I don’t think anybody has missed as many flights, trains and buses as I have. Ever.
I have missed trains because I was mistaken about the timing – on my very first backpacking trip, me and my friend Chinmay were supposed to go to Calcutta together on the Gitanjali express. Chinmay sent me a fax of the ticket (this – as you can guess – was a very long time ago) and the time of the journey was a bit garbled. I thought that the time was 6.30 so I decided to reach the station a full half an hour earlier – only to see the Gitanjali express steam out at 6.00 AM – which turned out to be the actual timing. I tried to chase it in a local – but the express took precedence, and I had to give the chase at Kasara and come back and take a flight. You would think that this one experience was enough to teach me a lesson – but I have missed trains as late as 2014 by being mistaken about the timing. Even my mom has blogged about it.
I have missed buses because – well, because I was late, or because I couldn’t find the bus stop – don’t laugh! Bus stops aren’t marked clearly – it could happen to anyone. And once I missed it because me and Dillu were having a drink at Lamba’s restaurant and bar at Chembur. It is right opposite the yogi hotel bus stand, and I am sure better people than me and Dillu have missed the bus by getting carried away by its prawns koliwada and cold beer.
But it is in flights that the true creativity of missing flights comes through.
In olden days (gotta stop saying that – makes me feel like a neathandral) you could turn up just moments before the flight time and still get seated. Once I woke up at 6.00 Am for a 6.30 AM flight.
‘Oh, you have missed your flight.’ Dad said
‘Not on your life!’ I said and dragged him into the car, and drove like Ayrton Senna (gotta think of names of modern racing car drivers) to the airport – Shit shave shampoo and drive all happened in 25 minutes and we were at the airport at 6.25! Dad was white faced, shaking and almost catatonic as I left him and sprinted to the Jet airways counter. There was no irritating CISF at the time, so I could reach the counter in seconds and slammed my ticket on the counter and demanded a boarding pass.
‘Sir...the flight has gone!’ the check in girl said.
‘NO NO...’ I said ‘I can still hear them announcing the last and final departure. Give me the boarding pass.’
Unbelievingly she said ‘Do you have any check in luggage?’
‘NO! DAMMIT! GIVE ME THE PASS!’
She gave me a pass and I sprinted through the security and made to the boarding gate with moments to spare.
Obviously, this was before 9/11 when the world was more innocent. Try this stunt now and you will be in the clink with a security squad guy beating your ass.
But we are talking about missing flights – now anyone can miss flights if you are late, or the flight is preponed or traffic is fucked up (all of which have happened to me) – but I have missed a flight sitting right there in the departure lounge in front of the gate!
I once missed it, because I fell asleep! I was dozing right in front of the counter and missed their boarding announcement and numerous appeals to the mysterious Mr Joshi to turn up. After I woke up, I had to sheepishly go and ask for a seat on another flight. Luckily it was Indian Airlines so they obliged - todays private airlines would have told me to go buy a new ticket.
That is also understandable – if you are asleep, you are asleep! But I had an even stranger experience once.
I was waiting for a Delhi flight – it was an Indian Airlines flight IC655 or something, departing at 9.00 AM. I had reached well in time, and was sitting in the departure lounge, watching the people board. Now, I don’t see the point of boarding the flight early and just sitting in that cramped plane waiting for the other idiots to board. In my book, boarding early is done only if you are escorting neurotic elderly relatives or have a lot of cabin baggage and you need to be first in the cabin so as to get the space in the overhead locker. I generally make it a point of sneering at the fools who stand in line to board the plane, and being the last guy to board the flight, so that as soon as I sit down they do the safety drill and take off. This is a tried and tested procedure, and I have done it hundreds of times.
However, in this particular case – there was a twist.
I strolled up to the check in clerk and royally handed him my boarding pass. He tried to scan it a couple times, but the system couldn’t take it. He peered at my boarding pass and said to me
‘Sir – you are not on this flight!’
‘Eh? What do you mean?’
‘You are on flight IC 655 to Delhi – this is IC 654 to Delhi – via Ranchi! Your flight was at 9.00 AM – this flight is at 9.05 AM.’
‘WHAT!’ I was shocked ‘ Where is my flight then?’
‘At the next counter sir..’ he pointed to the neighbouring boarding gate. ‘But they have closed the boarding. The counter is closed.’
‘WHAT!!!!’ I screamed and ran to that counter, but it was closed. Puffing and gasping, I came back to this fellow and said ‘Put me on your flight man- you are also IC and you are also going to Delhi.’
‘I don’t know...’ he said doubt fully ‘the flight is full. Only one passenger is yet to board – if he turns out to be a no show, then I can give you his seat.’
I waited hopefully, but then the bloody fellow turned up, puffing and gasping and I had to go down to their office and get a seat on a later flight.
However – all this was on domestic flights – which is after all a controllable environment. The worst thing that can happen is an embarrassing call to the client or to the boss.
I have had some interesting goof ups on international flights too!
