This might surprise you, but this was my first trip on an Air India flight. Previously we have always flown British Airways and on one occasion United Airlines. Then again, we have always flown to New Delhi. This was not just a change of airline but a change of destination. Direct to the Punjab and the city of Amritsar, home of The Golden Temple. We flew out on a Boeing 777-300 and were seated in the middle set of seats (Row 36 D-E-F). Perhaps I should pick up the story, from the moment we went through security.
Those lovely people at Heathrow opened a new security check in desk (not sure what the exact terminology is) so we actually made excellent progress through security. Until they wanted to check in my sister’s Julie’s bag. She had forgotten to take any liquids out of her hand luggage, so now had the embarrassment of security staff, getting her to empty the entire contents of the bag, to find two tubs of Vicks Vapor Rub at the bottom. These were then placed in plastic bags, and the bag re-screened before we were finally able to go. The new terminal building is a marketing man’s (or woman’s) dream. They navigate you around via the Duty Free Shops, rather than the most direct route through. We were boarding from Gate 23 and were surprised, when we got to the gate and sorted out our hand luggage that there was no queue. All was revealed when we made our way into the departure lounge, it was full with standing room only. For a change everyone was on time and eager to get on board this flight. Being a Sunday afternoon, I suppose made it much easier to organise everybody. We stood in the corner and just talked for a while, as we waited to board the flight. Eventually we were called and in the queue before we had our boarding pass I was having a conversation with youngest sister. “You better be good Julie!”. He response was perhaps typical for a sixteen year old, “Yeah, and you better be good!”. Rather annoyed at this tone being taken with me, I raised my voice (perhaps in hindsight a level too high for an airport departure lounge, “Why do I need to be good? I’m twenty years old!”. From the moment the first words came out of my voice, everyone (and I mean every single person in the lounge) turned around and looked at us and in particularly me and some women gave a look of disgust. I doubt everyone knew what I had said. My sister, smirked and grabbed my arm, “A little too loud, Andrew paa”. Maybe, but I was just getting in the holiday mood! Two weeks off work. I was excited but a little apprehensive too, but was trying my best to hide it all.
Do you enjoy flying? I love it. I think it has a great deal to do with the fact my parents threw me on a play at a very young age. I took my first international flight at the tender age of two in 1984. Ever since I have enjoyed the experience of flying, particularly take off. Okay for landing I can be a ever so jumpy (but not the nervous wreck like my friend Paul). I have a preference for an window seat but never mind I would cope without. In the end, a window would not be required. I was surprised by the amount of tech in economy class. This was the level of luxury you would expect only in Business or First Class. Each seat had a (web based) media player system. This provided not only movies (in Hindi, English and various other regional languages) but music videos, music, television shows, comedy shows. There were two geeky elements that really appealed to me. Firstly being able to monitor the exact location of the plane by GPS and some amazing mapping software (but not quite Google Maps / Earth) but never the less not bad. Just a big shame that this function was not working on any of our three screens. Secondly, we come to the on board cameras. Yes, two cameras – one mounted in the nose cone and the other on the under carriage. Although they were only operationally at selected times in the flight, it enabled me to watch the takeover (and subsequent landing) from the same viewpoint as pilot. This was awesome!
I did not watch any movies, I listened to my Sony Walkman MP3 player for a while (I could charge it thanks to the USB port built into the media player screen) and then started to read the book, my sister Samantha had given to me. My holiday book so to speak. The memoirs of a young Canadian kid who crossed the border and did pretty well in the Sunshine State. I enjoyed the flight, but then I enjoy flying generally. My Mum went to sleep for a while, my sister listened to her iPod and also went to sleep for a while. I rested a little, but I would hardly call it quality sleep at 60,000 ft.
Trying to occupy myself, I watched some music videos on the media player. They was nothing really recent, the hits of Westlife (from their most recent album) or Latest Pop hits which included 50 Cent – Baby By Me, which I am sure is several months old (if not almost a year). This did not help, so I switched back to my own MP3 player. This lasted for a few hours, by which time I had listened to all my favourite tracks and I switched back to reading my book. I wondered if the blog post I had schedule to upload at the time we were taxing on the runway at Heathrow would have uploaded. (The reality was it had not and I would have to upload it manually when I next got to a Internet connection).
The plane landed around 3am, India Standard Time (IST). The captain gave us some details after we had touched down on the tarmac in Amritsar. The outside temperature is 30 degrees Celsius with a humidity of around 40%. I recall the temperature in London had been the same around midday in London on Friday (9th July). If it was this hot in the middle of the night, how hot would it get in the day? Once the plane came to a standstill, we grabbed our things and waited to be escorted off the flight. The doors were opened at the back and we walked down into the heat. We were finally in India, my Mum was back home. I noticed a warm glow from her face, as we boarded the coach to take us the short distance to the terminal building.
India is a very bureaucratic country, I am surprised anything gets done at all. (Is this a legacy of British rule?) Our boarding cards were checked as we entered the terminal building by a policeman. We then were in a long queue waiting for to clear immigration. This was a small airport, still under construction. I could see a large group of people waiting just beyond the immigration desks, behind a glass barrier. I was itching to know the final score of the World Cup. I was quite confident that Spain would have become World Champions. By the time we were called to the desk, I asked the immigration official (after I had a chance to test out my Punjabi with a this civil servant but nevertheless native speaker) but he did not know the score. The flight had come in, he had work to do, rather than check on the score of the biggest sporting event on the planet. After clearing immigration (our documents were checked again before we had to wait at the luggage carousel. There were only two and another flight did arrive shortly after us. Now was the long wait, over an hour in fact for our luggage to arrive. I just guess the crowd staff are at skeleton levels at that time in the morning. Hopefully once this becomes a fully operational international hub, such waits will be a thing of the past. Once we got our bags, we headed through customs out into the arrivals area. I rushed to a small screen (14″) hanging up on the wall. It was showing some rolling news channel. On the ticker, it gave the score Spain 1 – 0 Netherlands. I had at least one piece of information from the World Cup Final. We headed out into the heat of the street to be greeted by Mataji and her husband. I had arrived, the next part of my adventure could begin.