With each successive assignment it seems that our flights home get longer and longer. Thanks to the Fly America Act https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fly_America_Act and the fact that we have a dog, the easiest way for us to transit to and from Mumbai is with United Airlines, http://www.united.com/web/en-US/Default.aspx which is a 15-hour trip from Mumbai to Newark, NJ. We could theoretically break up the flights by going via London on Delta, but if there’s any discrepancy in the dog paperwork, they euthanize Fido on the tarmac. No matter that the dog would be leaving in a few hours. Not up for that. So United for 15 it is.
It’s also in coach anymore, congress having gotten rid of the 10 hours plus rule for business class sometime in the early to mid 2000’s. It would be just fine with me if it meant that members of congress also flew coach, but let’s not kid ourselves.
So it was with a lot of trepidation and preparation that I pulled up to Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport http://www.csia.in/ last Thursday night. I’d been packed for weeks, the DiploBoys were bathed and dressed in matching and easily identifiable outfits, and I’d even managed to go and get in a session with my trainer to make sure I had gotten enough nervous energy out of my system and a pedicure and foot massage to ward of deep vein thrombosis. (That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.) DiploDad even managed to shoehorn himself into the back seat with the DBs to come with us to the airport.
We pulled into the drop-off zone, DiploDad and I argued for the 3,456th time about the best way to manage three suitcases, three carry-ons and two kids, and, after some hunting for a luggage cart and a little more bickering over who would push it, we all kissed DD goodbye and headed into the terminal.
It was coming. You know that, right?
The DBs and I stood under the Departures display, gaping up at the blue, white, and logo covered board and read “cancelled” in the column announcing time of departure for our flight. Dammit. I took command of the cart, barked at my brood to follow me, and headed off for the United counter. As I’ve said before, I’m relatively certain that United Airline’s motto is “Embrace the Suck”. I was bracing myself.
Let me clear a few things up about airlines and flying. First off, I am from West Virginia. The late, great, Senator Robert Byrd (mayherestinpeaceandmoonshine) said that he only regretted two votes the entire time he was in the Senate. The first one was against The Civil Rights Act. The second was for airline deregulation. That’s a pretty strong statement. I can get on board with that sentiment.
Second, I have not always hated United. There was a time years ago, when DiploDad flew to go take the oral assessment in DC from a tiny military town in the Southwest and although it would have taken 3-4 legs and over $1,000 at the time to fly there, we were still able to swing it because there was a military discount that cut it down to a very, very manageable amount. They also used to give you the whole can of ginger ale without asking, and without an evil look if you did. They used to let anyone who needed extra time to board get in the queue early, and that included people with kids. In short, they used to be my favorite airline. I am sorry to say that I am now on the I Hate United bandwagon, because really, they do more annoying things than not these days.
Maybe, however, it is now that fact that I have to fly cattle car for HOURS and they just treat everyone who isn’t in biz class like shit. I have issues with that too.
We head to the counter, the kids tanning up nicely from the heat radiating off me. I swear DB1 put on his sunglasses. I was HOT.
United Dude: Good Evening, Ma’am —
Me: Not really. You want to explain why the last communication that I had from you was at 8 a.m. when you asked me via email if I wanted to check in early, and I get here only to find out you cancelled the flight? Not. Happy.
United Dude: Well, we called you.
Me: Really? Because my phone shows no missed calls.
United Dude: The number we have is XXXXX (DiploDad’s).
Me: Oh, that’s fine. Here (dials up DD), talk to him.
Me: Hi – our flight is cancelled.
DiploDad: What???!!! *&^%$##$%!!
Me: (to United Dude) He wants to talk to you.
United Dude: Um . . . . (types furiously into computer)
Me: United says they called you.
DiploDad: What??!! No. Not at all. &^$#@%()*&^^%!!!
Me: He says you didn’t call him. And he has no missed calls.
United Dude: The notes here say that we spoke to someone named Sagar.
Me: Do I or either of my children look like anyone in our family has that name? Is that a name on ANY of the tickets I just handed you?
United Dude: Um, no. No.
Me: (to DD) Don’t worry, honey. I’ve got this. (Hangs up. Smiles at United Dude.)
United Dude: (To other United Dude) Hindi equivalent of “oh shit”.
After some tapping of keys, a few threats (“If you put me in the last row that doesn’t recline I will literally track you down upon my return.”), and many fake smiles on both sides, I was booked with the DBs to Washington Dulles via a stopover in Brussels. (DBs: “Yay, CHOCOLATE!”) Our bags were booked through, we had boarding passes, and the very talented local United staff had even managed to get us all seated together and stay in United Plus sized seats. This was a big deal, because we’d shelled out over $600 for that extra three inches of space. United Economy Plus means you have a 1980’s era seat rather than the 2015 era seat. The 2015 model came of age during the fad of skinny jeans and assumes that everyone on the planet wears them and enjoys that tight wedgie feeling when they lower their butt to any soft surface and have their legs squished together with not room for a piece of Saran Wrap in between.
I have to say that the three gentlemen of Mumbai Local United were capable, lovely, and helpful. Their names are Omraj, Almat, and Neil. If anyone at United winds up reading this, you owe them a raise.
