I’m currently at Delhi airport, figuring out the best way to get home, and reflecting on some of my most interesting flying experiences. Here’s a few short stories whilst I pass the time:
The time I got locked in the lavatory
Here’s a fun one to get us started: I was on a local airline, using the toilet mid-flight. The story starts as I unlatched the door with the hopes of returning to my seat: the door creaked open 1cm, then 2, suddenly 5 and then… nothing. The door wouldn’t budge. I tried to shut it again, kind of how you unzip a zip when something gets stuck in it, but it wouldn’t move in that direction. The airline staff noticed me at this point, and tried to assist by trying the same tactic – opening, closing, opening, closing – we gained an extra few cm, but not much. They called over a taller, musclier attendant, after which I heard “stand back”, a large thump against the door, and it’s creaked open only another cm. All the flight attendants are now standing outside the cubicle, when the seatbelt light flashes as we’re preparing for landing.
Terrified of the thought of the toilet regurgitating itself during the landing – I have an unkind imagination – I muster the strength the open the door just a little wider, just wide enough to (painfully!) squish my head through. The rest of me followed soon after, and with the staff offering profuse apologies, I returned to my seat mostly unscathed.
That time I landed in India with nowhere to go
My second trip to India was hasty, with the flights booked about 2 days in advance. As I flew in to Hong Kong airport after the first leg of the journey, I checked my emails and realised I hadn’t any confirmation of airport transfers or accommodation. Naively and optimistically, I figured I’d work it out upon arriving in India.
Once my flight landed, I waited at the airport entrance, eyeing each new driver as they approached, hoping for one with my name. It was around 2am at this point, and any thoughts of catching a cab and driving to a familiar hotel were quickly scrapped.
As the first hour passed, I pondered that I’d flown all this way with no phone, any relevant phone numbers stored in my email, and no internet access. Soon after, I was approached by a hotel representative, asking if I had a hotel reservation. Ever the optimist, I say “yep, is my name on your list?”. It wasn’t, but it turns out he was from a different hotel and area. I asked for any hotels in Koramangala, the area I’d be staying in. He walks off for 15 minutes and brings back a hotel rep for a rather fancy hotel. “No, no, do you have reps from any of these other hotels. I’m sure I’ve got a reservation for one”.
After 20 more minutes of waiting around, my hope finally waning, I asked after room availabilities. A few hours later, I was in a comfy bed (which cost around $300AUD for about 5 hours sleep, thank you very much!), and later surprised my colleagues by showing up rather unexpectedly. (To be fair, the booking was finalised on a Friday, so whilst I had 2 days to prepare, the wonderful people who would otherwise have handled my bookings weren’t even in the office that day).
Then there’s this one where I couldn’t pay for a massage at the airport
Lohegaon airport in Pune is a small, military owned airport. Like most airports in India, this means all doorways, gateways and checkpoints are watched by daunting men in khaki, casually holding their rifles and asking to see your papers. It also happens to be where the commercial flights operate, which means tourists, travellers and business people alike must pass through the ominous checkpoints.
Being the stress head that I am, I arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare, and found myself at the tiny spa with makeshift walls, perusing the massage menu. The prices looked good, but having not much cash, I made sure to ask if card was ok. They set it was, waved a wireless eftpos machine in front, and so my decision was made, I’d wait for my flight in comfort and pampering.
If only I could say that the massage was wonderful, and the story ends there. Well, the massage was pretty good, but the eftpos machine was far from meeting expectations. Despite having seen the machine, and having given them plenty of warning that I would pay by card, I was asked to wait a good 5 minutes until it was ready to transact. From time to time, I’ve stumbled across places where international bank cards are declined without much reason. This happened a lot in my first trip to India, though admittedly I was travelling with an actual debit card! For credit cards, I’ve found this occurs much less often.
Unfortunately for me, this massage place was one of two I’d encountered this time that would not accept my card. Even more unfortunate, the ATM was located outside the airport. If you think getting into a military airport is hard, getting out of one is even tougher. My boarding ticket was voided, ripped up right in front of my eye, and my bag tags confiscated. My passport was checked twice as often, every military staff along the way was told I had a bill to pay, and I was personally escorted to the ATM in case this turned out to be ruse to get a free massage.
I’m pretty glad I turned up early, as I still had time to make it onto my flight. Although next time I think to visit a salon at an airport, I’ll be sure to pay first.
And last night, when I missed an international flight
Despite having a habit of turning up early to airports, the flights themselves often don’t. After checking in to a flight in Pune, and thinking I was checked in to a connecting international flight, I waited, and waited, and waited, until eventually we were advised we could board the plane. Let’s say the flight was meant to depart at 7.45pm, we were boarding at 7.55pm. From my experiences, this is actually fairly common, and by now I’ve learned not to stress about it. Sometimes, airlines are nice enough to tell you ahead of time that your flight is late – this wasn’t one of times. This was one of those times were we got to sit in an idle plane for 30 minutes whilst it awaited it’s turn to take off… being a military airport, that means waiting for the super scary fighter jets that have precedence over the runway, with blazing fires that make them look like rockets in the night sky.
The panic only set in upon arriving in Delhi, wherein I realised three things: I couldn’t remember if my baggage was checked in the whole way or if I’d have to collect it, I was only about 30% sure I was checked into my next flight, and that flight was set to depart in just 20 minutes time.
I had a quick chat to the flight attendants, who looked at me with pity and said “just talked to the ground staff”. Almost immediately scenes from movies flashed through my mind, of people jumping over security gates, pleading with the check in staff and running through the airport with no shoes on. I was so optimistic I could make the flight; I could do this!
I headed out of the plane, and, my first wave of optimism shattered. There were no “ground staff” at the gate. In fact, there were no staff at all in my line of sight, none at all. I ran like a madwoman through the airport, looking for anyone in uniform. I managed to find a few employees, and stopped each one I saw, asking if they could call the airline, tell them I was on my way, and asking if they knew were my bags were. After chatting to a security guard, the international transfer desk, general airport staff, and information desk staff, I finally found someone from the airline. They confirmed my bags were not checked in the whole way, and they would not be able to do anything for me until I collected my bag. Then they changed their mind: they couldn’t do anything at all, and I would need to grab my bag and head to the check in desk asap.
A big part of me knew it was too late, but that second wind of optimism, alternatively called stress-fuelled adrenalin, took hold. I had just spotted my bag on the carousel as I walked away from the airline desk.
Fortunately for me, Delhi airport is considerably small, and I was able to half-run-half-dawdle my way from the domestic to the international gates in just 5 minutes. I couldn’t lug my huge bag up the escalator though, and managed a quick chat with attendants from another airline, who told me “be optimistic, it’ll be ok, go straight to counter X”, and then 2 seconds later say “oh wait, I can see counter X, it’s closed”.
Now that I’ve recovered from what I must admit was ‘crying like a baby’ after seeing the airline counter was closed, dawdling through the airport for a few hours, and now having found my way to an internet connection, I’m sure I’ll have things sorted out soon.
Written between 1am and 4am, fuelled by adrenalin, medicine and tea. Don’t be surprised if it’s poorly edited.