September 3, 2010

My Adventures Of The Flight To SFO

With little anxiety and a lot of excitement, I left home to catch my flight to SFO. I had a flight via London and then a connecting flight from there to SFO. I left home at around 5:30 in the morning to make it well in time for the flight. I reached airport in about half an hour and went straight to check-in counter. Since I had done an online check-in, I just had to drop my bags, and so it was quick. The new Delhi Terminal was mesmerizing, it was so cool to see the Delhi Airport terminal of the international standards….loved it totally. Like a new totally excited visitor to the airport, I made my way to the security check and then the gates, clicking snaps on my way of the new terminal. We finally boarded the plane and the long journey of almost 8 hours started.

We got breakfast and after that I slept. I got up in between, to have some water, to change my position in that limited area/seat and then slept again. Time flew by along with the plane and I hardly got to know the time spent in that journey. We landed at the Heathrow (London) airport at 1:00 (10 minutes later than the scheduled time) but it took them almost 30 minutes to attach the staircase to the plane and arrange for the buses. We then de-boarded and were taken to the terminal. I followed the ‘Flights Connections’ sign and rushed through the crowd to make my way to the counter to catch my connecting flight to SFO. I was the first at the counter there. But as I reached the counter and showed my boarding pass, the lady at the counter informed me that I am late for my connecting flight and so cannot board. I was just looking at her, when she pointed me to a counter and asked me to go there and the people at that counter would help me thereafter.

I started to move towards the pointed counter and made my way through the queues of people and finally was called by an officer at one of the counters from a row of counters called ‘Customer Service and Relations’. The lady at the counter saw the boarding pass and told me that since I was late for the connecting flight, they would re-route me and put on another flight. She confirmed with me, if I was OK with going to SFO via Las Vegas, I immediately said a yes and then there was a totally different thought on my mind: “Only if I knew before then, I would have actually taken the flight via Las Vegas and spent my weekend there, can I still do that?” And as I thought this, my thought was interrupted by the lady again and she said: “that even better, I will put you through a flight via Chicago. Since the next connecting flight is after 2 hours from there, you will get enough time to make it for your connecting flight!” I said ok, sounds good and again I had thoughts of a different tangent running though my mind (do I know anyone in Chicago, I would have visited Chicago and planned something like that if I knew…shucks not fair) and I was interrupted again. The lady at the counter then informed me that since Chicago, will be my first port of Entry at the USA, therefore I will have to go through the immigration at the Chicago airport. Then also, since my connecting flight from Chicago was in American Airlines (AA)(partner airline of British Airways), I would have to collect my baggage from BA and re-deposit (check-in) with AA, and then go through the security check and take my flight. I suddenly thought that hell a lot of things to do to just catch a connecting flight…so I checked with her: “how about my luggage? I mean will you make sure it travels with me on these new flights and does not go to SFO or be left behind here in London?” She checked my baggage tags, scanned the bar code and updated the baggage flights also. I confirmed and re-confirmed with her about my baggage! She assured me again and again and then just asked me not to worry since I had good enough two hours between the landing at Chicago and the departure to SFO. Taking her words, I moved away from the counter.

As I turned around, to make through the counters (where I was first told, that I was late for my connecting flights; I was the first one that time) I realized that there was suddenly a flood of people at the airport. I had never seen any airport that flooded in all these years that I have traveled abroad anywhere. Ignoring that I made my way to the end of the longest queue (that I thought) and moved towards the counter slowly. Passed the counters and made my way towards the security check. And to my shock, when I reached the security check I realized that few minutes back what I thought was the longest queue ever, was probably one of the shorter ones. The longest ever was at the security check. It seemed that whole of London had decided to come and camp at the security check of the airport. Thousands and thousands of people, standing in the queues, longer than ever before and waiting for the security check. Without any choice, obviously, I made way through the security check (but at that point in time, I wished Google had given me a business class ticket, I would have made it to the ‘PRIORITY COUNTER’ queue which was way smaller’. As I kept on thinking of these random thoughts, I cleared the security check.

After the security check, I realized it was already more than an hour that I had spent in all this and so the two hours wait that I had at London before the Chicago flight was reduced to a large extent. I went to the restroom, washed face, got ready a little with better tied up hair and a cleaner look, I came out and saw that the gate for my Chicago flight was announced and so I made my way to the gate. The gate turned out to be little far, had to take a train to the gates and make my way. I went, following the sign boards, took a train, followed boards and kept on walking to realize that my gate ends up to be the last one on the floor. As I reached the gate, within 2 minutes the boarding started. We boarded the plane. At the London airport, my cool phone (nexus one) had caught a Wi-Fi connection taking advantage of which I had quickly put a mail to my family informing them about the change and re-routing. However, while at the boarding gate, I realized that the Wi-Fi connection was not free and so my mail never went through to my family. Since I could not have helped beyond that point so I left at that and boarded the plane.

