Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The story of the flight back from AD

And then there was the flight back. Or what was supposed to be the flight back.

Having finished work (the shopping primarily, plus the last few bits for the stories), we reached the airport at around 10.00pm (Abu Dhabi time, two hours behind India), for the flight at 11.30pm. Boarded the flight on time, and then (club class, no less) settled down into a nice, comfortable slumber. The flight (Gulf Air) was supposed to stop at Muscat for 45 minutes, which it did. Well, supposedly, at least, because I slept through the next few hours. It took off on time, and then - en route to Delhi - developed a snag. Reaching Delhi was out of the question, so it did an about turn, and made for Muscat. Couldn't land there because the wheels wouldn't come out, and tried to reach Abu Dhabi again. That it did successfully, and when it landed - waking me up - I realised that there was a problem somewhere, because it was 4.30am by my watch, making it 6.30am in Delhi, and there was no light outside the window (or is it called a porthole?). We step out of the plane - most others aware of the sequence of events - and I see six ambulances and as many fire brigades. Gradually, I find out that I am extremely lucky to be alive and that our pilot had just managed to save 350 people by a combination of immense skill and luck.

Well, this experience should have been enough, but as it transpired, it wasn't.
We reached the airport lounge, parked ourselves around the duty free port, and started our wait, which eventually turned out to be a 14-hour one. Why? Because the airport hotel didn't have room for the numbers we came with, and there was no option but for us to sit in the lounge. The flight would be ready in a couple of hours though, so it's not much of a bother. The couple of hours turned out to be 14 hours, but that was after a series of 'couple of hours' promises by a unit trained to deal with Indians in concentration camp-like manners. Grunts were the answers to most questions.

We fought, indeed we did. Not just us 12-odd journos who had made the trip, but about 50 members of the crew that had gone across to broadcast the matches live. We fought hard, protesting against the treatment, the lack of proper accommodation for such a long haul, everything. We finally got food in return. Compensation - as airline laws provide as compulsory - hasn't happened, but we vowed to get what's due to us: All of us will go back and write out the mail to the authorities, to everyone, we vouched. None of us know the other person's phone number or email ID though.

And if the situation wasn't bad enough, what made it worse is that the only thing we could do for those never-ending hours was walk around. Where did that take us? To the booze and chocolate outlets at the duty free port. As a result, the few dollars I had saved up for my next trip were practically all expended on yet another round of chocolates, another bottle of alcohol, various other completely unnecessary things that cost a dollar or two each.

And then - on the flight that took 14 hours to repair and none of us believed would take off and if it did would most certainly kill us - we returned to India.

And that's the story.