Bollywood does Planes, Trains, and Automobiles – Part 5

This blog is so long, it’s really a book. You can’t start reading a book from the center, so don’t start reading this blog from the center. Start out at Part 1.

I slept for five hours. There was no way in hell I was showering, so I just changed my clothes, and caught the 5:30am shuttle to the domestic terminal. I’m off to Sahara Air to talk with Mr. Rishi about my flight to Pune. At least, that’s what the instructions from Deepok stated.

“I’m sorry, but there is no Mr. Rishi that works here.” Hmmm. Well, Deepok did say I was rescheduled on Jet Airways, he must be over there. If not, he told me I was confirmed on their 7:55am flight so I’m sure I can just show them my passport and all with be good. I hop over a few counters to Jet Airways. After a short 5 minute wait, I explain to the agent that I am confirmed on their 7:55am flight, but the Cathay Agent was unable to print my ticket.

“No, sir. No Mr. Rishi works here that I am aware of.”

“Whatever. Here’s my passport, I am confirmed on your 7:55am flight. Cathay had issues re-printing the ticket, but assured me I was confirmed on this flight.”

“That reservation was cancelled. Would you like to buy a ticket?”

“Uh, no. I don’t want to buy a ticket. I was booked on this flight by Cathay Pacific because they made me miss my connector. I’ve already paid for this flight and simply want you to fulfill that agreement.”

She doesn’t budge. Buy a ticket or get out of her line. Since Sahara Air was my original connector, they must be the ones who needed to coordinate this with Jet. Sounds a lot like my friend who lost his baggage on Air India, huh? I walk back to Sahara and explain the situation again. She doesn’t have a clue. I’m just about to blow up when I feel someone tapping on my shoulder.

“Are you Mr. Blanchard?”, the man in the purple Cathay Pacific jacket asks.

“Let me guess, Mr. Rishi?”

“Yes, sir. Follow me please.”

Cathay Pacific does not have a booth at the domestic terminal. They are only at the International terminal. So let’s put this scene into perspective. Mr. Rishi, had to find me at the terminal. Imagine if I asked you to go to your airport, didn’t tell you which gate, or airline to find me at, and you have no idea what I look like. I just said, I will be at this airport at 6am, meet me there. Are you frickin’ kidding me!

I was probably the only white guy there, so maybe it wasn’t such a tall order. Mr. Rishi works his magic and gets me back on my confirmed flight. Great, let’s go check-in. I stand in line at Jet Airways and the lady asks me how many bags I’m checking. Just one. I place my luggage in between the counter, on the scale and she wraps the sticker around my bag.

“Okay, sir. Now you need to stand in the line beside you so we can put your bag on the conveyor.”

I stare in disbelief. This has to be a joke. Where are the cameras. Ha, ha. Very funny everyone. Jokes over. She stares back at me and speaks slower, as if I didn’t understand her the first time.

“Help me understand this. I stood in this line for 10 minutes so you could check me in. This is a one-step process. You printed my boarding pass, asked me how many bags I had to check-in, and even put the sticker around my bag, and can clearly see how much it weighs on this scale. They conveyor belt is right behind you. Now you want me to go stand in this other line so I can put my luggage on this very same scale so the person beside you can put it on the conveyor belt. Can you see where I have a problem with this? Why is there a separate line for the most simple step of the check-in process?”

“I’m sorry, sir. But that’s just how it works.”

“First, you’ve failed to see the problem in my first statement. Second, you have resigned yourself to ‘That’s just how it works’ mentality without really thinking it through. It is clear to me you are not an intelligent, or logical person with any common sense. Now, I will do the same.”

If I were in the United States, my next actions surely would have attracted 50 or more TSA agents. All wielding their weapons pointed at each of my vital organs. But I’m not in the United States. I’m in India, and I’ve had enough of this crap.

I pickup my bag, walk over the scale behind the counter, and put it on the conveyor belt myself. It disappears behind the magic curtain and I dust off my hands. I smile at the gate agent, walk back over the scale and head to my gate.

“Next, please!”, I cheerfully announce to the people in line.

