Saturday, February 24, 2007

Transatlantic flights - Part 1

Here is a post expanded from an earlier one into a two parter, which was featured on Desicritics recently.

Having made numerous transatlantic flights from US to India and back with two kids ever since they were born (or even incubating) - I've endured the bad and worst of air travel.

This January, on our way to the airport for a direct flight from Delhi to Chicago, we were stuck in the kind of thick fog that makes even long term residents of Delhi raise their eyebrows. We knew we wouldn't be heading out at 12:15am. A two hour wait in the pre-security waiting area ensued. We quickly annexed extra seats to stretch our legs on and were surprised at the patience of our fellow travelers who hardly shot us a dirty look. When ours was one of only three international flights that were not canceled for the night, we smiled our way through security.

The joy evaporated slowly when we were made to wait for three more hours in the waiting area because the plane crew was stuck in the fog trying to make its way to the airport. (We knew we were in trouble the minute the airport staff told us the crew was merely "five minutes" away.)

Thankfully a big screen TV was showing
Star Wars Episode III, which I had previously thought was gory enough to keep my sons away from. However, given the torture that awaited us, I felt inappropriate gore was a highly acceptable option and allowed my two delighted kids to watch. Right after that - after a round of hastily devoured sandwiches packed from home - an impromptu Star Wars club was formed with two other little denizens of the future-fantasy world and one more hour went by comfortably for our sons.

Since the lounge was packed, I had previously asked my wife to pull up a floor and make herself comfortable. A number of false announcements were made regarding the time of departure, each announcement revising the estimate of the previous one. I kept a close eye on the only open chai stand in the lounge. "When he starts packing," I told my wife, "it's time to stand up and get in line". Sure enough, five minutes before we ultimately boarded, the chai stand virtually folded itself in a flash and our friendly vendor all but melted away into the night. It was 3 am when we boarded.

It's cheaper for airlines to make their passengers wait than it is for them to reschedule. So we waited in the plane, the fog thick as milk around us. It was a full four more hours before we took off at 7am. Our kids were snoring like Kumbhkaran. The attendants had hastily given us the only packaged meal to help us ward off immediate hunger. The experienced travelers among us knew we would be one meal short on the flight, so we squirreled stuff away for jet-lag-fueled hunger pangs later.

Then we took off, and our sixteen hour journey began.

We've traveled enough that we eked out a good amount of fun even on that flight. There is always one person who'll grab you on the plane and force you to listen to his successes and triumphs in life. There is always at least one person who is sleeping so uninhibitedly that you have to make up excuses to pass by their seat periodically (it helps maintain the humor). Often you look at the watch and fake yourself out by imagining only 10 minutes have passed, then squeal with delight when you look at the watch to "discover" it's been a full 15 minutes since you last peeked. It all works - you do what it takes to get through.

In Part 2 of this series, I'll list out some lessons we've gleaned over the years in the hope that they will be helpful to you.

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