I had declared 30th May 2005 as my longest day. Air India proved me wrong. My longest day was 18 Feb 2006.
I didn’t plan to fly Air India to Chennai in the first place. British Airways had more convenient timings and a similar fare. But I clicked on the wrong button, and didn’t realise until a few days before the flight that I was on the Air India, and that the flight left at 8:45am.
4:30am UK. Wake up. Brush teeth. Bathe. All items packed previous night.
5:10am UK. Taxi arrives and calls. Great timing.
6:05am UK. Arrive at Heathrow Terminal 3. Good timing.
6:10am UK. Huge queue near Emirates counter. Can’t be mine. Walk in.
6:11am UK. “Excuse me,” says elderly lady. “The queue is back there.” For my flight?
6:30am UK. Still in queue. Slow panic. I have 27 kgs of cabin baggage. 20 kgs permitted. Will they torture me with pins?
6:45am UK. Sardarji waves me in. I try a smile.
6:46am UK. Heave cabin baggage on to the ramp. 27.2 kg. Sardarji makes no comment.
6:47am UK. “I’m afraid there’s some bad news, Mr Subramanian.”
OK, this is it.
It costs 1,000 per kilo.
I’m not allowed on the flight.
I have to compensate by shedding 7 kgs on the spot.
“The flight is delayed by 4 hours.”
“Here is your boarding card, and a complementary coupon for breakfast.”
7:00am UK. Call home and convey good news. The flight will therefore land at 7:15am at Chennai — a more decent hour than 3:15am.
8:00am UK. Bored.
8:30am UK. May as well pass security check.
8:40am UK. “Sorry sir. This boarding pass says 19th Feb. Today is the 18th.”
Huh? “But my ticket says 18th Feb.”
“You’ll have to go back to Air India and check with them, sir.”
8:45am UK. Long queue again.
9:00am UK. “Excuse me, this boarding card says 19th Feb. I’m flying today.”
Lady takes my ticket and vanishes.
9:15am UK. “Sorry sir, since the flight was delayed, the computer thought it was tomorrow already. Just take the pass, and they will accept it.”
“Are you sure?”
“Well, just to be on the safe side, could you call them and tell them?”
“I will, sir.”
“In front of me, please?”
She gives me a funny look, and picks up the phone.
9:25am UK. At the security gate.
“Excuse me, I have a boarding card for tomorrow, but I’m actually flying today.”
“Hey, Mike…” (… here’s a nutcase?)
“It’s an Air India flight…”
“Oh, OK. Get in.”
9:45am UK. Clear security.
11:00am UK. Hungry. Have breakfast.
12:45pm UK. Flight should have taken off by now, but I’m still at Heathrow, waiting for a boarding announcement.
1:45pm UK. Still waiting.
2:45pm UK. Finally, a boarding announcement. So, flight is 6 hours late, at least. Call home and convey the good news.
3:00pm UK. “Fasten your seatbelt! Fasten your seatbelt!” Air hostess in stern tone.
Guy next to me mutters, “Fasten your seatbelts, please.”
5:30pm UK.“Any food?!” Same air hostess, same tone.
“Open your tray!”
6:00pm UK. Food is lousy. No movies. No books. Laptop: low battery. Can’t sleep.
4:00am India. Flight lands at Mumbai. Haven’t slept. Totally bored.
4:30am India.“All passengers are requested to leave the aircraft.”
“But I’m going to Chennai.”
“You still have to get off, sir.”
5:00am India. “Excuse me, which way for the flight to Chennai?”
“Your flight has already taken off, sir. Please collect your baggage and clear immigration.”
5:30am India. No luggage yet. Slow panic.
6:00am India. No luggage yet. Rapid panic.
6:10am India. Luggage arrives. Check tag: yes, it’s mine.
6:15am India. “Excuse me, where should Air India passengers for Chennai go to?”
“Why are you asking me? How should I know? Everybody is asking like this only!”
“Go! Go there! Stand with everyone!”
6:30am India. Huge mob shouting at Air India staff, who have no clue what’s happening.
7:30am India. Air India staff has vanished.
8:30am India. Rumours that we’re to be put on to a Jet Airways flight.
Chennai passengers are OK, actually. Bangalore passengers only have flights in the evening.
9:00am India. “Go! Take this form and go to the other airport!”
“Is my ticket confirmed on this Jet Airways flight?”
“How do I know? Everything you ask me only. Go! Ask Jet!”
9:30am India. “Excuse me, am I confirmed on the 11:30am flight?”
“Sorry, sir. The flight is booked.”
“Look, I’ve been travelling for a whole day. I’m tired. Can you please do something?”
“I’ll see what I can do, sir.”
To her credit, and Jet Airways’, she got me on that flight.
11:30am India. Jet Airways takes off. On time.
1:30pm India. Flight arrives.
2:00pm India. No luggage. Did Air India transfer it at all?
2:15pm India. Ah, there it is. Pick up luggage from conveyer belt.
“Wait! Sorry, this is my bag.”
Middle-aged man with glasses and thick moustache.
“See? Here’s my yellow tag. I always place a yellow tag for identification.”
“Oh, OK. Sorry. It looked like mine.”
Just to be on the safe side, may as well verify the number…
But he’s gone.
2:30pm India. No luggage. All other bags have arrived.
“Hello sir. Waiting for luggage?”
“Yes. Are there any more bags left?”
“No sir. Only one bag left here. See, is this yours?”
I check. “No.”
“No problem sir, you talk to Jet Airways counter.”
2:40pm India. Jet Airways counter still empty.
2:45pm India. “Sir, this must be an exchange of bags. Does this bag look like yours?”
“Yes, sort of. In fact, someone picked up what looked like my bag.”
2:50pm India. “We have the number of the owner of this bag, sir. We’ll call him.”
“Let me call him as well.”
Mobile is engaged. Leave him a message.
Hi, I think our bags got exchanged. I am still at the airport. Anand.
3:00pm India. Rrring.
“Sorry, sir. I took your bag by mistake!”
“No problem. You wouldn’t have wanted a bag full of diapers anyway.”
“I got confused by the yellow tag.”
“My mother uses a yellow tag as well.”
3:15pm India. We exchange bags.
3:45pm India. Reach home, after nearly 30 hours.
My flight back to the UK was (relatively) uneventful, thanks to having tied pink, yellow and white bands to my luggage this time.