I haven’t used the bathroom since I left my house in San Jose. 56 hours have passed and I really need to sit on the throne. I head over to the bathroom and look for a toilet. I see the trough for urinating in, but no toilets. What the hell? They must be doing renovations here (seems highly unlikely given the state of this hell hole) because I see lot’s of holes in the ground. Dude, no way. Yes way, Terry. Those are the toilets. Holes in the ground that you squat over. No privacy, and worst of all, no toilet paper. If I’ve held it in for 56 hours, I can certainly wait another 30 minutes for the plane.

We all hop on the bus that drives you out on the tarmac to our plane. I make a dash for the lavatory while everyone boards. Man, I feel sorry for the poor soul who used that lavatory after me. Phew!

We start rolling at 7:55am precisely. “Thank, god!”, I mumble under my breath.

Uh, oh. There’s that thought again. Terry, what have we taught you about positive thoughts. You must be punished for such evil thinking.

Delhi only has four runways, pretty small for an International airport. However, we taxi for 15 minutes. We make so many turns I can’t help but think our pilot and co-pilot are lost. 15 minutes!! Here’s an odd thing. There are people who actually live in between the runways. They have little shacks with tin roofs that stand a few feet tall. We passed by one guy out for his morning pee. We finally pull up beside the runway. We stop for almost 5 more minutes. I’ve got a Window seat, and there’s no landing traffic holding us up. Nothing is taking off since we’re first in line. What is going on.

“Ladies and gentlemen. This is Captain. Much apologies for the delay. The military is inspecting the runway because VIP is landing. We should be ready for departure in a few minutes. Thank you.”

Sure enough, I see a few military jeeps patrolling the runway looking for god only knows what. The VIP plane lands, no bomb or explosion sounds are heard and we taxi on the the active runway. Finally, I’m on my way to Pune. Pune is a 2 hour flight south of Delhi. We’re 25 minutes behind schedule. No big. I’ve seen worse. That’s not as positive as some of my earlier thoughts, but it was still kind of positive wasn’t it. Terry, when will you ever learn? How about right now?

Most of you know that I am a licensed pilot. As we start our descent into Pune I immediately recognize the holding pattern. 1 minute turn, followed by a two minute leg. Repeat. After our 4th or 5th lap in the hold, our Captain keys up the cabin microphone again.

“We should be landing in 15 minutes. Pune airport is conducting some exercises right now. Thank you.”

Exercises? I know what it costs an airline every time they complete a lap in the pattern. A 737 burns about 5000 pounds of fuel every hour in cruise. Jet engines are designed to run efficiently up in the flight levels, 30,000 ft. or higher. They are not as efficient in the lower altitudes. Let’s cut that number in half to 2500 lbs/hr and do a little math:

  • 20 minutes in the holding pattern or 33% of an hour.
  • 33% of 2500 = 825 lbs of fuel spent.
  • Jet A fuel weighs 6.84 lbs per gallon.
  • 825 divided by 6.84 = 120 gallons of fuel spent.
  • A gallon of Jet A costs approximately $5.00 a gallon, at the time of writing.
  • 120 gallons times $5.00 a gallon = $600.00

Jet Airways just lost $600.00 because the Pune airport was running exercises. They knew we were coming. We were a little late, but still. No airport in North America can halt all commercial air traffic from landing because of “exercises.” They would have every airline company all over them for a stunt like that. Apparently, not the case in India.

Finally, we land. I made it. I frickin made it. I left Friday night and just landed in Pune Monday afternoon. As soon as you step off the plane, you are greeted with this beautiful garden that is constantly manicured. The picture on the right prevents you from taking any pictures of this garden. I laugh and shake my head. Pune has a really tiny airport. The 737 that flew us here is larger than the airport terminal. No, I am not exaggerating. There is one baggage belt, and it’s just a circle. You can see the guys standing beside the building unloading the bags onto the carousel. After the baggage carousel, you exit the door. That’s it, you just left the airport.

That’s enough for this chapter. My flight back isn’t much better. If you’ve got the stamina, or just enjoy laughing at my expense, then read on to Part 6.

About the author

Terry Blanchard

I'm the Vice President of Engineering at Readdle, ex-Apple, design evangelist, drummer, and gadget junkie extraordinaire.

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