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One biscuit per passenger
A Ganesh Nadar | August 01, 2005 17:49 IST
Mumbai woke up to continuous rain July 31, evoking fears of a deluge similar to the one which had paralysed the city for three days from Tuesday July 26.
Nevertheless, at 9 am the Indian Airlines automated answering system said Flight 167 from Mumbai to Thiruvananthapuram would take off as scheduled at 1140 hours.
At 10 am I got into a cab and was airport-bound. Some parts of the road in Andheri were already under water. But the ride was comparively easier once we reached the Western Express highway.
At the airport, chaos reigned. All flights had been recheduled.
The airport manager was dismissive when informed about the optimism expressed by automated service, "That is Indian Airlines' problem, not mine," he said.
The much harried Indian Airlines duty manager did not even have the time to stop and listen. When he was finally apprised of the problem, he promised to do something, but obviously his mind was elsewhere.
The customer service people seemed equally clueless. All they were willing to say was that the weather bureau had indicated that the skies might clear by noon. If it did, the flights would take off.
I decided to head back home. En route, another journalist called, saying "Television just anounced that the flights are taking off."
'Flight 167 will take off at any minute now,' agreed the voice at the other end of the automated enquiry service when I called again.
I hopped into a rickshaw. "The police are going around telling us which roads are flooded," explained the rickshaw driver. Minutes later, he ran out of gas.
I managed to flag down a cab, and stoically put up with the driver's monologue about his Tuesday travails.
The airport was buzzing, and people were queueing up for their boarding passes.
The flights to Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi had been combined, and the new flight number was now 1167.
Three ladies from Switzerland were looking very distressed. They had Air-India tickets endorsed to Indian Airlines.
"Let us first deal with our passengers," they were told by the lady at the Indian Airlines check-in counter.
The Swiss ladies sought help from the Indian Airlines duty manager. "We have to give preference to our own passengers but you put your name down on the standby list," advised the woman who had replaced the man on morning duty.
The standby counter, number 12, was unmanned. "Just stand there someone will come," the distraught women were advised by staff manning the neighbouring counters. Sure enough, some one finally did, and the ladies got their boarding passes.
The board said the estimated time of departure for IC 1167 was 1.30 pm.
The security check was anounced at 2 pm. An hour later, we were asked to board. At 3.30 pm, the plane with Captain Kaushik Patel in command backed away from the aero bridge, turned around and taxied towards the runway.
At 4 pm, the good captain announced that "visibility is low and we are fifth on the take off list, we will have to wait for another 25 minutes, please bear with us."
The air hostesses were distributing biscuits. Or rather, one biscuit per passenger.
"We are hungry, why don't you serve us lunch?" asked one passenger.
"There is no lunch to serve, Mumbai is wet you know," came the reply.
"Why did they not tell us this at the counter? We could have eaten at the airport itself?" replied the by now very irritated passenger.
Unfazed, the airhostess replied: "We are not aware of what the ground staff are saying."
"They too are not aware of what you are doing," replied the irate passenger.
We finally took off at 4.30 pm, with minimum turbulence.
On landing at Kochi at 6.05 pm, we were served biscuits (several this time), a small bottle of mineral water, a cold drink, and tea or coffee. Passengers cheered when they noticed some packets being loaded. And sighed when they realised that it was not food but another case of cold drinks.
"Why don't you ask for food?" a man wanted to know.
"We can't ask, but we will try," replied the air hostess. But her attempts, if any, were in vain. We left Kochi at at 6.45 pm, and were served another round of cold drinks and some more mineral water.
We landed at Thiruvananthapuram at 7.30 pm. Our checked in baggage was with us in 15 minutes.
I helped the Swiss ladies get a pre-paid cab to Mata Amrithanandamayi's ashram in Kollam. Surprisingly, they did not want to stop on the way to eat.
We did. At 8. 15 pm, we were stuffing our face with fried chicken.
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