The worst flying experience ever!

The Air India plane that took us from Kathmandu to Delhi.

Six hours after we bought tickets from Kathmandu to Boston via Istanbul, there was a terrorist attack at the Istanbul airport. First thing we did was cancel the ticket because didn’t feel like going that route, but it was also important for me to arrive in Boston on the exact same date. So despite an extremely long layover, we chose Air India’s KTM-DEL-JFK flight and planned to take a car from JFK to Boston. The Istanbul airport attack was perhaps a bad omen, and what followed was an extremely long and excruciating flight.

So we took off from Kathmandu to Delhi at 8:15 am and arrived in Delhi at 9:30 am. All good, all perfect — they served us modest sabji-chawal on flight which wasn’t all that bad. So when we got to Delhi airport, it didn’t make sense for us to wait at the airport for 14 hours, as the flight would only take off at 11:30 pm. Since we’re Nepali passport holders, going out in Delhi wouldn’t require a visa; so we set off.

Okay, the first thing the lady at the counter of Air India was extremely nervous about letting us go. Not that she was worried, just that not a lot of Nepali people ever request something like this. Since this was probably a first for her, she made few calls and then agreed to let us out. But said they wouldn’t take care of our luggage, and we had to check it out ourselves. We agreed. She asked us to go downstairs, clear immigration (they just stamp out, no visa procedure) and wait at the baggage belt. We left.

At the immigration, I hand out my passport to the officer and he asked “Where will be staying?” Since we’d managed to call a friend who said he could come and pick us up, I said “They’ll come to pick us up.”

“What?” The officer asked again.

“They’ll come to pick us up.” That’s what I said. The officer heard “Dell Company” and marked “Purpose of visit” in the immigration form as “Dell Company.” Okay, so now I’m working for Dell. Cool. He let us out.

Now we’re at the baggage belt: since this was not a standard procedure, it took hours for them to find the luggage (which by the time had already been sent to departure terminal). It was almost noon by the time we finally received our luggage, and then we set out. I took out some Indian cash from the ATM and got a taxi. The friend who was going to pick us up was late, so we asked him not to come, and we could take the taxi ourselves.

Now Delhi’s traffic gets very very messy when it rains. The same happened that day too. It took another 1.5 hours to get to Greater Kailash from the airport. Finally, good Indian lunch was served, and I took a nap until 5:30 pm — feeling fresh and ready to roll for the next leg of the fight. That friend, though couldn’t pick us up, dropped us at the airport around 9 pm. And after some customary greetings, we stepped into the baggage drop.

The guy at the baggage drop area looked at the boarding passes in my hand, and looked up at my face, and looked at the boarding pass again. “Who ever comes at the baggage drop with a boarding pass? Could it be fake?” Well in India people can actually fake that, so he interrogated us briefly before accepting the bags and issuing (new) boarding passes. He briskly grabbed our passports and new passes, and asked us to follow him.

He led us to the Airport Police. Nice. We were handed over to cops (who thankfully were extremely helpful) and asked us some very basic questions and asked to fill a form (with addresses in both Nepal and USA). This was probably the protocol, I don’t know, but this took much lesser time than I anticipated, and we quickly were at the immigration again.

Pro tip: When people in India find out you’re Nepali, don’t ever ever speak to them in Hindi — always use English and try faking the accent if required. High quality English accent (preferably American) works like charm in India.

Didn’t know Nepali people got a separate line at the immigration. This wasn’t tough though — I just handed over the passport to the authority, who put a departure stamp and it was easy. We were easily inside the terminal now, and the flight would board in about 1.5 hours. Everything looked good — didn’t know the plane would take longer to arrive from Mumbai.

Yes, this flight originated from Mumbai and would pick up more passengers at Delhi before heading off to New York, but that darn thing wasn’t going to arrive anytime soon. It got delayed, and the boarding only started at 1 am after it finally arrived. We mixed ourselves with huge Punjabi families and businessmen headed to New York and boarded. There was one particularly scruffy looking mom-son duo in pajamas and flip-flops who didn’t quite looked like they had their traveling mode on. Weird, but India can get weirder than that — I had heard stories about weird India, I just kept sipping my overpriced Starbucks, and waited for my turn into the plane.

