Flight/Fight

We had been waiting for over twenty minutes on that flyover in Munirka. I wasn’t worried, there was still an hour before the counter closed, and we had already checked in. I’d tell that to myself a lot that night – we have already checked in. I would cling to those words like a life raft that would take me back home. As soon as we were within a certain radius of the Airport, the traffic intensified. The car moved at an aching pace. I felt claustrophobic, surrounded by a sea of cars that stood as a barrier to going back home.

The city was on high alert after a surgical strike. Was this surgical strike going to eliminate my mid-semester break, too? The helplessness got truly maddening when I came within eyesight of the airport. That was when we started wondering if we could walk to the airport, if we should walk to the airport. Ten minutes before the counters would close, were we really hedging our bets by lugging our fat bags to the airport? It seemed nearby but I didn’t see any trolleys around and walking is a whole other ball game. The traffic would soon relent, I hoped. I had been hoping that for the last 40 minutes and it had only relented enough to keep me out of full despair, but still in agony. The sickening thought of not going back home for Pujo crossed my mind, but I was ready for my Home Alone 2 moment. I was not going to lose the money we spent on these tickets. I was preparing to run across the airport to the plane, all the while chanting, “We have already checked in! We have already checked in!”

The driver  picked up his smartphone to end our ride. The application asked him if he was sure he wanted to do that before reaching our destination, another moment to consider just how much time it would take to get to the airport on foot. I was also beginning to wonder if there wasn’t some way to call IndiGo and tell them to wait for us, to let them know about the hellish traffic situation outside. Then finally, the cars began to move. In a minute or two, we had reached the airport, Disha got us a trolley. We paid, and the cab driver wished us luck. Our Home Alone 2 moment was here.

***

Diya hauled the bags on to the trolley and I steeled myself for a run. Then, just like Harry and Ron at King’s Cross in the second novel, we hit a wall. People were being let in through only two of the many sliding doors that led into the airport and my heart sank as we joined at the end of a long line. The woman at the beginning of the line was having some trouble with her ID, and as I was bouncing on my heels, I saw the second gate. We started running again. Within another minute we were finally inside the Indira Gandhi International Airport.

And within another few minutes, we found ourselves at the end of another much longer line. Should we say something to these kind people who were standing in front of us in the line? Isn’t there something like a final call when they ask if there’s anyone in the line who has to board xyz flight? Diya, to whom I was directing every question and anxiety, only kept chanting, “We have already checked in!” and “oh, look, the line is moving…” The knots in my stomach were becoming agonizing now.

At 7:10, 10 minutes after the counter was scheduled to close, we finally reached the counter. For the life of us, we could not ask the dozen or so people in front of us if we could cut the line. The man behind the counter looked at our tickets. I hopefully began hefting our fat bag and suitcase on to the conveyor belt. And then, he pronounced in a solemn tone that the counter had closed.

However, he directed us to counter D10. Stupid with anxiety, I said – “but we have already checked in. Can’t you just take our bags?” The man looked apologetic, but only repeated himself. I turned around to look and our trolley was gone. “They even took our trolley away!” I shouted at the man, as if that was a compelling enough reason to relieve us of our baggage. “Ma’am  ko ek trolley lake do!” the man behind the counter shouted to someone nearby. “You go to D10, I’m coming with the luggage.” Diya told me.

So, this time, I ran. I well and truly ran, like the McCallisters in Home Alone 2. D10 was crowded, there was no distinct line, everyone was jostling to get to the front. There were two women behind the desk. I managed to hand one of  them my ticket, amidst the madness of other troubled passengers. She looked at it for a moment. “Sorry, ma’am,” she said, not sounding sorry at all, “you cannot board the flight.”

***

I was ready to break into tears. This could not be happening. There were others around us who had also been sent to D10 to be given the bad news. Everyone pleaded with the personnel there. Another girl was also headed to Kolkata and asked if we too were on the 7:45 flight. Everyone there talked about the unprecedented traffic outside. “Please” was getting us nowhere. Of course, they would just love it if we missed this flight and paid an obscene amount for another ticket. I began to feel angry. There were still 35 minutes left for departure. They were simply holding us back, I realized. The long wait outside had given me enough time to stare at the print of the boarding pass. “Boarding closes 25 minutes before departure” the boarding pass told me. I had also recently gotten a text message telling me that boarding would happen from gate 7B; it had also reminded me that “Boarding closes 25 minutes before departure”. It was time to be the indignant customer.

