Bhopal, Air India and ‘Sir’

What you’re going to read is not an exaggeration. Sometimes you see things that don’t need any exaggeration to narrate.

 I reached Bhopal airport exactly an hour before my flight. At the check-in counter, I was told I am 3kgs overweight. I protested that I am at least 10kgs overweight but that shouldn’t be a problem to take the flight. She clarified that it was about my baggage.

“Please shift some stuff to your hand baggage”

“I am willing to pay for it. Don’t worry about it”

“But sir, if you can just work around, it should come within the 15kg limit”

“I neither want to open my bag here nor do I want to carry extra weight in my hand baggage”

“Then you will have to go to the ticket window and pay for it”

I left the check in counter and looked for the ticket counter which was at the entrance. As I was crossing the second checkpoint, the guard stopped me.

“Sorry sir, you can’t exit once you have checked in”

“I am not exiting, I am just going to pay my excess baggage”

“I can’t allow you to cross. You won’t be allowed back in”

“What? Why? I have a valid ticket. I mean I am not excited to walk all the way there either. If you can arrange for the excess baggage fee to be paid right here within your Lakshman Rekha, then it would be the best”

Confused but determined to do his duty, he calls out to his senior from the main entrance. A little older guy walks up. The guard explains him his problem. He seemed equally perplexed by this turn of events. I don’t think anybody in Bhopal has ever paid excess baggage. After much thinking, he suggests something even more ridiculous.

“Can you call someone from the Air India counter?”

“Why should I call? You call someone from Air India”

“Sorry sir, but you’ll have bring someone from the check in counter to go with you”

I looked back to notice the guys at the check-in counter were witnessing my situation all this while. I noticed a senior guy walking past with Air India tag. I asked him to help me out.

“I will come with you. Don’t worry”

And with him, I made it to the ticket counter where a lady was busy chatting on her phone. Upon noticing me, she put her phone aside and took my excess baggage slip.

“Sir our network is down. I will have to make a manual receipt” she told me clicking vigorously on the refresh button.

She picks up the phone on the counter and dials some colleague of hers.

“Ma’am, network is down so should I just make a manual receipt for excess baggage? hmmm…yes….yes…excess baggage…yes…network is down since morning…ya….ok…alright ma’am…no no it’s excess baggage…yes…Ok…fine ma’am. “

She kept the phone and began looking through the drawers for something.

Drawer 1…Nothing…2…Nope…3…Nope…4…Na…5…Not here…6..Not here as well. She turned around, darted through the room to the other side and began looking in the drawers of another desk.

In the fourth one, she found a leaflet that I remembered used to be how flight tickets were issued before 2006. She flipped through it and settled in her chair to fill it. She suddenly realized she’s missing something else. Again, she got up and began her dramatic Hindi movie style search for something. None of the drawers had it. So, she just reached out deep into her bag and found a pen. She also managed to find an old booklet which was filled to copy from it.

“Sir I would need the ticket”

I opened it on my phone and gave it to her. She continued filling the booklet like school kid copying homework.

I handed her the money as soon as she was done writing.

“Oh yes…no…change…wait…sir…let me finish this…will then take the money”

She continued to read the first page for next five minutes. Then she flipped the page to she second carbon page and read everything. Then she read through the third page followed by fourth page as if making sure that nothing changed in the carbon copies. She opened the first page and would flip back and forth comparing between first and the subsequent pages. Satisfied that she did indeed fill it right and the carbon worked just as it should have, she tore apart all the four pages from the booklet and lay them next to each other on the desk. She scanned through them again.

If you know me, I don’t need to explain how my patience was being tested all this while.

She got and reached out to another person walking around in the airport.

“Avinash sir, we hand over the last two pages of the manual excess baggage receipt right?”

“Wait. Let me come over there.”

He comes in with the swag of Robert Langdon and both of them sit to decipher this mystery.

“So, this booklet has four pages. I think we have to give the last two pages to the customer” explained the lady.

“See, this booklet has four pages. The first page is to be filled by your hand ok?”

“Yes sir. I have done that”

“Did you fill two booklets? Why will you book two booklets”

“No sir. That one is an old one. I was using it to fill this one”

“Okay. So the first one is filled by hand ok? And the rest all get filled up because they have carbon behind them. Ok?”

“Yes sir”

He flips through the pages to read them all.

“You didn’t fill the name?”

“There is no column for name sir”

“Come on…so what? You have to fill the passenger name somewhere. Now let this one go but in future, if you fill this up, make sure you write the passenger name”

“Ok sir. Which one to give to the passenger?”

“So this first one filled by hand goes in the registry. The second one goes in this drawer. The third one and fourth one will go at the check-in counter.”

“Yeah so the last two will be given to the passenger”

“They go to the check in counter”

“But sir the passenger only will take it to the check in counter”

“Ah! Yes yes..so you give this to the passenger”

“Ok thank you sir. I wasn’t sure which one goes to the passenger”

“No problem. I am going to have some tea”

She begins another desperate search in the drawers. Luckily the fourth drawer had the stamps. She stamps all four of the pages and staples the last two pages again and hands them over to me. I offer the money again and she returns the change to me. I requested her to give me my phone back. She did.

This whole incident took 35mins by watch.

I reach the same checkpoint and the guard or the Air India personnel are nowhere to be seen. I reach the check in counter and hand over the booklet. She looks at it like I gave her Ramayan written on parchment paper.  

She turns left and screams “Sir…Sir….Goel sir…the number on the cover page, we log this in, right?”

“What is it?”

“Manual receipt”

“Upgrade coupon?”

“Yes”

“For Lucknow flight?”

“Yes sir”

“Manual upgrade coupon?”

I interrupted before she can say yes again, “No it’s an excess baggage receipt”.

What can you possibly upgrade in a flight from Bhopal to Lucknow in an ATR jet?

“Aah…ok..so what’s the problem? Just enter the number on top”

“Ok sir”

He looks at me saying “This whole computer thing is very recent. We used to have everything manual sometime ago” and laughs out loudly. The rest of the ground crew around him follow.

I finally get my boarding pass and thanking my stars, I make a run for the security check. I made it to the flight.

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