WickedEye's Quotient

12/31/2007 at 08:04

Travel and Travail

travel (v.)
c.1375, "to journey," from travailen (1300) "to make a journey," originally "to toil, labor" (see travail)
travail (n.)
"labor, toil," c.1250, from O.Fr. travail "suffering or painful effort, trouble" (12c.), from travailler "to toil, labor," originally "to trouble, torture," from V.L.

This is by way of a personal update, partly because nobody Stateside really knows what’s been going on and partly because what I went through to get to Bangalore really does deserve a bit of a tell (I haven’t yet given it its due).

I left the Nashville @ 5:30 pm on a Saturday, got to JFK at 10 pm, and learned- after an hour-long wait in line- that Delta had lost my bags and further, that they would not arrive in time to make my 7:30 am flight. I therefore, after filling out the appropriate paperwork and finding my way to the international terminal- by which time it was 1 am- settled in to wait. (This involved, as I previously noted on my Facebook and MySpace statuses, sitting on the floor and jacking a plugpoint that rightfully belonged to a self-check-in machine.)

When the Virgin Atlantic counter (on which airline more at some other time; in the meantime let the following tale speak for itself) opened at 5 am, I trudged over to check in and was informed quite rudely that I couldn’t take on my cabin baggage, so I zipped it apart and requested that she check the duffle portion to Heathrow and not through to Mumbai. She asserted that she had and handed me my boarding pass, upon which I made my way though Security and onto the plane.

There I and some 300 other passengers proceeded to sit stationary for 3½ hours while being assured every few minutes that we would soon be ready for takeoff. Naturally, we arrived at Heathrow 3 hours late, and I (and practically every other passenger on the plane) missed our connections. We therefore, at 11:30 pm, trooped first through Security, then through an hourlong line at the Virgin Atlantic counter. At the end of the wait we were all informed that no, Virgin would not be providing a hotel or food, and I personally learned that the next available flight to Mumbai was at 9:50 pm- the following night.

Thankfully during the flight I had made friends with a charming and very lovely woman named Monet, who told me that she was renting a room and that since she’d be paying for one anyway, I was welcome to share it. The airline’s tasteless in-flight meal by then 7 hours in the past, she proceeded to buy us both dinner, hail a taxi, and check us both in to the Park Inn (a rather swanky digs five minutes from Heathrow).

We washed up and crashed on soft and extremely comfortable beds for a princely total of 3 hours before rising, washing our faces, and grabbing another taxi back to Heathrow to find out about getting on standby for our flights. Upon arriving at the Jet Airways counter I was told that Virgin had got the schedules wrong and that there was another flight in 2½ hours, and that I could get a confirmed seat- if I could make it back, with my bags, within 45 minutes. Bidding a fond and thankful farewell to Monet, I did so.

The frankly incredible staff at Jet Airways, after some drawn-out (and, I gathered as a captive audience, rather involved finagling), got me a confirmed seat- aisle, no less- but told me that Virgin had not yet transferred my bag to Jet Airways and that it had, in any case, been checked through to Mumbai. Thus my checked cabin baggage- which, as I had known, would be perfectly acceptable as a carry-on to Jet Airways and which in consequence contained 2 changes of clothing as well as jewelry- might not accompany me to Mumbai. Which is to say that I might well arrive in India bearing the grand total of the clothes I stood up in and a laptop, travel soap, and a toothbrush.

By then I wanted desperately to just get to India, and agreed, hoping all the time that when I arrived in Mumbai the bag would be there.

We were (naturally) 2 hours late in taking off from Heathrow, though the flight was much more comfortable and friendly this time around, and so I was in a fair way to missing my connection when I arrived in Mumbai if I experienced the slightest delay there- and of course as a consequence I did.

When my bag didn’t turn up on the luggage carousel I approached a woman named Leela and asked her about my bag, and she asked if my name was Sumi Rebeiro. Knowing that having a total stranger address you by your given name is seldom a good sign, I admitted that it was.