The plane was quite primitive. Not the fanciest one but a worn and weathered Boeing, exhausted by serving passengers for more than two decades (I guessed). Now everyone was seated, the plane did not take off. No it didn’t. 15 minutes on, 30 minutes on — nope, nothing. Then two uniformed policemen entered the plane, and returned dragging the mother and son duo out of the plane. Everyone looked surprised, the dude in pajama and flipflop didn’t even retaliate. He just let himself be dragged — why? I don’t know. I am guessing they planned to hitchhike the plane, but since nobody knew, I didn’t ask.

Then there was another tedious routine. Remember, it’s been more than 1 hour inside the plane. The ground staff drove a crane and attached it to the luggage compartment. Then there were staff with flashlights looking at their clipboards. The luggage boxes began coming out of the plane. Some staff members kept looking at a list on their clipboards and the boxes, and when they believed the numbers matched, the opened it, took out four suitcases (probably belonging to the mother/son) and loaded the rest back into the plane. Well, the mom-son were probably going to have a hard time.

Okay, all set — finally at 3 am India time (remember we landed at 9:30 am), the engines roared and the plane taxied. The takeoff was good and we were cruising high up in no time. Took a deep breath, until early morning snack was served.

The in-flight experience too wasn’t too great. The ladies behind were extremely talkative and didn’t let anyone sleep. It was a large wedding group headed to New York for a wedding I guess. The food was so-so. The entertainment system was terrible. There were just two or three movies I’d ever want to watch; though I did watch few episodes of The Big Bang Theory and a very long Salman Khan movie, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo. I dozed off somewhere after six-seven hours into the flight.

When I wake up, and look into the flight tracker, hell, from somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic, the plane was returning. It was taken the return course route for more than 40 minutes, and there had been to announcement at all. Finally, after almost 1 hours of the pilot blurted out. There was a medical emergency and somebody had gotten really really sick and had to be dropped at the nearest airport, and that would be the Keflavik airport in Iceland. Heading to mainland Europe would be too far, so Keflavik was where we were going.

I’ve never seen the ground staff as fancy as they were at the Keflavik airport. Pink hair, green framed goggles and ponytail, these guys would be clubbing if they weren’t handling luggages.

Okay, after finally touching down at Keflavic, which was quite an interesting place (from what I could see from the window). It took them some time to deplane the patient. Again the same procedure of opening the luggage compartment begun where they took out the luggage of the patient. Okay, everything looked done, as a compensation, we were given a muffin and a glass of soda by the flight crew. Thank you very much. But still, even after all the procedures were completed, the flight did not take off.

Okay, what happened the pilot said was that their permit to land in JFK had expired, because they had taken off late and wasted more time at the Keflavik airport. So they needed a new permit, and that would be issued by the Air India office in India. So the crew was trying to connect to Delhi office for the permit. That took a while, as somebody had the email that from India, then someone would download and print at the airport, then the Captain would sign it, then they would scan and send a copy back to Delhi, and perhaps JFK too? I guess all this because I could see a guy running in the taxiway with a piece of paper in his hand. That’s the best explanation I can give.

Okay, once everything was done and dusted, we took off and we’re quickly over the Atlantic again. They served us lunch again and for the rest of the flight, I just dodged off or listening to some music. Finally, after a very very long ride, we landed at the John F. Kennedy Airport in Jamaica, Queens NY at 1:30 pm local time.

The immigration took some time and we were at the departures terminal. Our colleague (whom we address as dai “brother”) was aware of the delay and had been waiting for six straight hours at the coffee shop. He waved at us as soon as he saw has dragging our luggages outside.

Then we went to the Hertz parking, grabbed a Toyota and rode off to Boston. It was quite late by the time we got to Boston. A very very long day (or days) indeed.