Check-in and clearing security accomplished, we headed for the gates. To wait four freaking hours. Ugh. After setting into a seat at Café Coffee Day with our $9 hot chocolates, the DBs opened their flight bags to see what had been packed. I still had a ban on electronics – no way were they running down the battery before a 2-leg flight.
At the last minute that morning, I had run to Hamley’s to get a few more Barbie in India dolls for little girls stateside. On impulse, and because I am a sucker, I bought each of the DBs a smallish LEGO set. I was never so thrilled that I was an indulgent mother in my entire life. For two hours, DB2 worked on his set and DB1 helped him. It was lovely. I just sat there, drank my hot chocolate (and DB1’s too), and answered the question, “How much longer?” about 957 times.
Finally, we headed to the gate. After another 20 minutes and yet a third time through an x-ray machine and pat down and we boarded the plane.
We had been routed on a Star Alliance partner airline, Jet Airways. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jet_Airways Jet Airways was awesome. We had space, friendly and efficient flight crewmembers, and an awesome selection of Bollywood movies on the in-flight entertainment program. The flight went very well. This is my third experience with an Indian airline (Spice, Indigo) and all of them have been fantastic. It was a really good flight. And only 8 hours.
After we landed, we began the trek to our connecting gate. The DBs had slept on the plane a bit, so they weren’t totally crashing, which was good. The video detailing the ahem, “amenities” at the Brussels Airport, however, exaggerated slightly, and I found myself having to back out of a few empty promises. (“They probably have a McDonald’s there!”) Ugh. We did, however, manage to procure some of the best chocolate known to man, aka, Neuhaus. http://www.neuhauschocolate.com/index-en.htm
After yet another security check and a pat down so thorough that I was questioning my marriage, we were spit out into the practically amenity-free boarding area. With a few hours to go and some very hungry DBs who had slept through the previous flight’s dinner service, I headed for the only recognizable possibility for a meal: Fourbucks. Fourbucks, as I call Starbucks, should have been named Tenbucks; because three small drinks, a salad, and two grilled ham and cheese sandwiches set me back 38 Euros. On the bright side, we ran into the Indian Bodybuilding team.
We were about forty-five minutes from boarding when there was an announcement that anyone who had a boarding pass issued by an airline other than United proper would have to come for an “additional security check”. DB1 was in the loo. DB2 was putting together LEGO set #2. I went up to the counter myself with all passports and boarding passes in hand to trade them in. I found out that I needed to present both of my children and then answer some “additional security questions”. I stood in line waiting for the security guy, and after telling him my “luggage history” and presenting the DBs one at a time (so that the luggage history could continue to be clear and I could continue to say that it had been under my family’s control at all times), we had new boarding passes and sat down to wait for the Zone Five Load.
Why do I always get Zone Five? Ugh. I was praying to the Airline Gods that we would get overhead bin space. About ten minutes to boarding time, another security team showed up, set up tables and screens and began joking around in French. Uh-oh. Thorough security check. While the screens ostensibly shielded people from the gaze of the public, it was completely visible to anyone who just peeked around the corner and anyone in the seating area of the gate. When the security guy who was obviously in charge pulled on a pair of blue latex gloves and snapped them to the amusement of his cohorts, I paled. Please, I begged the Airline Gods, not ME.
I watched the earlier zones board and noticed that they pulled every single man with a backpack out for a frisking and a bag toss. I need to remind DiploDad to not travel with his backpack when he comes to join us.
While I definitely didn’t fit the profile of 90% of the folks picked for advanced screening, I was sweating it. For some reason, I am always picked for extra screening. I’ve had my right hand swabbed for chemicals at Dulles while my left hand held my diplomatic passport. I’ve had an extra pat down in Germany. I’ve been separated from kid at Austin, TX. I think that when you add me to the mix, I’m the perfect anti-profile to keep their stats clean. Either that or I look shiftier than I think I do.
When they called us, I’d already briefed the DBs on what to do if Mommy gets pulled – you RUN to your seats, stake out a claim, and get some overhead bin space. My heart was beating when I handed over our boarding passes . . . and the Airline Gods had mercy on me. Whew.
We settled in, and were pleasantly surprised to find we had the bulkhead seats. Another round of kudos and a bigger raise for Omraj, Almat, and Neil. The flight crew was nice. The flight was relatively smooth. Decent movie selection. And the food was good.
We finally made it to Dulles – three hours later, but we made it. After a quick trip through immigration and customs where somehow DB2 was the designated “Head of Family”, we picked up our luggage (which we would later find out had been left in the rain and ruined my lovely designer Kovani dress) and then headed to the car rental counter to pick up the minivan.
It took 20 minutes or so, during which time DB2 flooded the bathroom and I managed to leave the car seat on the car service shuttle, but after a bit of time and jiggering on the part of the capable Budget Rental folks, we managed to get on the road to Sister’s.
The DBs, I have to say were awesome. Polite to all the folks that we met along the way, helpful, friendly, and kept the fights to a very minimal level. When someone in an airport waiting area tells you, “Good job, Mom”, it makes your month. When another person tells you that ten hours later as you finally disembark leg #2 after they’ve been awake the better part of 49 hours, it makes your year. I’m really proud of them. They may drive me bonkers quite often, but they are both Rockstar travelers.
Anyway, we made it. Let the summer begin!