I missed a lot of flights some international, some with long delays and overnight stays, but this story is the one I remember the most.
It happened in 1997, but I still remember as if it happened yesterday. I was working for Motorola then and had a round the world trip that stopped in 6 countries to do training for our software. The last stop was in India on my way back home. I was in Madras (Chennai now) at my Brother’s place along with my parents and had a flight to Bombay (Mumbai) and connecting on Swiss Air to Zurich/Atlanta/Phoenix.
Believe it or not, travel in 1997 was so different, no cell phones (at least in India), security where you can walk to the gate, Smoking sections on planes and lot less airlines. At that time there were only 2 airline options in India – Indian Airlines (Govt Run) and new and upcoming Jet Airways. Motorola booked all my flights and at that time we had business class travel for everyone going international. My flight from Madras was at 6 p.m. – reaching Bombay around 7:45 p.m. and my international flight from there at 1:20 a.m. – so I had 5 1/2 hours layover. I checked in around 4:30 p.m. at Madras and they told me that the flight is delayed by 2 hrs due to late arrival of aircraft (this excuse remains current even now). So I thought that will cut my wait in Bombay, so no issues. Some people rushed over to the last flight from Jet Airways to Bombay and they accommodated a few. My agent said, since my ticket was in First Class, they don’t have an option in Jet but she thought I should make it in plenty of time. My parents and brother were tired of standing, so I told them to leave around 6:30 p.m. and went to the lounge.
7 p.m. – Was notified that flight is now 3 hrs late and will reach Bombay at 10:45 p.m. – still got 2 hrs + to catch my connection..
8 p.m. – The flight is now 3 1/2 hours late – will reach Bombay at 11:15 p.m. – getting a little too close to comfort.
9 p.m. – the plane is here – just a matter of loading people and taking off… everybody is on the plane by 9:30 p.m. – yes, I may make it after all…
9:50 p.m. – why are we not taking off? What? someone is missing? – they have to figure out if he/she dozed off somewhere or went back home..
10:15 p.m. – we are closing doors now – estimated arrival time mid night – 1 hr and 20 minutes – I can still make it right?
10:30 p.m. – why are we still on taxiway? Lots of international flights landing, we are not cleared yet…
10:40 p.m. – finally took off – Captain comes on PA, apologizes for the delay, that was not in his hands.. will STEP on it and get us there as soon as he can.
12:15 a.m. – landing in Mumbai – just barely 1 hour + left… I am now thinking my chances are 30-40% to make the flight – most flights close an hour before take off.
12:20 a.m. – I spot a baggage guy and ask him I can get bags quick since I will try to rush to the international terminal, he asks my bag color/type – disappears into the bottom of plane, comes out in 3 minutes with my 2 suitcases… I still remember his face… what a help!
12:30 a.m. – come out of domestic terminal – the only option to get to International terminal is to wait for a shuttle (yeah right) or get a cab… I only had a few Indian Rupees left… Enter Mr. Singh (I don’t remember his full name) – he asks if I want taxi, I said yes to International terminal – he said 500 Rupees – I said, I only have 200, he says, you got dollars? Yes, $20 (equivalent of 720 rupees at that time) I will take you… I said let’s go, told him I have 40 mins now to make it… he said, get in back seat and DUCK… what, yes, duck?. He said, there are about 10 speed bumps between here and International terminal… and he is not going to slow down… ok? I said yes and here we go….
That was the craziest 10 min Taxi ride of my life… Mr. Singh was honking, swerving, jumping speed bumps… and he got me to International terminal at 12:40 a.m. – he said – “RUN, I will get your bags”… I trusted him to follow me, not to take off on me, and started running and I saw him dragging my 2 suitcases behind into the terminal. I reached Swiss Air check-in counter at 12:45 a.m. – 35 mins to take off… then I find out…
No body home. I guess they closed the counters, Mr. Singh arrives, says sorry, that he will wait outside if I needed taxi to take me to a hotel… I go over the counter and find couple of employees doing paperwork in the back. I showed them my ticket and asked what are my options…
12:50 a.m. – The Check-in Agent calls Gate Agent and says “I have a Business Class passenger arrived late from a connection, if I send him in, will you be able to take him?” – the gate agent says – “we will give you 10 extra minutes and close the door at 1:30 a.m. – no exceptions…”
Here we GO!!
Picture this… Me running with my computer bag, The agent with radio and my boarding pass, one of the attendants with a trolley with my suitcases (too late to check bags, so they have to take it to the gate)… dodging the peak passenger traffic at Bombay airport, trying to get to the gate…
1:05 a.m. – Immigration counter – got permission to go through Crew line – #4 in line…
1:10 a.m. – get to the counter, the agent tells the officer, we are in a hurry, trying to get me to the gate… now, this is another face I still remember… he goes, “SO?” He checks my passport, green card, looks at me and says “Where is your Facial Hair? Is this really you?” – I guess I had a goatee in my Green Card and clean shaven at this point… he was in no hurry to stamp on my passport. I had the urge to jump over the counter, the story would have been much more different If I did…
1:15 a.m. – finally at X-ray – again through crew line… will we make it?
1:20 a.m. – security done… wouldn’t you know it, the plane is at Gate 10 and we are at Gate 1 🙂
I don’t remember how many people I knocked down and scared off, it was a last ditch effort run… 1:28 a.m. – at Gate 10… The Gate agent was in touch with us over radio through out and was looking for us to show up..
The guy pushing my suitcases goes down the stairs to get them loaded, I gave him whatever Indian rupees I have left, got to the boarding door.. there is a flight attendant standing at the door and gets my boarding pass and yells to the gate agent who was walking away….
HEY, ARE YOU SURE THIS GUY IS IN BUSINESS CLASS??
Those words still echo in my ears… was I too young? too Indian? Looked like crap from the running? WTF, I am right here holding my boarding pass…. after the confirmation from Gate Agent, she lets me to the left into Business Class… then I realized I was the only the 2nd Indian looking guy in the entire business class section … ouch!
I couldn’t call till I got to Zurich to notify my family that I actually made my flight… since then I made a few and missed a few, but on that exciting day, a few people stepped up to help me… the guy at plane to get my bags, Mr. Singh, The agent at check-in, the guy running with my bags… I am thankful to all them for not only helping to make the flight, but also for the experience and memories…