Of baggage tags, x-ray scanners and 24-degree Celsius

All incidents mentioned in this post are true and happened as is. They have not been exaggerated.

I thanked my Ola driver, took my bag and stepped out. As I approached the gate, a long queue was ahead of me. The person at the end of the line had five passports. The security guy was having a tough time matching the name on the ticket and that on the first passport. Four other gentlemen were surrounding him. He kept going back and forth between the two documents. The people behind were getting impatient. The security guard at the other gate stepped up his game and invited people from my queue to come to him. I went over and made my way through. I looked back and nothing had moved in that queue.

I have been attempting to live like old times. I don’t keep my earphones plugged in drowning the ambient sounds and the world around me by music when in public places. I also try to keep the phone use to minimum when in public except when it’s something important or work related. This however has suddenly made me aware of the utter chaos our world is now.

When I was traveling from Mumbai, I saw some brand-new kiosks that had been installed at T2. They now print your baggage tags as well. I was delighted to see this. I printed my boarding pass and the baggage tag, tore out the stub that goes behind the boarding pass and was about to peel off the tag to put it around the bag when a representative from my airline stopped me saying “Sir the people at the check in counter will do this. You don’t have to do this”. I was confused. He pointed to a long queue for self check in baggage drop.

“But I have already printed my baggage tag…I don’t need to get in the queue”

“This is the queue for that sir. The normal check in queue is on the other side” he replied smiling ear to ear.

I sighed and dragged myself to the line. I spotted the automatic self check in counter. But it was being operated by an agent. The people weren’t allowed to actually use it. The time taken to check in through that was exactly the same as other counters if not more.

Anyway, back here at Delhi T3 airport for my return flight, I continued to make my way forward though the painfully slow line. The person in front of me kept stalling because he was too busy looking at his phone. I could almost hear people honking behind me. When I reached the end of the line, it took a while before my turn at a counter.

The check in counter right in front of me had a family. The father was talking on the phone. He was coordinating some big conference. The elder daughter was on her phone chatting with someone and listening to music. The mother was nagging her for something while the son (probably six or seven) was not very happy and kept angrily bumping into the mother only to be pushed back again. The lady behind the counter was furiously typing something. She would have to ask the man something three times before he would get off the phone momentarily to answer her. He tucked the phone between his head and right shoulder to put the bags on the weighing scale. The lady behind the counter again said something.

He took the bag off and continued talking on the phone walking away. His wife called him back to sort the problem first. The agent continued typing. She then walked over to another counter to another agent who was also religiously typing on her computer. She halted that check-in process to check something and then came back on her computer and typed some more. The man was still on the phone, now even louder as he opened two of the bags and began shifting stuff from one to another. The mother had finally grabbed the attention of the girl and the nagging was now a heated conversation. The girl kept shrugging, rolling her eyes, sighing, mumbling something and then texting again. The father would every now and then ask the daughter or mother something about the clothes but neither of them really came forward to help or gave a straight forward reply. They continued arguing. He packed the bags and put them back on the weight scale. He suddenly realized his son had walked away playing with a trolley. In his crooked posture of holding the phone between his head and shoulder, he lunged forward, grabbed the boy and dragged him to the family. And he continued talking fixing his posture and holding the phone normally.

Luckily the next counter called me because I was almost ready to go to him and snatch his phone away. I handed over my boarding pass. The agent typed what seemed like a long essay on the computer. Like she had to hack into the system every-time to check someone in. It took Harshvardhan Kapoor less time to hack into Mumbai airport system in Bhavesh Joshi (don’t ask me why I’ve seen that film).

From whatever little international travel, I have done, I know for sure (have paid attention to this part) that in London, New York, Helsinki, Milan etc. the agent never has to type so much. Even at Air India counters in NY and Milan. It’s mainly scanning the barcode on the boarding pass, scanning the passport and visa, a few clicks may be, printing the baggage tag, attaching it and done. I never understand why we are so much in love with this typing business. The boarding passes do have barcodes that are eventually scanned at the boarding gate.