After boarding the plane, I realized that it is just far beyond time that plane should have taken off. And then the captain announced that there were 6 people who had checked in, but never arrived at the gates. They were trying to get them and when they never turned up so they were trying to identify their baggage and de-board the baggage. All this took away 20 minutes and the flight was late by 20 minutes. After another 5 minutes the captain announced that due to heavy traffic, our take off position was after another 40 minutes. My mind immediately calculated that this means that the flight was delayed by total 60 minutes (1 hour) to land at Chicago. And a random thought passed by again: “isse toh Las Vegas ki hi flight le leti” how that would have helped I still don’t know because not that I was getting time to spend at Las Vegas…. Anyway, all these random thoughts took a U-turn again and the realization came that I will now have just an hour to go through immigration, luggage collection, luggage deposition, security check and boarding the next flight again….a little worry went through me. Then I thought that in any case sitting inside the flight I cannot do anything, so might as well watch a movie, eat, sleep and then will think later. And I exactly did that. After I woke up, there were about two hours left to our landing. I then watched a video on my screen which talked about requirements for the US immigration. From that video I realized there was one form that I had not filled and so asked the flight attendant to get me the form. When he got the form for me, I also asked him if he could spare few minutes for me to answer some questions and he readily volunteered to help. I explained him the whole situation and also told him that now since I had only an hour in hand for my next flight what exactly will be the process. While discussing with him, I also figured out that my departure to SFO was from terminal 3 at Chicago and we were landing at terminal 5. Hmmm, I thought another added item to my check list for Chicago. Anyway from that discussion with the attendant another confusion that came up was the uncertainty about my luggage following the same route as me. The attendant told me that even before you go for immigration, please check with the BA ground staff about your luggage and get that sorted. And I was mentally prepared for some good amount of efforts to be put at Chicago and still trying to make it for my connecting flight since I was not at all now ready to miss that flight again as it was already over 24 hours that I was traveling and I really wanted to reach and relax. There was this sweet lady sitting behind me, who heard my whole conversation with the attendant and guided me a little about the Chicago airport and told me that one has to take a train to Terminal 3 from Terminal 5. Now by this time I had started to become immune to the additions I was hearing that I had to complete in an hour. She was also very sweet to ask me if I had any change for emergency and I told her that I had dollars even I dollar but all in notes form and no coins. She fished her bag and handed over some coins to me for emergency. I was only glad and thankful to her.

Just when we were about to land, the captain announced that all people with connecting flights between 7:00 pm and 8:45 pm should contact the officer right at the exit of the plane. I was definitely one of them since my flight was at 8:25 pm. As the plane landed the announced Local time was 7:00 pm. I knew I had exactly 1 hour and just few minutes to make it for the flight clearing all those added things in the check list. As the plane stopped, I jumped out of my seat, collected my hand luggage to be the first one to exit. While waiting to start de-boarding there was another guy hurrying just like me. He asked me if I had a connecting flight and what time. I answered him and he told me his connecting flight was at 8:15 and from terminal 3 only. We both just looked at each other, smiled, wished each other luck and inside ourselves wished ourselves better luck and started running. At the plane exit, the new boarding passes for all of us were pinned at a board. We were asked to look for ours. As I found mine, the officer standing there informed me that I should hurry up and rush to all the counters to make it in time and at each counter I should flag my envelope which had bright orange sticker that said ‘Express Connection’. This only gave me little hope that I can make it. But as I started running and rushing towards the immigration counter, the thought of checking the baggage passed my mind but then I said to myself: “just leave and stop thinking about it, for now run you can make it. Will see when I reach the baggage conveyor belt”. And I rushed. Wow! As I reached the immigration counters there were huge queues yet again at all counters, I tried my best to flash my express connection card, but found no one interested in looking at it. I kept on moving ahead trying to find a counter with least number of people. As I was moving, I got a pat on my back, as I turned I found an officer who had finally seen my express connection and asked me to follow him. With him was that guy from my flight too who had a connecting flight at 8:15. We both ran behind the officer, and he made a new counter open for all of us who had an ‘express connection’ card in hand. Stood in line at the immigration counter, the turn came but officer took his own time to inquire details from me, do not blame him since I knew this was America. “Welcome to America, baby!!!” I said to myself. There was a smile on my face as I said this and my immigration was cleared. I rushed to the luggage belt, and as I managed to pull a trolley I saw my luggage coming out of the belt and I took a breath of relaxation that there were no added items to the check list for Chicago airport. I collected my luggage and moved towards the exit. Right after the exit, there were American Airlines counters on the left. I ran towards the AA counters but obviously now I was not shocked or surprised to see long queues at the counters there too. And I flashed my ‘Express Connection’ card to which a lady responded and called me out of the line. Took my luggage and asked me to hurry up and move to Terminal 3. Following the signs, running through escalators, corridors I reached the train platform. Flashing my card again, I got attention of an officer towards me, who guided me the exact place from where I should board and de-board the train to make it nearest to Terminal 3. I followed him, and behind me found that guy from my flight again. We were both only smiling at each other and just feeling satisfied having crossed so many things on our check lists already. We both had same check list exactly. We then started to talk in the train and were just talking how lucky we were to get luggage in time and just hope to get through the security check also soon.

