Sunday, 14 November 2010

The sheer bliss inside the airport

It took us 74 minutes two weeks ago to enter the airport. It is now time to experience the blissful experience of actually being in.

Lets concretise the experience. Imagining you are taking an international flight out of Chennai airport, arguably the worst airport in the land. You may recall that the last step before being allowed entry into the hallowed portal is a painful check of your ticket and papers by an uniformed worthy. Immediately after you enter, within 10 yards, the same process repeats itself as you enter a fenced off area - another queue, another check.

You then proceed to yet another queue - this time to screen your baggage through an Xray machine . Not even in Timbuktu airport in Mali, which is essentially a cowshed, does this process take place. Huge queue. People on overloaded trolleys banging you from the back. Since Indians have a general disdain for queues, seven sub queues form which ultimately merge into one chaotic rugby scrum . And unique Chennai practice dictates that your bags be fed into the conveyor upside down - ostensibly the logic is that giving a through shaking of your bag is good for general health.

Having navigated this successfully, you then proceed to check in where it is an axiom that larger the flight, the smaller will be the number of open counters. No less than 5 persons will be at each counter - one operating and the others interfering. Inevitably each person checking in will have a slanging match on overweight baggage - after all every worthy has checked in with 100kgs which she is expecting to be taking for free. When told a firm No - she proceeds to open all her bags right here to retransfer stuff from one bag to another so that at least one bag could be left behind with the adoring multitudes who have come to see her off. So enough entertainment to occupy you for a full hour.

If you successfully navigate check in then you proceed to immigration. After the fall of the Soviet Union, India and North Korea stand unique among the league of nations where the immigration check for home nationals is more intense on the way out, than on the way in. He patiently flips through each page on your passport and wants to know why you are adding to his work by going somewhere - why can you not simply stay at home.

Then comes the famous security line. India stands unique in demanding that you put a silly baggage tag on your hand baggage which has got to be stamped - the most useless security measure I have seen anywhere in the world. Only one xray machine is working. There are no less than 7 people manning it - one feeding the bags, one seeing the stuff on the machine, one stamping that silly tag, and four resting. Just as your turn comes after 54 minutes of waiting, there come the cabin crew trooping in for your flight. They have priority, of course and you sigh as that lot jumps the queue. And just as you get ready to finally "make it" you are rudely shoved aside, by the Minister coming with a retinue of 12 all of whom have priority.

Phew. Past the security check, at last. Immediately your ears are bombarded with shrill announcements delivered at 1000 decibels and completely unintelligible. I am firmly convinced that the only criteria airlines use to select ground crew is that they must be completely in love with the sound of their own voices. Totally pointless announcements non stop, yelled in English, Hindi and the local language. Yelling for some passenger or the other to contact somebody or the other - and since they cannot get their names right, it makes for some comedy; the only saving grace. Announcing "boarding procedure" for a 20 seater aircraft which everybody ignores anyway. Asking you to check your baggage tack. Asking you to go to the loo.

The getting on to the plane. A long line has formed 2 hours before the plane is due to board. And since its late coming in from wherever its supposed to come from, its a three hour wait. Yet people love to queue up - there must be some intense satisfaction in getting on to the plane first ; a joy that has thus far eluded me. Maybe the fear that your seat may not be there if you are not the first to get in.

Aerobridges are only for ornamental purposes; they are not meant to be used. So you are told to stand on a rickety bus hanging on for dear life by the boot straps as the Lewis Hamilton wannabe shows off his braking and acceleration skills.

At last you get in. Only to find that the blighters before you have stuffed every available space overhead. The seat has basically been built for the pygmies of Andamans. You are wedged in the middle between two fat ladies who should have bought two tickets each to accommodate their bulk. Its 3 AM in the morning. Ah ! What bliss it has been.


RS said...

More than a take on indian airport (chennai, in particular), this seems to be targetted on the 'Rajalakshmis' :D. The security demanding for name tag on hand baggage-LOL! LOL!! This includes one on the laptop bags as well :D. What logic? What logic?? I think rituals have become very much a part of our life that we cannot just outgrow.......

I wonder why this happens only in Chennai? Coimbatore/Trivandrum have a smaller airport, but is not such a mess for sure.Atleast, the security guys are not harsh!! :D

Vishal said...

That is wonderful Ramesh! Having travelled extensively over past 5 years, I could not relate to your post any better. Infact, getting inside the airport may not be that irritating if you left 20 minutes early from home. But talking of the inside airport experience, God save us. Chaos at x-ray machines and check-in counters - just pathetic! Just to add, you would notice least number of check-in counters for the flight which is scheduled to depart earliest of them all. Security check is one lifetime experience which happens everytime you board a flight. Pune Airport is one such example.

You have beautifully explained all the bliss (or rather pain) of being inside the airport before one finally takes off to destination.

zeno said...