The security check line was no surprise. There were ten counters open and all of them were flooded with people. Nobody was moving. Right ahead of me were three ladies traveling together. One of them was extremely particular that nobody breaks through the queue. She had some infection on her nose which left small brown dead skin patches right on the tip and edge of nostrils. One would almost want to scratch it off. I probably would have if it was on my nose. She kept reminding people very politely that there was a queue. She also made sure her co-travelers understood the procedure of getting through security check.

“Keep the laptop out in the tray ok…”

“I know…” replied her friend in a not so happy tone opening her bag to take out the laptop.

“And if you have any liquids, put them out as well…”

“hmmm…”

“You can put your phone in the bag. That’s ok…”

“yeah…”

“But make sure you have your boarding pass”

“I have it.” she answered while opening zips after zips inside her bag. It had multiple levels of compartments. The laptop was found three levels down on the right side. I actually was tempted to ask which bag that was. It was so much organized.

“Don’t put it in the tray. It will need to be stamped. Excuse me sir…there’s a queue. Yes, over there…yeah so don’t put your boarding pass in there”

“yeah I didn’t put my boarding pass” the friend replied, holding on to her last bit of patience.

“You want me to hold your boarding pass. I am afraid you’ll leave it in the bag” Her politeness could make people lose their mind.

“No. It’s ok. I got it” She continued to stay patient, polite and determined to find all her electronic devices in the maze her bag was.

“Can people not see the queue?” she complained to her other fellow traveler.

I started to wonder why the line was not moving at all. The bags in the scanning machine hadn’t moved. I looked for the guy on the console and spotted the problem right there. He was so busy talking to the guy on the scanning machine behind him, the guy at the end of his machine to organize the bags exiting and the guy frisking people that he wasn’t moving the belt forward.

He was doing something very similar to what a lot of actors in various sitcoms do. When they are eating as part of their scene, they keep fidgeting with the food but never really eat it. They just keep saying their lines but never ever sip the coffee or take a bite. Further, a lot of times, one of the actors would ask for something to be done quickly but suddenly it will lead to a really long conversation and everyone would forget there was something urgent needed to be done a minute ago. The guy was talking, laughing, looking at the screen but not pressing any buttons. He would turn again and make a point, laugh some more and continue staring at the screen.

He managed to move one bag forward. Then got up suddenly and walked over to the guy at the end, patted his back, ruffled the bags on the end, turned around and walked back to his seat. He then spotted an old register. So, he picked it up and began aimlessly flipping through it. He got up again and went to the machine behind him where another man sat. The two of them joked about something in the bag and laughed again. He walked away from there and just aimlessly began to wander around the area. He had a nice wide smile on.

For almost 15mins the scanning machine stayed unmanned and surprisingly nobody in the queue complained. A person walked through but had his phones in his pocket along with his wallet. He was sent back. He tried to put his things in his tray but the lady in front of me shooed him away for he was not in queue.

The guy frisking realized that nobody was coming forward anymore. He looked around and understood what was happening. He called the guy at the console over, gave him the metal detector and he went over to the scanning machine. Suddenly the bags began moving. Our hero however, now was chatting his way through frisking. A poor man kept holding the titanic pose while our gossip queen wouldn’t shut up. He just had so much tell everyone. And they seemed to be all happy things. I somewhat envied him.

I was early to the airport. I wasn’t even remotely worried about missing my flight. Nor was all of it annoying me. I was now a part of it. I walked over to get frisked and finally got to hear some of his chatter. His accent and surname Singh told me he was a fellow Jaunpuriya.

