bottles of water, some orange juice, a pillow and some magazines. Then the captain (the man in the uniform) came to me and said "Don't worry, you made it." I looked at my watch and it was 5:38PM.

Chapter 4 : Post-scripts

PS 1: As an anti-climax, the flight finally took off at 7:14PM. There were too many flights for take off and we were stuck in the runway till then.

PS 2: Neither of my luggages turned up at Cincinnati. I just confirmed that one has reached Cincinnati while the other is now in Atlanta, on its way home.
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