Saturday, June 14, 2014

Home bound journey: Start early, and then, everything wrong!

My official brief holiday was supposed to begin on the 15th of June, but I got four extra days from the Directorate because they had denied me any relief during the last two months when I had worked continuously ... all alone. I decided not to inform my family of these four extra days. Hence, I purchased tickets on Qatar Airways for the 11th of the month, and was expected to reach Mumbai late night/early morning of the 12th. To coordinate the huge surprise, I decided to inform Hannah, my younger daughter, about my early arrival. 

I began my home journey on the morning of the 11th when my replacement Pediatrician, Dr. Hamza from Zalm General Hospital arrived at Al Muwayh. I decided to drive my own car to Taif, meet my car mechanic friend Mr. Shabbir Choudhary, and hand over my car to him for a look at the machine, and to find a buyer for the car. Yes, I have decided to buy another car when I return to the Kingdom. I then requested Mr. Shabbir to drop me at Taif airport. 

He agreed. We reached the airport at about half past one in the afternoon. My flight was scheduled to leave at twenty minutes past four p.m. I entered the concourse, only to discover that the checking process had stopped on account of a massive communications breakdown between the computers at this airport and their central servers. The lobby was choc-a-bloc full with passengers awaiting the clerical staff to return to their desks and begin the process of checking in the passengers. The server problem was not going to be rectified soon, and eventually, at about 2:20 p.m., the clerical staff began mechanical check-in for the passengers. This was a painstakingly slow process. The clock ticked away inexorably, and most of us got resigned to the thought that the plane flight would get delayed.

My turn came at about 5 p.m., and the entire check in took two more hours. All the passengers got checked in at half past seven! We would depart Taif for Doha, Qatar, at eight o'clock, nearly four hours late. In the meantime, my connecting flight from Doha to Mumbai would have left at half past eight. 

However, I was not alone. More than 95% of this flight's passengers were on connecting flights from Doha, onward to several locations all over south Asia - such as New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Calicut, Hyderabad, Islamabad, Lahore, Dacca, etc. I befriended a young Cardiologist from Lahore, who, believe it or not, was travelling alone with his six-month old infant girl - he was going to Lahore to leave his daughter with his parents, as his wife had fallen sick in KSA and was admitted in a hospital in the Kingdom. We vibed well, and chatted for quite a while, exchanging the usual notes of the Indo-Pakistani relationship-gone-sour. Dr, Zahid, as he is called, has just recently joined the King Faisal Hospital in Taif. 

I also met a teacher working in Jeddah. I have earlier met this person also on a journey. At that time, we had exchanged phone numbers. To his credit, he saw me in the queue at Taif and beckoned to me and renewed our acquaintance. This time, he was going to Kerala with his family for a 2-month holiday.

Well, to cut a long story short, we reached the Doha airport at half past ten. We went onward to the transfers desks on the first floor where I met one of the desk staff - a Filipina by the name of Sally. She was in charge of the desk for Business and First class passengers, but as she was free, she called me to her and asked me of what service she could be to me. I explained that I was merely one of a large group of passengers arriving from Taif, and that she and her friends would soon be overwhelmed by all the others who also wanted to catch connecting flights. She asked me if I would agree to be accommodated at a hotel for a day, and that she would put me on the next evening's Mumbai flight. I refused, and requested her to provide me with an alternate but early schedule for return to Mumbai. It took her about an hour and a half, but eventually, she put me on a New-Delhi bound flight which would depart Doha at 1:40 a.m. It would take me to N.D. at half past seven. From there, I would board a Jet Airways flight to Mumbai at 9:45 a.m. and reach Mumbai at half past twelve in the afternoon. I agreed. 

I then proceeded to the departures area of the airport. Doha airport has been recently shifted to this ultra-modern, snazzy place. It is huge, and it took me over 15 minutes to reach my particular departure gate. I settled in to wait for the flight to be announced, munching some snacks purchased from a coffee shop with a cup of coffee as well. 

We left Doha on time, and reached New Delhi uneventfully. However, a bigger shock was in store for me: the guys at Doha had NOT FORWARDED my luggage to this Jet Airways flight, and thus, I did not get my checked in maroon bag and a box-pack of a bottle of zam-zam water that I had bought off another passenger who could not take it with him because of over-weight luggage (at Taif). Presently, I raised a ruckus with the Qatar Airways staff, and they assured me that they would find and return my bag and bottle later in India, and would I please proceed to catch the Mumbai flight which was scheduled to leave at 9:45 a.m. from Gate no. 46 of the Delhi Airport. 

It was my first experience with misplaced luggage, but it would be a disaster for me if the luggage was not found, as this time, I was carrying all my professional certificates as well as a substantial amount of cash in my bag. 

Anyways, we completed the paper-work, and eventually, I walked over 20 minutes across the huge New Delhi airport till I reached gate no. 46. By that time, I was fatigued and feeling dehydrated. I had to wait for some time here as well, as the Jet flight also got delayed by about 50 minutes. In the end, I reached Mumbai at noon. 

Malfunctioning computers at Taif, delays, and lost baggage ... what more could I have asked for from Allah in my cup of miseries?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You're not alone, Dr Taher. I encountered all of the above this year - communications breakdown, long horrid waits in an uncomfy abaya, flight rerouting, delayed luggage - with certs and cash quite like you(learnt a lesson too). Saudia and BA flights. Took me five days and many emails to get back my missing baggage - no one seemed to know where it was. It's a nasty experience but teaches one to be prepared for any eventuality.
Glad to know you got back your baggage intact. And wish you a great vacation to make up for the initial disturbance. Deepti/Riyadh