“…I don’t like to brag but I have always been upfront about all of these things. You can’t make me do things. I told him very clearly that if he talks to me again in that tone, it’s not going to end well. His face shrank like a dry date…”

They all laughed. He frisked me and then right before he was about to stamp my boarding pass, he drifted into a very deep thought. He just kept staring into nothingness, smiling. I kept looking at him. It took him few seconds to come back to his senses and stamp it. While I was packing putting my things back in my bag, I heard a familiar voice. I looked and saw the same family taking their things from the nearby counter and no prizes for guessing, the guy was back on the phone.

“Hello sir. Welcome aboard” the usual pleasantries were exchanged, and I was at my seat. I usually never have to use the washroom during domestic flights, so I love to take the window seat and go off to sleep. Most of my travel is at such odd hours that I end passing out even before take-off. Today, I was well slept and thus absolutely aware.

While everyone was still settling in, I heard a ‘ting’. I looked around and saw the light blinking above a seat much ahead of me. A man wearing a dark gray suit and gold watch sitting in the aisle seat had requested for some assistance. A very pleasant looking air hostess attended to him. He described something for few seconds while the hostess listened very intently nodding along. She then explained something back to him, smiled and walked away swiftly.

She started looking for something in the small luggage compartment in the end where the crew often keeps their stuff. She walked over the pantry area and opened a couple of compartments but still didn’t find it. She then walked across the plane and met another hostess and described something in her ears. She understood and walked at the rear end of the plane, quickly went through a lot of shelves at the back and then walked back to the tell her she didn’t find it. The former hostess walked back to the customer and explained why she couldn’t find what was asked for. Instead she offered two bottles of water. I hope that compensated for what the man was looking for within seconds of entering the aircraft.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. My apologies for the delayed take off due to the air traffic congestion at Delhi airport. However, we are expecting to make up for the loss and land on time…”

“The outside temperature right now is -60 degrees celsius but for your comfort and convenience, we are maintaining a 24 degrees celsius in the aircraft…”

What? Is that something to brag about? Of all the breakthroughs in technology that have happened in air travel since Boeing 707, maintaining a comfortable above 0 temperature is something that needs show off? How about “Ladies and gentlemen, I am not flying this thing anymore. It’s flying by itself now, I am resuming Game of Thrones. I have a lot to catch up”

And is it only the customers that need it? The crew and pilots are all immune to it? How about you don’t maintain the temperature! Tell people to carry their down jackets, quilts, furs and hiking gear. Get some bonfires going. I am sure some people will opt for it if that results in lower air fare. Also, 24 is quite warm. How about 21?

The cabin suddenly filled with smell of food. My seat was at a very strategic point (unintentional) where the service begins. When food is being served in a flight, I get a little worked up. I have to look like I don’t need this meal really, yet I am just hungry for some reason and want to just eat it. I so want to be part of the people who say “I never eat in flights. The food is just so bad!” but I always end up being the one who opens his tray when the attendant is two rows away.

I keep an eye on the hostess/steward to know when he/she is going to ask me. I make sure I am either looking away, reading or watching something on my iPad when asked “Excuse me sir, veg or non-veg?”. I usually then turn around acting very relaxed and say “Veg. Thank you”. Yay! I totally nailed it. I made them believe I wasn’t hungry but since they insisted, I decided to eat. They serve the food which is always at 400-degree celsius. How is it that the butter is always frozen while meal is always scorching hot? I put the butter on top of the meal and in 30seconds it melts. It takes me probably five minutes to finish the meal. And then I wonder why they can’t just take the trash from me immediately.

“Your baggage will be available at belt number 12. I repeat belt number 12”

I grabbed my bag and walked over to P7 west wing while booking an Uber. There are now dedicated elevators that only go back and forth between arrival and P7 where Uber pick-up zone is. The elevators have big yellow warnings about this in English and Hindi. I got into an elevator. A young lady walked in looking at her phone. Followed by a couple both lost in their phones. They stood in it and suddenly realized it only goes to P7. They opened the doors and rushed out. Two more people, looking at their phone, were now standing by the door.