Right about now, I had my fight-or-flight response, rather, fight-for-flight response. I reminded the IndiGo personnel at D10, again and again, of the information their messages had drilled into me. We already had our seat numbers; they were the only ones holding us back. The stone cold logic of a well-informed customer won and we were allowed to pass. Our entire luggage would have to be carry-on. One of their personnel accompanied Disha and I to Security Check-in. We had finally overcome our inability to cut to the front of the linlso our bags probably told everyone we were running to make a flight.

Adrenaline had kicked in and we were running with the same fat bags that we had worried would make walking to the airport impossible. Even if we were not running, we were at least moving as fast as was possible while simultaneously dragging our bags, sans trolley. We thought, at every point, that someone would stop us. In the departure lounge, as we rambled to gate 7B, my phone rings. I know it’s our father. You’d think he’d know better than to call now. If anyone knows when our flight is supposed to leave, when the counter is supposed to close, he does. Yet, knowing that we are probably running for our lives right now, he still calls.

I tell him that we are running and hang up. We descend the escalators and can see that the area around gate 7B is empty, but the screen above still shows the words “Final Call”. (To think that the stupid people at D10 weren’t going to let us go while it was still final call.) There was still someone there to scan our tickets, he makes a few calls, and we are allowed to go! We run to the doors leading to the bus and the guard over there doesn’t even check our tickets. People finally wanted us to make it! Even though the woman near the bus questioned if our very large bags would be allowed on, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

***

I heard the doors of the bus open, but the door that I was standing in front of, remained firmly shut. The only other passenger on the bus, a man with a far smaller suitcase than ours, dismounted from the door near the driver’s seat. Yet again, I dragged the heavy black bag across the bus. I saw the number on the plane and then stared at my boarding pass. Flight number 6E 176, it said. But on the plane, it was… what was that? Could we have possibly been led to the wrong plane? I had been unable to rid my mind of the various Home Alone scenarios, and here it was again. What if we get on the wrong plane? And so, I asked the bus driver, “Yeh kya flight 6E 176 hain?” like he was driving the plane and not the bus. He nodded.

And so, we were finally about to board the plane. But my mind was conjuring up yet more hurdles for us. We hurtled towards the ramp that leads up to the plane’s door. I sent a prayer heavenward that they were not stairs. We were at the end of our tether and any more hefting felt impossible. The men standing by the ramp checked our tickets, tore a piece off and didn’t say anything like, “you can’t board the plane with that much baggage” like they did in the absurd nightmare scenarios in my mind.

The airhostess smiled as we came panting into the plane at long last. In my imagination, the aisle of the plane was so narrow that we would be unable to carry our bags to our seats. So, either we would have to carry them coolie-like to our seats and then place them in the overhead space or just leave them there, next to the door of the plane. But we managed to drag our unwieldy bags to 6E and 6D, our seats. 6F, the window seat, was empty. I wondered as I struggled to stash the bags in the overhead space, if that seat belonged to the girl at D10, who couldn’t board the flight because she had not checked in. It probably did.

I was still breathing loud and fast as I sat down at last, homebound. The last hour had been unusually long. A family of three entered the plane. I didn’t remember seeing them at D10, so maybe, they were even more late than us. But they, too, must have checked-in online. 6F remained empty. Diya and I felt bad for that girl who missed her flight, she was as old as us. Her hair was coloured, she was wearing a bright green shirt, makeup… Even though, under normal circumstances, we wouldn’t have cared much for one another, we shared a kind of kinship of distress in those frustrating five minutes at D10, shouting at IndiGo personnel.

Finally, there was a soft ding and the airhostess announced that boarding was complete. We were texting our parents, looking forward to the episodes of Crisis in Six Scenes that we had saved as our in-flight entertainment. Our hand baggage was occupying 6F, and before the plane took off, Diya moved to sit next to the window.

After the plane landed in Calcutta, it was announced that the baggage in the cargo would be arriving at belt number 5. At least we wouldn’t have to wait for the bags to arrive; the evening’s woes had at least enabled this final, little relief.

Written by Aishwarya and Priyanka Kali
Featured Image by Sanna Jain

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