One was on the Mumbai Dubai flight. We had had a good year and the company was sending us on a junket to Dubai.
I reached the airport well in time and greeted my colleague Shekhar at the airport. We cleared immigration well in time, but after I cleared security, I just couldn’t find my boarding pass! I searched high and low, but the bloody thing had vanished!
Shekhar almost had a heart attack!
‘Sir sir sir....what will we do sir...the cops will arrest us and give us the third degree...OOOOOO.....my first foreign trip.....MERA KYA HOGAAAAA......MY POOR PARENTS....WHERE WILL THEY SEARCH FOR MEEEEEE....’ he broke down and started sobbing bitterly.
‘hush. ‘ I said ‘Why so much tension? Whats the worst that can happen? They will not allow me to board the flight. That’s OK...I am not desperate to see Dubai. If they cut up rough, I will simply go home.’
He stared at me unbelievingly as I calmly went and spoke to the dragon lady who was running the Emirates operations and told her that I had lost my boarding pass.
She almost blew a gasket.
‘HOW COULD YOU LOSE A BOARDING PASS?!!’ she screamed and Shekhar blanched and nearly shat his pants. ‘HOW COULD YOU?!!!!’
I was completely calm and said ‘OK...now that you have got that out of your system, let’s do something productive. I have lost the pass, and I am sorry about it – but shouting isn’t going to bring it back. Let’s get a fresh pass done.’
After fulminating for some more time, we got to do the whole thing again- new boarding pass – new immigration stamp – an interesting discussion with the airport police – new security stamp – the works.
I had taken my jacket off for security, and as I put it on again – I felt a rustling in my sleeve. I put in my hand to investigate, and came out with my old boarding pass! The bloody thing had been in my sleeve all along!
‘See this!’ I said to Shekhar and showed him two boarding passes – both with immigration and security stamps. His eyes almost fell out of his head. ‘Put it away sir....before they arrest both of us!’
But the reason why I was thinking about all this was an interesting experience I had today.
I was in Johannesburg, South Africa – waiting to board a flight to Perth, Australia on Qatar airways. Qatar airways has a hub and spoke system – so the flight was Johannesburg to Doha; and then change to a Doha – Perth flight.
‘It’s a tight connection in Doha’ She-who-must-be-obeyed warned me ‘Only a couple of hours. So please don’t fall asleep or dawdle in Doha.’
‘Not to worry, ma’m’ I replied, giving her a snappy salute. ‘I shall be alert and sober.’
I reached the airport at 10 AM for a 3 PM flight and spent the time looking around the airport and shopping for curios.
However, it turned out that the flight was delayed and delayed and delayed - first they said that it would leave at 4.30, then 5.00 then 5.30. At first, I panicked – as it would leave very little time to catch the Doha Perth flight – but when the flight became very late and then very very late - I relaxed - I would definitely miss the connection – so why worry? The airline would do something.
The Qatar airways guys came and told us to eat at the coffee shop on them – and thus I was convinced that this was going to be a long long delay.
We were supposed to board from gate A3, so I was sitting in the coffee shop right in front of the gate, where I could see the planes. There was no sign of a Qatar airways plane – a South Africa airways plane was sitting at Gate A3.
I surfed the net as long as I could - had taken a South Africa SIM – but as the flight was so delayed, all my balance got over in accessing the internet. When I checked the balance it showed – Airtime – zero; Data – zero.
At 5.00 PM, I got bored of sitting in the coffee shop and decided that this was a good time to take a shit – before I got into a crowded airplane – and made my way to the loo.
I had a satisfactory dump and was feeling the satisfaction of a job well done – and was just washing my hands, when my phone rang.
‘Strange’ was my first thought ‘who has my South Africa number?’
‘Shit!!!’ was my second thought ‘Only the airline has my number. Hope there is no security issue with the check in baggage’
‘Hello?’ luckily incoming calls were free – thus I could take the call on a zero balance
‘Can I speak to Mr JO SHEEE?’
‘I am calling from Qatar airways Mr JO SHEEE’ he said ‘Where are you now?’
‘Where am I now.....I am here...in front of gate No 3...’
‘Please come to the boarding gate sir...we are about to close the boarding.’
‘CLOSE THE BOARDING!!! WHEN DID YOU EVEN START THE BOARDING?!! I HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR SO MANY HOURS!!’
‘Yes sir...everyone has boarded...please come immediately’
I sprinted to the boarding gate, thanking the lord that I had a South Africa SIM which they could call on. Unlikely they would have called an India number – and I may not have taken a call from an unknown number on international roaming
I made my way to the plane and saw that it was a bit of a concealed entrance – the entrance was from gate A3, but then the path led to gate A5, where the plane was standing. No wonder I had not seen the plane.
‘All’s well that ends well’, I thought as I sat down. My bowels are empty and I was the last one to board the plane, as I normally like to do.
I blog about my travels - and the thoughts they set off! Sometimes the simplest destinations can be the most thought-provoking!