Monday, November 5, 2012

A Very Secure Plane Ride to India

We have recently returned from a lovely family trip to Chennai. I have to tell you though, going from Bangladesh to India has turned into some sort of traveler purgatory. If you thought that taking off your shoes at the airport security checkpoint was a terrible inconvenience, I’d like you to take a trip from Dhaka to Chennai to get a bit of a perspective. After we entered the ever filled with vicious mosquitoes Dhaka airport, we had to scan our luggage before check-in while the observing officer was languidly cleaning his teeth with a small plastic fork. After was passed that bastion of security, we had to put the bags again through an X-ray machine right at the gate, where a feisty lady frisked me lovingly if haphazardly behind a rather dirty cloth booth and the Diplomat was even more lovingly and similarly haphazardly frisked right next to the machine. Once inside the waiting room, you’d think it would be over. Definitely not. There, a spritely fellow asked us to open up our bags and rummaged through my bras and feminine products serenely and without batting a Muslim eyelash. A stern looking woman took me behind a wicker partition and felt me all over again with fierce determination. You will excuse my impatience, but at this point we got a bit overwhelmed, and so I asked the lady why the heck we were being subjected to everything twice. She told me that the folks outside the gate were from the airport police, and the ones inside – from the airline. In her words, “We don’t trust them and they don’t trust us!” Speechless, I sat down and gave Son some crayons to draw dinosaurs.

Soon we proceeded to the plane, where a stern officer requested to see our boarding passes. I gave mine apathetically. 40 mins later and we were in Kolkata. Oddly, it took an additional 45 mins to get off the plane, which was a problem since we had a short connecting flight on a different airline. If you know Kolkata, you’ll know that the international and domestic flights buildings are apart and it is a brisk 5 minute obstacle course walk to get from one to the other (the obstacles being multiple men asking to carry your luggage, offer you a cab, something to eat, or standing just to stare at you along with a bunch of dogs). Running as fast as we can with 3 small suitcases and child in tow, we made it to the domestic flights building. We were promptly stopped at the entrance by an massive Indian policeman who resolutely requested our printed flight reservation and passports. Clearly rattled and worried about our next flight, I gave the man the papers and pretended to be telling the Diplomat loudly about how late we were. The policeman was not impressed. An eternity later, he returned the papers to me and let us through, only to be stopped a second later by another cop, sitting at a small wooden banged up bureau and writing slowly important stuff in an ancient-looking large note book. He also asked for our passports and reservations. Giving him an icy stare, I gave everything to him, fidgeting as if I had lice creeping up my butt. Again, I kept telling the Diplomat loudly that we were going to miss our flight. Nonplussed, after writing our names and destination  in the giant book with meticulous handwriting and the speed of an asthmatic snail, the cop turned to the Diplomat and asked him phlegmatically which part of India he was from. As I was about to choke him with a piece of Son’s plastic dinosaur, he finally gave us the passports and we raced to the counter. There, it turned out that our luggage was too heavy to be carryon luggage, which meant that we needed to go back and put it through a scanner and get a security tag. After a few uncalled for expletives directed at the perky Indigo Air staff, we ran and put the damned bags through. We raced back to the counter only to have her say, “Oh, too bad, you put it through Jet Air’s scanner, not ours – they are right next to each other…” Who cares, lady!!! It is a @#$%ing scanner, they are NOT going to show different things. Audibly upset, I let the Diplomat go back and re-scan the damned suitcases, all the while glaring at the counter lady who in turn was giving me most pleasant looks.

Finally done and boarding passes in hand, we ran towards the security checkpoint. There, we had to go through 2 separate lines for men and women, and had a bunch of tags stamped on our carry-ons. I was duly felt all over again by a disturbingly androgynous lady with a spurious mustache  Once THAT was over, we rushed toward the boarding gate as boarding was almost over. Before getting on the bus to the plane, we had to show our boarding passes to the airline agent, and then immediately to an airport policeman (yes, apparently they don’t trust each other in India as well). The bus took us to the plane, where ANOTHER damn cop checked the boarding passes. I was close to a nervous breakdown.

Soon we were up in the air, sitting squished in our chairs, which were extraordinarily small. Right in the middle of our ascent, my front neighbor decided that it was totally cool to recline his seat and fell 45 degrees into my lap, given the angle of the plane going up. It was a rather annoying flight. The final touch came when we landed in Chennai – leaving the plane, I was stopped by yet another policeman who demanded to see my boarding pass. !@#$%%???? I dared to ask why – after all, I have just left the God-damn plane. He said that he did not know why, he just had to. What do you say to that….

Our Chennai stay was lovely. We saw many of Diplomat’s relatives and even took a fabulous overnight trip to the beaches of Mahabalipuram, where his wonderful uncle had booked us a beachfront room in a 5-star resort. Son and Granddad had a ball in the infinity pool. IN the meantime, soaking in the deep end and gazing upon the ocean, I overheard the following exchange between 2 men in VERY tight long-john speedos threading water inside the shallow end and their lovely sareed wives, supine on the lounge chairs “Oh, come on, the water is lovely!” “Naa, yaar, I am in my saree, can’t come inside!” “Eh, saree-shmaree, no one can see you here!” followed by a hysterical giggle by all. Yes, dear friends, India is changing.

We are now safely back to the manic life of Dhaka. In two short days, the Embassy will be hosting a massive event with over 1000 local dignitaries at the Westin hotel to observe the Presidential election’s day. I cannot wait to explain the difference between the popular vote and the Electoral College at 5.30 am.


  1. Classic India airport experience! I feel your pain.

  2. I always enjoy reading your posts, you present a very interesting life. I have taken the test for the FSO twice now, passed once, but didn't get through the personal narrative. Maybe this year, if I decide to try.

    In the mean time, would you be interested in exchanging links? If I put a link to your blog on my page would you put a link to mine on yours?

  3. Hey Mark, good luck!!!! As for links - I actually don't even know how to work the link thing, so I have decided not to do it at all.