She informed me that Virgin still hadn’t handed over my bags, whisked me over to the luggage counter to fill out a luggage authorization form and assured me that they’d ship the bag to Bangalore as soon as it came in. Whereupon I smiled, handed her the form unsigned and assured her that there would be no need for such exigencies because I would just stay in Mumbai until my bag got there on the next flight- 12 hours later.

When she told me that there was no hotel close by and I replied that I would just sit in the waiting area, all the counter staff erupted in furious whispers and sidelong glances. (I gathered that such intransigence in already-battered travelers was, er, exceptional.) I got my exit papers stamped, changed $40, made my way to a washroom and washed up, and settled myself across from the Jet Airways check-in counter, propped my head on the backpack and purple-and-orange travel pillow which now comprised my luggage, and dozed fitfully.

There were several delightful little interludes and fascinating people during the 12 hours I waited there- the most notable being the old gentleman headed to Goa who was, as he explained in a fascinating mixture of Marathi, Hindi and English, waiting for his wife’s flight from Pakistan, and with whom I took turns watching our luggage as the other stretched his/her legs; and Karima, the girl waiting to be escorted back to claim her luggage, to whom I lent my fleece vest after she explained that she’d accidentally been flown to Delhi (where it was freezing- and she really was wearing very little clothing).

Karima, bless her, upon claiming her baggage came pelting over (in 3-inch heels!), gave me a hug, and handed me half a bar of dark chocolate filled with Remy Martin VSOP, telling me- absolutely correctly- that I needed it more than she did.

The flight from London duly arrived- without my bag. Shawn, taking over from Leela, went so far as to go out and poke through the containers of luggage himself, with me waiting and watching, trying to find the pathetically small duffel- but it was as absent as it could possibly be.

Trying to decide if I should wait another 12 hours for the next flight to come in, I called my aunt in Bangalore, who greeted the suggestion with a shriek of outrage, a demand that I come to Bangalore immediately, and the statement that I “couldn’t just keep waiting in airports.” To which I replied, “Demonstrably I can. Whether I should is a different matter entirely.”

She reiterated her urgent request and I acceded, making sure Shawn had the appropriate authorization to ship me the bags and thanking him for his help, and got in line for the bus to the domestic airport- in which line I spotted, if you can believe it, a woman wearing an SIUe t-shirt. Upon my incredulous question of whether or not she actually went there, she replied that she did, and we chatted about SIU politics for the hour it took us to get to the airport and checked in.

I got to Bangalore, walked out of the airport, and called my aunt, who told me that she was waiting at a certain sign. I went to greet her, whereupon she burst out laughing, hugged me, and took me to the car. (She couldn’t help it, she explained to me later; seeing all the people come staggering off the Mumbai flight with enormous bags, and me hailing from the States with my backpack and a grin, was too much for her sobriety.)

So, about 52 hours after leaving Nashville, I’d finally got to Bangalore.

My family, who as some of you may know engaged in some rather sticky politics eight years ago, hadn’t seen me for that time, and (I think as a consequence of the time lapse, though I don’t remember being a wimp 8 years ago either) were shocked when what I asked for on getting to Nana’s house was strong, sweet black coffee and a bath- in that order. I then proceeded to stay awake till 10 pm, get up at 7 am the next morning, and carry on. But the carrying on, as Rudyard Kipling would say, is another story.

To end this one, suffice it to say that getting here reaffirmed my experience: that most people are kind; that most
people will offer help to strangers and those whom they see in need of it with no reason other than compassion; that most people are friendly and decent even under the most trying of circumstances.

And that was worth the trip.

Happy New Year, ya’ll.

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Blogger Calladus said...


I'm glad you made it there. Your trip reminds me of all the times I flew overseas to Japan and Korea, complete with long waits in Airports and on the plane itself.

But I've never arrived at my destination sans carry on bag!  


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