As we finished talking this, we reached the terminal 3. We both caught pace and rushed up the escalators one after the other and they just did not seem to end. And finally after 3 long escalators we were in the corridor, making our way through people running to catch that last hope that we will definitely make it. We reached the security check and yet again a long queue. And both of us with our express connection cards tried to make way, but security officers did not care a bit of that Highlighting sticker. And slowly moved the queue and my turn finally came. Opening the bag, taking out the laptop, putting things in different trays and all this process seemed longer than ever before even though I went through this at all airports….I was only hoping to make it. Right after clearing the security check, I checked the display and my gate was open already and just ready to board in next 3 minutes. I knew I could make it and I had to make it. And I ran…..realizing that even though my gate number was H8, but it was almost at the end of that section. Running through all the gates from between the restaurants and the smell of the food, I had no time to even think that I had not had anything after London time 4:00 pm (London and Chicago 6 hours difference). I finally reached my gate and boarding had started. They were boarding the priority customers (business class). So I knew had few more minutes in the hand. I then quickly looked for a phone booth and reached for it to make a call to Mom-Dad. Bless that aunty who gave me change in the plane, I was able to make a 2 minutes call with that one dollar to mom-dad and at least inform them that I was re-routed and so will be reaching SFO late at night. As I informed the main things, the phone got disconnected since 2 minutes were over. I then made way back towards my gate and boarded the American Airlines flight. Oh God, I had another 4hours 30 minutes flight to go through. I sat on my seat and just waited for the flight to take off. I slept all through most of this flight too; I had no other choice actually.

At 11:00 pm, SFO time (pacific time zone) I landed the destination, my original destination airport SFO. I AM HERE BABY, I AM ALREADY HERE!!! With those thoughts in mind and a smile on my face I moved towards the luggage belt. As I waited for the luggage I connected to the Wi-Fi on my phone once again and received a mail from my sister informing that she had booked a cab for me via my hotel. I thought she had done that for the original evening time flight and so I replied to her, asking her to call me up immediately. I confirmed with her for which arrival time had she booked my cab and she told me it was for this late arrival time that she had booked. Aaaaaah, I do not have to try and struggle to get a cab at this hour after all this for myself….THANK YOU DIDI!!!! I was so relieved. While I collected my luggage, I coordinated with Didi to find the driver who had come to pick me up. And there I was finally in the car to my hotel. At last, alas!!! At dot 12:00 mid night, I checked into my hotel and finally entered my room. Oh the look at that bed itself was so comforting, I can’t even explain. My sister being the elder caring sister was on the phone with me all the time as she worried about me traveling alone in a cab even though she had finally booked this cab as she was worried initially about me taking a public cab at night. But she will always remain my DIDI and so performs her duties of an elder sister really well, without asking for some….Muah!!! I got into the room and she called up again to check with me if I had got into the room. Then we talked and I narrated the whole tale to her and discussed on what an adventurous note had my trip to this part of the world had begun!!! J Well, after that I spoke to mom-dad for a bit and then changed into night suit and got ready to hit my BED…I checked my mail and Ryan was coming to pick me up the next morning at 11:00. So I knew I had to be up early and so at 1:30 or so I made my way straight into my cozy bed and slept until 8 next morning!!!

These were the adventures of my flight to San Francisco!!! Loved it totally!!!

Saumya Goila

August 30, 2010

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