Having Chennai as an adopted home for the past few years,it hurts to see Chennai being targeted. Too bad we dont have any RSS kind of people to defend it and protest against your comments :P :D

On a serious note, What you say is so true! Once the security in the fenced area did not let me go telling still you have time for the flight and people for this flight are not permitted now,while i hardly had two hours for the international flight!

Sandhya Sriram said...


You are absolutely amazing. i am bookmarking this site for one of those low days for instant rejuvination :-)

Just one view from Rajalakshmi here :-)

it is really frustrating to retrieve checked in luggage. but it is even more frustrating with all rajalakshmans who carry big suitcases in hand baggages to avoid the check out process and eating away all the Overhead compartment space.

and about the seat - i am really sorry Ramesh - i cant really help. airlines dont allow me to book two tickets to accomodate my size. so i guess, you have to bear with the sandwich :-)

Anonymous said...

and i really envy those fat ladies who have had the pleasure of your company on a long distance journey!!!

RamMmm said...

:-) LOL at your agony and for the special treatment to Chennai airport. :-)

Every country has its own quirks and Indians add their quirkiness further there. US of A doesn't generally allow you to lock your check-ins and break open the locks, if they are not FAA certified. :-( To their credit, I have seen tags inside the baggage that state that they have been opened, but not all though. The check-in queues are far worse than what I have seen in India. London has its own circuitous transit schemes, but to an extent fast though.

The announcements usually take the cake in any airport. :-) :-) South Indian name massacre usually happens and made worse by the odd acoustics at the airports.

The immigration officer at B'luru wants to know where I stay and needs to show my company ID card to prove that I am a genuine company employee.

Ha. Quirks or none, reading the post was fun-o-fun.

Ramesh said...

@RS - Chennai was just an example ; same thing happens everywhere. Only thing unique to Chennai is the upside down positioning of the bag on the screening machine !!

This post was a Rajalakshmi free zone, I thought !! :)

@Vishal - You have traveled equally frequently ; maybe you can post another angle in your blog ??

@zeno - There are the numerous fan associations of stars and starlets whop are ready to take quick offence and bash up innocent me !! Have to be on guard :)

@Sandhya - Knowing you; you are eligible for half ticket and not two :):) Oh yes the overhead baggae bit; nobody beats the Tamilians in maximising carry on luggae - so much so that Singapore airport has a special channel for only Chennai bound passengers just to check the weight and size of carry on baggage before they let you in.

And no; I don't envy myself when squashed between two outsized humans :):)

@RamMmm - I don;t want to even start on the abominations that are US airports. Heathrow, especially Terminal 3 is even worse than an abomination. Chennai any day !!

Anonymous said...

elaam oknga..aana ticket vangarapo insurance policy venumaanu kepaanga parunga...anga thaan allu kelambum. U travel by train bus car..ethulayachum accident aaga chance iruku. Accident aana unga veetuku ivlo kaasu take an insurance solitu vikarangala!!! aana air travella iruku!! enna koduma ithu. Enga airlinesla vantha u mite visit emalogam also nu beethiya kelapi thaanya flightlyae etharaanga!!!

Anonymous said...

Did you miss a Queue, the one after boarding gate queue and prior to the bus queue, for the purpose of checking your liquids?

J said...

LOL! Some of these joys are universal though (why pick on Chennai) - unintelligible announcements at the top of their voices but something that I find uniquely Indian is queues that spring up everywhere only to completely dissolve at the last minute. Despite your stories of being squished in the cattle-class, I assume that once you reach the plane you comfortably travel business unlike poor academics :) Happy travels!

LG said...

very true and I could visualize things at Chennai Airport..oh my.. One particular thing I wish to mention is the "3 Minutes free calls" Oh gee, there would alway be a "Q" as if they are going to the end of the world..

I'll go with RS, it's comparatively low (disturbances) than Chennai's.

Vishal said...

oh yes Ramesh, a lot to write about, an experience this morning only was nothing sort of excruciating... will post a few of my experiences for sure. Having said that, both of your posts were mind blowing to read.

KC said...

This is hilarious! hehe..i could visualize myself in all these painful procedures. Delhi is not different from Chennai, that bus ride from boarding gate to plane takes about 30 mins (all standing)as seats are reserved for Rajlakshimi "Kaur". And it takes 1 hours for a plane to reach the runway.

Deepa said...

Once a less traveled family friend who was flying for the first time asked me about the procedures inside the airport! I said, once you enter the airport gate, just throw yourself in, you'll be kept busy till the time you board your flight. Remember, the agenda is to get a boarding pass and reaching the right gate!

Next time someone asks me, I'll send this link to them! :D Atleast they'll see the humour in the event!

Ramesh said...

@Gils - romba kodumai saar :)

@J - joys are universal indeed, but Chennai is specially joyful ! Haha - poor managers are now worse off than poor academics :)

@LG - Oh yes the free call ; something funny happens to people when a freebie is given

@KC - Harbans Kaur is an even more formidable version of Rajalakshmi !!

@Deepa - Yes - Its an expedition and when you cross the finish line I suppose its perfectly OK to yell Yahoo !!

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