26th January 2021. (Approximately 8:30am)
As I sit with my laptop on the kitchen island, my phone beeps with a text message. It’s a WhatsApp message on the family group. ‘Oh yes! It’s Republic Day in India, today,’ I think to myself while reading it. I smirked at myself. I travelled to The United States for the very first time on this date, 7 years ago. I remember every minute detail of it as if it was just yesterday. And what a hell of a ride it was.
My husband was already in United States and I was supposed to join him soon in Phoenix, Arizona. He had done his best job explaining all the itinerary details to me; procedures at international airports and other travel related tip to eliminate any dubiety in my mind (if at all).
Although I had my fair share of traveling alone throughout my 20s, those were exclusively domestic travels. This would me be my first international peregrination. Honestly, I had mixed feelings about it.
Bhubaneswar—– New Delhi—– New York—– Phoenix. (I had it sorted. Or so, I thought).
24th January, 2014 (7pm IST)
Biju Patnaik International Airport, Bhubaneswar. I was waiting to check-in at the airport. I was traveling by the 9:30pm Air India flight to New Delhi. My parents, in-laws and sister-in-law were there to see me off. I hugged everybody, whispered “don’t worry, I will be fine” into my mom’s ear, hurriedly touched everybody’s feet (it’s an Indian tradition) before rushing in to flash my ID and ticket at the entry.
Security scanning of my luggage is over. I proceeded to the counter to check-in my baggage. My brain was still processing all that lay ahead for that day and the next.
The airport official at the check-in counter: Ma’am your luggage is overweight.
She: Every airline company has its own baggage rules in terms of weight and size of cabin/carry-on and check-in bags. For Air India, you are allowed 2 bags with a maximum weight of 23 kgs each. Your bags exceed the limit.
Me: But, I have an connecting International flight too…
She: I know ma’am, and I just told you the limits of international flights. Otherwise, domestic flights allow even less. Sorry about that.
Me: Wow. Kindly, tell me what am I supposed to do next?
She: You can either take off 5 kgs of weight from each of your bag or just pay an extra amount of it.
Me: Hmm. How much would that cost?
She: (after punching in some numbers into her computer), $100
Me: (to myself, Congratulations for the wonderful start!!!!). But…but… I weighed them thrice. They were…must be that last minute packing. Damn!!! Sigh. Hopefully this is the first and last glitch.
**** reluctantly handed over my credit card to her ****
I see my bags being tagged with a sticker and then slither away.
Cleared airport security gates. Waiting in the departure lobby for the flight to arrive and the boarding to start. I glance at the display board. FLIGHT STATUS: DELAYED!!!! Expected to arrive at 10:30pm. What the heck!!! I have a connecting flight within an hour of landing at Delhi airport.
I frantically call my dad and then my husband to let them know of the current situation. With no other option, both of them ask to just go with the flow and wait for that delayed flight. In the mean time, my disquieted husband speaks to some senior employee at Air India and explains the situation to him. That gentleman told him that they have had many such situations earlier and assured him that the entire situation would be taken care of at the airline’s expenses.
I texted my dad from inside the flight’s cabin that I am finally on my way and I would call him after reaching Delhi. I also ask him to inform Mr. Husband.
25th January, 2014 (2am IST)
Indira Gandhi International Airport, Terminal 1, New Delhi
Delhi. Finally. I was greeted at the skybridge by an airline employee who informed me that my connecting flight to New York had already departed (without me in it) almost half an hour ago and the USA flight for the day was on the run way. So, I was scheduled to take the next day flight to New York. He gave me a printed ticket and an official statement from the airlines for the next day.
There were two other gentlemen caught in the same soup. One of them was on his way to New York and the other to Abu Dhabi.
We board the cab to take us to our hotel which will be our lodging for one day. I am in a cab with three men at almost 3 am.
India’s capital infamous for its notorious attitude towards women especially at night. Again and again, with the increasing number of crimes against women in Delhi, everyone understands that the place is unsafe for women.
I scan my phone contact list to see if there was anyone I could contact in case of an emergency.
The Royal Plaza Hotel, Connaught Place, New Delhi
I check in at the hotel reception. The two other men were also put up in the same hotel. I am rather surprised by the commotion in the hotel lobby at that hour. There was a full blown big fat Indian wedding ceremony in progress. Elaborate venue, intricate garments, ornate decorations, loud music and plenty of gold. Weddings are important the world over, but in India they’re a cultural phenomenon.
All this bling and noise snap me out of my sleepiness for few minutes. I reach my room. Text dad the address of the hotel. Hit the sack.
I wake up famished realizing that I hadn’t eaten anything since I left home. Grabbed a sandwich from the hotel restaurant and went around to see Connaught place. They say Republic Day is the best time to be in Delhi. The Delhi Republic Day parade is the largest and most important of the parades marking the Republic Day celebrations in India. But I wasn’t destined for it. Sigh.
Me and the two other men take a cab to the airport. Hopefully, this time we will make it.
25th January, 2014 (11:30pm IST)
Indira Gandhi International Airport, Terminal 1, New Delhi
Check-in, security, customs, immigration – through.
26th January, 2014 (2am IST)
Off I go! Happy Republic Day India
26th January, 2014
John F. Kennedy International Airport, Queens, NY
Our flight landed 20 minutes ago. The airplane slowly taxied to the beginning of the runway. I was talking to my co-passenger who was also stuck at Delhi.
He: (looking out of the window) There seems to be a lot of sand in the run way. I wonder why?
Me: That’s snow. There was a blizzard here recently. Yesterday, New York City received a dumping – up to 1 foot.
My next flight to Phoenix was from a different terminal. But what hit me the most, more than the freezing temperatures outside, was the vastness of the airport. All too overwhelming. To top it all off, the internal rail link had been closed due to the bad weather. So there I was, standing in the snow in a completely unknown city at the roadside curb of the bus stop waiting for the airport bus to take me and my two huge bags to another terminal.
Finally, I reached my destined boarding gate. But my flight wasn’t for 6 hours. So, I went to a coffee shop inside the airport to grab some food. I asked the barista there if I could use her phone to make a call to my husband and offered her $5 in return. She happily agreed. I now understand why though!
I finally go the check in counter to send in my bags. The officer there asked me why I was there so early for the flight. I explained to her the entire situation. Then she checked something on her computer.
She: Is it okay if I you put on a San Diego flight that has a hop-in at Phoenix? It’s flying pretty vacant. It’s scheduled to depart in an hour, or do you want to wait full 6 hours here?
Me: Oh My God!!! Couldn’t have asked for anything better. Thank you so much.
So after another 6 hours of flying in the last leg of the journey, people packed in rows like eggs in carton, the chemical smell of the toilet, pretzels in foil pouches, cans hiss-popping open, black oval of night sky embedded in the rattling walls, it was all coming to an end.
Checked out of the airport and there he was grinning ear-to-ear.