I carry a journal with me whenever I travel and write things down... Here's what I have for the flight...
Tuesday, September 7th, 2010
Well, here I am at the airport in Mumbai waiting for my 12:45am nonstop flight to New York City. At times I can't actually believe I'm doing this, it seems too unreal. But I'm so happy to be heading back to the United States again.
We had lunch with Leena's family, said the good byes and then finished my packing back at our flat, while I gave her some last minute computer instructions.
Kalesh and the driver came about 4pm, loaded the suitcases and I was off on my way. Traffic in Mumbai was heavy, but we planned for that, and no problems until we got to the road leading up to the airport. My itinerary from the travel agent said Air India was in Terminal 2, but after some construction, there were signs for gates A, B, C & D, rather than 1 & 2, but it was marked clear enough that Air India was in A (although once inside I had to walk from A past the B entrance to get to Air India's check-in counters, so 2 or B would've been more accurate...)
I got to the airport too early and couldn't check in right away, so I had to stand around for about an hour with my bags. Once I did check in there was no problem with my overweight bags, about 50.1 kg, over the maximum of two bags of not more than 23 kg each. The agent at the counter didn't mention it, and neither did I (though I saw the readout on their scale).
The Immigration desk was another story...
The agent noticed that I'd been in India a while, that my last entry was stamped from February 2009 (my last business trip to the U.K. to learn about the BPM). He asked me to confirm that I was traveling on the 10 year business visa in my passport, which I did, and again, when the last date I entered India was, and how long I was there, which was about a year and a half. He asked what I was doing in India that long and I told him I was working for a software company, and he asked what company, so I told him it was Tieto, but that I'd quit the job last week and was going back to the U.S.
He asked for my FRRO registration form, but I told him I didn't have that. He then reconfirmed all the previous details, and I confirmed them, and that I didn't have an FRRO registration because my visa is stamped with a funny stamp:
With that stamp, the FRRO refused to register me when I tried. Everything online says that with a Business or Tourist visa valid for more than 6 months, then any foreigner has to register at the FRRO within 14 days of arrival, unless the visa is for "long term" when registration is not required if the visit is less than 180 days. But the FRRO simply said that whatever is on the visa overrides what's on the website, and the stamp simply says that registration is not required, without conditions.
So, the agent grabbed all my papers and said "follow me." I've had other agents in the past question this also, and make phone calls, but this is the first time one led me away from the main area and into the duty officer's cabin with the huge window where the thousands of people in the room could see me being led away...
The instant the duty officer looked at it he told the agent that it was perfectly legitimate and there was no problem. They had further discussion in Hindi that I couldn't quite follow, and told me to sit down on the couch in the office. The duty officer sent the agent to xerox all my papers while I waited there. In the meantime another agent brought some other chap in with visa problems and I heard the duty officer grill him pretty bad (in that case it sounded like the guy stayed in India longer than his visa was valid and had no good explanation) before letting him go.
After the agent returned with copies of my papers they talked more, then both of them left for a few more minutes, with my papers, before returning and the agent said "follow me" and took me back to his counter, where he stamped my passport with the exit and reminded me that my visa expires in a few months, so if I return next year I need a new one.
Once he let me go, there was the main security check to get into the terminal. Nothing unusual there, just the normal chaos, confusion and inefficiency. I put my laptop and sweatshirt in a tray, and then several other people's trays got between that one and my backpack while I waited in line for the metal detector and the hand scan... I think this was the first time I've ever been felt up to that degree by security... And I have no idea why the hand scanner was beeping heavily near my left pants pocket, it was my right one that had a key and a ring, the left one was empty!
I tried to get a quick pizza at Pizza Hut in there departure terminal, but everyone else kept cutting in front of me in line, so I gave up and got a chocolate chip cookie instead from another restaurant.
I was on the phone with Leena when I noticed some activity going on at Gate 3, where I knew my flight was being handled. It seemed early, but when I looked the signs all pointed to my flight, AI 141... So I said good bye and dashed off...
It was yet another slow, inefficient security check, this one with us removing our shoes, getting our bags x-rayed again, and yet another hand pat down. The family with children before me added to the chaos as they tried to hand the sleeping baby back and forth, and their trays with shoes and bags and jackets got all scattered amongst the trays from the rest of us.
Then one more security check, comparing our faces to our passports and another quick pat down and we were onto the plane. And another family with children had things all confused, with one parent standing there, while security told the other to go back out to the terminal and get whatever they were missing and "leave the trolly here...".
On the plane I quickly found my seat, 18A, with two people already in the aisle and middle seat. Both of them had to get up so I could squeeze my way in, next to the window (I always ask for window seats so I can look out).
After a while the fellow next to me asked me about my visit to India. Turns out he's a software developer also, working from Connecticut, but was in India just for the long weekend for his brother's engagement in Punjab...
Wednesday, September 8th, 2010
Getting everyone on board and everyone's luggage stowed was a long process for the flight attendants. And then getting everybody to sit down was harder. Once the plane left the gate the flight attendants started the safety demo, but one elderly woman wouldn't sit down, so after finishing it in both English and Hindi they started all over again after a more senior flight attendant got the woman to sit down.
And then the plane started picking up speed, and then a senior flight attendant ran full speed up the aisle, and then we stopped.
The captain came on the intercom and apologized for the delay, but there was a technical problem with the airplane. After some more waiting he brought the plane back to the gate where we started.
2am - Aw fuck! We're still on the ground and they've just announced meal service. That means there's no chance of leaving before that's all finished.
4am - We've just moved to another plane at the next gate. Lots of police security to watch us walk through the terminal and keep everyone else out of our line. Maybe this one will fly.
4:45am - The captain came on the intercom and said another twenty minutes or more, due to paperwork involved in changing planes and refiling everything with customs.
5:35am - We're finally about to leave. Not bad for a 12:45am flight...
This plane isn't as comfortable as the previous one, the seat has a nasty, metal lump in it and the padding is worn out. The entertainment console controller is all beat up and the arm of the chair that holds it is smashed, the vents near the floor look like they've been crushed and there's more stains all over.
I keep half expecting the captain to come on the intercom and say "she may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts," but hopefully not "I've made a lot of special modifications myself..."
2:20am New York Time (moved watch back 9.5 hours) - Oiy vey... Not been a great flight so far. Although the sun rose shortly after we took off, they structured the flight as "night" with the lights off and window shades closed. Most slept, but kids screamed and yelled all "night." Now it's "day" in the plane, and day outside.
And we ain't even halfway there! Actually, we're in the neighborhood where most Tieto travelers are "almost there."
7:15am New York Time - Now we're at the point where we would have landed if everything had gone smoothly and we didn't have the five hour delay in Mumbai.
Some of the kids are sleeping, but at least one is in a super cranky mood. Probably bored out of her skull, since we've been sitting in this plane (flying, or on the ground) for about 16 hours. Can't they just give her a drink so she passes out and sleeps?
I've slept off and on for much of the flight. But been woken up by screeching children. Ashish Gupta, next to me, has slept a lot better than me, pulled the blanket over his head and seemed relatively oblivious. I can't stay comfortable for more than a little while when I am awake, the seat's just miserable.