“Where are you? They’re holding the flight for you.”
In our many, many journeys together, it was the first time I’d had the opportunity to say such a thing to Amit. Our departure so far had been no more dramatic than usual. Despite the voluminous and too numerous backpacks and hand baggage, we left home only 15 minutes later than scheduled – about par for the course. Leaving home at 3.15 p.m. for a 5 p.m. flight is cutting it fine, of course, but when we asked our driver if we could possibly reach the airport by 4 p.m., he immediately said, very cheerfully, “Impossible.” After letting us stew for a few minutes, he added, “But I’ll try my best.”
Our airline, Indigo, was reputed to be one of the most punctual airlines. “Unfortunately, it is the worst airline,” said our driver. “With any other airline, you might expect a few minutes delay.”
Luckily, we didn’t encounter any detours or traffic jams on the way to seal our fate. It did rain a bit, but not enough to delay us significantly, far less to delay our flight. We had made it to the general vicinity of the airport terminal by 4.05 and were just beginning to breathe a sigh of relief when we got stuck behind several other taxis trying to get past a barrier into the drop-off lane. The barrier, it seemed, wasn’t working properly. At last, at 4.07, two cars in front of us got through. Our turn. The barrier got stuck again. We spent another two frantic minutes waiting for it to comply. If it had not been for the mountains of luggage we were ferrying, we might have leapt out of the car there and then. As it was, by the time we rolled to a stop outside the terminal, it was 4.10. Indigo is very firm about closing check-in 45 minutes prior to ETD. Amit yanked a couple of big sacks out of the car and raced off towards the door, leaving me to manage the rest of the baggage, the kids, and the payment to the driver. I stumbled along, tripping over stray kids and straps of backpacks and got to the terminal building and flashed my e-ticket at the security guys. They asked for ID, peered at it, and wanted to know which name on the ticket it corresponded to. Shit.
Amit was at the counter when I got there. There was a long queue, but clearly he’d jumped it. Good – there are privileges to being late. Once we were checked-in, we went through security without any great stress. Amit was carrying the walking sticks open, as part of carry-on baggage – he was worried that the sharp tips would rip the backpacks if we packed them in. Security wasn’t happy with the walking sticks, so they sent him back. I took the kids and went to the boarding gate. It was strangely quiet and deserted. That’s when I heard the announcement: “This is the last and final boarding call for flight…” Good Lord! They meant it – it really was the last and final call! That’s why it was so empty.
The airline staff were looking at me expectantly, as I set my camera bag down on a chair and the kids ran around playfully. At last they inquired politely which flight I was on. I explained.
“They’ve sent him back to counters?” they asked, eyes widening, voices rising. “Counters is closed.”
“Counters are closed,” I corrected, mentally. They were urgently whispering into mobile phones and walkie-talkies. “Customer for Delhi. Send him through quickly.” I expected to see Amit being marched in by two strong men. That’s when I called him on his mobile and uttered those memorable words: “They’re holding the flight for you.” I could hear him repeating this to someone, trying to put the pressure on and get some mileage out of it. A few minutes later, I saw him rush through security. I picked up my camera bag and rounded up the kids and we were hurriedly waved through on to a bus and then on to the plane – the last people to board. That’s when Amit told me – the sticks didn’t make it. Pressure tactics didn’t work. The only mileage he got was from actually being on the flight himself.
Damn! We spent 2 k on those walking sticks. Besides, I’ve never been so late that I’ve had to relinquish luggage at the airport. This trip seemed to be full of all kinds of firsts and we hadn’t even got off the ground yet.