Monday, April 2, 2018

Of Flying, Finding Beautiful people and Saying Yes to the World

Most people I know love to travel but hate long flights. Then there are those who refuse to travel just because the plane journey is tiring. It is arduous no doubt – sitting in one place for hours, waking up fellow passengers when you need to get past them to use the loo, difficulty in falling asleep, border controls, the works. I cribbed about all this too until one day when I realised that a difficult journey can turn into one of the most beautiful experiences of one’s life – let me tell you a little bit about it.

This is a story of one New Year’s Eve – a joyful gift from my travelling experiences.

I had travelled to Mumbai for my cousin’s wedding. Even though my schedule had been tight, I made sure I was there for her big day. I was selfish as well – I wanted to meet my entire family and also explore how the city had changed over the last few years since my last visit in 2009.

I had to go without the husband for this one because he had no leaves from his office. The wedding ceremony was to be held on 30th December leaving no choice but for me to come back to my guy on 31st to celebrate New Year’s eve. I had a gala time during the wedding festivities and all my cousins in Mumbai coaxed me to stay for the party on 31st, but I politely declined.

You see, kissing the husband at midnight is a tradition for us and I didn’t want to miss it for the world!

My flight was to leave at 18:30 hours; considering the time difference and short flight, I would have landed in Bahrain at 20:30, giving me enough time to get ready and hit a club. I had thought of the dress that I was going to wear, our friends were first going to come home so I had even discussed our food menu that we were going to order, we had tickets for the venue …the night was well-planned.

In Mumbai, Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport was a breeze. I bought a neck pillow to get some sleep because I hadn’t got any in the last few days. At the boarding gate I saw a family that I had earlier seen on my way to Mumbai as well – same dates, I thought to myself.

There was a talk going on between a group of friends that I overheard. They were planning their New Year’s eve in Dubai if the plane diverted. I laughed to myself - with Dubai traffic, there was no way they would be able to reach any party venue after landing even if the plane diverted. And WHY would it divert?

And then I understood why. There were a number of people at the gate who were in distress. The morning flight from Mumbai to Bahrain had been canceled due to unexpected fog and a lot of the stranded passengers were being accommodated in this much bigger plane. Some had missed connections, few had left home some 20 hours before for the morning flight but were stuck here, a couple were fighting to get each other a seat, kids were uncomfortable, the stories of miseries were endless.  

Looking at how chatty the whole area was, it seemed to me that there were no strangers around here – isn’t it is amazing how people come together in times like these?

We finally boarded thirty minutes later. I opened my phone and saw an episode of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. After my meal, I slept like a log.

When I woke up, we were only forty-five minutes away from Bahrain. I opened the sky map and smiled to myself. I love reuniting with the husband like this – feels like I am in a movie!

Suddenly I saw the plane take a U-turn. My worst fears had come true. We were being diverted to Abu Dhabi airport for the night since Bahrain airport had decided to shut down at 19.45 till further notice due to extreme fog and very poor visibility.

All the passengers were taken to the waiting lounge. The first thing I did was to call the husband and tell him that the New Year’s Eve was ruined. There was no way I could come. I borrowed a charger from someone and charged my phone for the rest of the ordeal. They gave us food coupons and advised us to rest.

I looked around – most people were with their spouses. There were a group of people sitting and chatting. I went up to them and discussed everything that was happening. In the end all I could say to them was that atleast they had each other to which one replied, ‘You also have us.’ That got me all teary eyed and I called the husband again to mourn!

There was a school teacher with her husband who wanted to send flight status to her children waiting for them in Bahrain. Their phone could not catch the free wi-fi. I noted the number of the children and messaged them from my phone on her behalf. She was so grateful and joyous that she repeatedly called me an angel. I felt like my mother was with me.

Amongst all these people there was one lady walking around frantically. Since she was also alone like me, I thought I’ll check with her if she wanted to take the airport hotel room and sleep in there. She readily agreed. On our way, we, along with five other people first checked into the airport lounge.
The television was on where they were showing New Year eve’s fireworks across the world. We were stuck in three time zones – India, U.A.E and Bahrain and had lost track of time. It was 12 a.m. and a fellow passenger got a message from her husband to atleast take a glass of wine and celebrate.

We all got a glass from the bar and became a close-knit family at that moment. We cheered to 2018 and thought of this unique experience as one that we would remember for life. None of us were finding faults with anyone or anything. This was nature’s doing and nothing could be done about it. At that moment we formed a Whatsapp group so that even if we lose each other at the airport, we can keep track of the latest information and tell each other about it.

There was no room available in the hotel and so we found a few sofas in the lounge. I usually travel with just my sling bag and so I had nothing to cover myself. My fellow single passenger who was always with me that night gave me her sweater from her trolley bag. After that, I slept comfortably for a few hours.

We woke up at 6 a.m. and chatted with so many in the lounge. There was not a soul who was fretting or finding faults. Everyone was very patient and was waiting for 8 a.m. to look for the announcements regarding the flight’s departure to Bahrain.

We took a nice shower, ate our breakfast and chatted some more. At 11 a.m. we boarded our plane. I was so tired from all this that I fell asleep. I woke up after one hour and the plane was still where it was when I had fallen asleep! I could now hear people losing their patience.

It was then I realised how hard it would have been for the airline staff. From answering our queries all night, to being extremely calm when people were losing their patience, they were the stars of the night. All of them had been away from their family as well on this occasion, and unlike the passengers, they were on duty. The air-hostess told me how she was surprised at the positive attitude of the travellers – she was prepared for some serious bashing! I felt proud of us.

We landed in Bahrain at 2 p.m. and said our goodbyes. A 4-hour journey took us 18 hours yet all of us were surprisingly calm. I was finally reunited with my husband for our new-year eve kiss!

Needless to say, I did not see a single picture from the bash he went to without me. And I believed every bit when he said he missed me! My concern was that I didn’t miss anything and relished each moment of this experience. 

I love the world for this. Exploration has made me see how beautiful people are – inside and out. The lady who called me an angel, the girl who told me I had their company for the new year’s eve celebration, the lady who gave me her expensive cashmere for the night, the three people who gave me their phone chargers, the woman who waited for me at the bottom of the plane’s stairs to help me climb because she knew I had a problem, the man who got us all chocolates in the morning, the air-hostess who handled it all with a smile… I will remember them all.

Like they say – journey is more important than the destination and the people you meet along the way make it all worthwhile. Small problems like lack of leg room for a few hours is nothing in front of the beautiful experience you can have in being a world traveller. Say yes to the world and you would also vouch for the same.

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Your sweetness makes my day. Gentle criticism will be taken in the right spirit too :)