“This only goes to P7?” one of them asked. I nodded yes. They let the door close. Suddenly it opened again.

“This goes to P9?” he asked me again.

“It’s the same elevator buddy. I am the same person.” I replied. He got furious. And pressed the button a couple of more times opening the door again that was almost closed.

“You need to move over to the other elevator to go to P9” I told him pointing away firmly but politely. He kept looking at me for few seconds and walked away. I think he is a frequent traveler on Mumbai local. Usually, after two-three Borivali trains, a Virar slow shows up.

“This only goes to P7?” another lady asked me walking towards the elevator.

“Yes” and I closed the door. Luckily, I made it to P7 this time.

You have been matched with an Uber XL at no extra cost. Ravi in his Chevrolet Njoy was on his way. He was in the airport itself. I was relieved. All he had to go was to come to the parking. I settled at the waiting area staring at my Uber moving around the airport to come to me.

“You need a car? I have Uber and Ola of my own. I can get one for you right now. That’s why I never book it through their app. I always call one of mine” the man next to me asked me.

“No thank you. My cab is already on its way”

I could see Ravi taking the turn towards the entrance of the parking to come to P7. Suddenly he continued to drive away back towards highway. I called him.

“Sorry sir. I don’t know how to come to P7. I took the wrong turn. Will take a U turn and come back”

He went all the way to domestic airport, took a U-turn then another U-turn to come back. Meanwhile, the gentleman next to me was loudly yapping on his phone.

“Arey I will come out to the main road. Autos here have to pay an entry free. They charge the customers. Domestic is easy that way…the highway is so close by. This international airport is a mess. There’s no way you can come and pick me, right? Ok. I will walk out and figure something”

Another gentleman came and sat next to me. The yappadoodle asked him too if he needed a ride. But I think his earlier conversation didn’t help his case. So that guy also refused. He got up, fixed his shirt and walked away.

My Uber was now almost going to turn towards the parking when I see it missing the turn again. I called him.

“Sorry sir. I missed the exit again. I am now at the departure. The road on the outside.”

I considered canceling but thought it will probably be faster if I just go upstairs to departure and meet him. I told him to wait. I walked through the whole of airport but there was no way for a person to walk out to the outer road. He called me again and told me that the policeman is asking him to leave. He ended up taking another long U-turn. I told him to come to the departure lane.

He made it. I was finally on my way back home in car the size of my bathroom. When I was almost reaching my home, say about a kilometer away, his phone began ringing. And I can’t explain how absolutely shrill and brain damaging ringtone that was. It was a pickup request. Except he wouldn’t accept it. I stopped at the Oberoi signal on the highway followed by the Oberoi signal on Film city road, Dindoshi signal, Gokuldham signal, the whole congestion of Gokuldham market and the phone kept ringing. He neither silenced it nor did he accept the request.

“That’s a pick-up request, right? Why don’t you accept it?” I tried to intelligently solve the situation.

“First I will drop you sir. Then I will pick it up. I am new, so I don’t know how to do both.” And just like that, it kept ringing slowly lobotomizing me.

“Can you silence it?”

“I don’t know sir. This is my first day.” He tried pressing the volume buttons, but the thing didn’t shut up. Seemed like it was my destiny.

I turned through Riddhi garden road towards my lane. Some school bus decided to stop and wait. The phone kept ringing. I looked around. It was too narrow for the bus and the incoming car to cross at the same time. The car reversed. The bus passed and kept moving ahead of us. It dropped a couple of kids and turned right where I had to turn as well. It got stuck again because of an oncoming Innova.

The phone continued to ring.

I asked him to end the trip, jumped out of the car and walked to my building. It kept ringing for few minutes in my head.

Reached home and dropped flat on my bed. A loud angry meeeeooooowwwwwwwwwwww broke the silence of the house. Shamsher was hungry. His plate was shiny clean.

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