When airports taught me about life

We all go through various transitions in life. But the realization of this change hits you at a point when it’s least expected.

During your childhood days, it’s when your dad finally releases his hand support from the cycle and you somehow manage to balance your ride – that you realize how it feels when you have to manage life without your parent’s support.

In a lonely night with complete darkness, when you hear some strange sounds, you feel for those characters in horror films. But of course, unlike them you’re smart so you don’t step out to search the source for that sound.

When you look at the same, boring mess food for the 100th time, you start missing and valuing the ghar ka khaana much more.

So, like I said, best realizations come at the worst times.

It’s airports that acted as the agent to help me comprehend the huge transition in life I have just went through. A very climactic, filmi story ahead. But I assure you it’s true!

21:30 - Delhi AeroCity Metro Station

I was here, heading towards the airport, to catch a flight for Mumbai (aka home) at 22:25. The journey from my place of stay to airport was pre-planned to perfection. A rare flier that I am, had discovered this amazing feature called web check-in which allows you to directly reach the boarding gate without having to wait at the check-in line. Cool, right? Of course, you need to reach there 45 minutes early regardless, if you are carrying a luggage that needs to be checked-in. But at this point of time I am oblivious to it, and my “plan to perfection” is made according to the boarding time of 22:00.

So now I had a shuttle to board which should take me to my destination in 5 minutes ( According to some forums that I read).

After scrounging a few minutes for the desk that sells shuttle tickets, I boarded the bus and sat comfortably. As the bus was waiting for other passengers, I checked the distance for my Terminal on Maps, just to be sure I will still be “on time”. Turns out, it’s a 12 minutes drive. I checked my watch. It’s exact 21:38. So accordingly, I should reach there by 21:50. Still 10 minutes earlier than the boarding time. I have my check-in sorted anyways. At least I thought I did. So far, so smooth.

21:55 - Airport

Okay, so 5 more minutes lost. I still have 5 more.

With a little hurried pace I reach the check-in counter. The lady at the counter checks the flight time and unexpectedly (for me) gives a sight of disgust.

“You’re too late, sir.”

That was the first jolt of shock.

“I’ve already done the web check-in. How can I be late?” I argued.

The nervousness and anxiety didn’t make me think at that point that the luggage is supposed to be loaded into the aircraft, and of course it won’t happen at such short notice.

“You can’t even reach for the boarding, sir. The gates are already closed.”

Another, huge thunder of shock and despair strikes me.

Here I am, always before/on time for everything, always careful of my schedule, always considerate of every possible hindrance to even the smallest plans. And I am about to miss a flight due to my lack of it all.

This was the moment. This was life’s way of reminding me that I’m an adult now. It’s not just the scoldings at home that I need to be concerned about. It’s the money spent, which I have earned on my own. It’s the leaves from my job that I have lost on getting this holiday. It’s the hopes of being with my family during this festive season (Ganesh Chaturthi) which is about to shatter.

Of course, I couldn’t just return back with a sorry state. I had to fight for it. With a 13 KGS luggage around with me, I had to check-in.

I pleaded. I explained my situation. Hell, I almost cried and begged for help. But the lady probably deals with idiots like me on a daily basis so none of it was effective. I even offered to pay whatever it takes to help me get into that flight. She suggested booking for the next day. I readily said yes, while on the back of my mind i was calculating the possible expenses of making such last-minute booking. I can’t throw away the idea of not going Mumbai either because –

  1. That would be even more devastating.
  2. I already had the return flight booked.

This was the worst Catch-22 situation I have ever been in.

When you are a kid, living under parent’s expenses, you don’t see the repercussions like the way you see it when you are on your own. The pain of seeing your hard-earned money going down the drain hits even harder, and you feel a lot more responsible. Plainly speaking, you cannot afford making such mistakes – both emotionally and financially.

It was a moment of extreme low. And, like in adult life, I had no one to lean on. I felt alone and helpless standing among the lakhs of passengers in one of the busiest airports in the world.

22:05 : Still at the check-in counter

Time was ticking. I was standing there completely clueless on what to do.

Just then, another guy came in running on the next counter, who was also supposed to be on the same flight. But he just had his cabin luggage. He also had to plead a little before getting his boarding pass. Just when the lady at the next counter sent him, she saw me standing. She asked the one at my counter about the situation.

My counter lady, still with that disgust, kept exclaiming and explaining –

“Boarding time gone!”

“13 KGs luggage!!”

“last flight!”

To which she said, “Just take those bags and hurry towards the gate. We can’t guarantee that they will let you in. But you can try”

I will try the hell out of it, ma’am.

And then I ran.

Like in the various Hollywood/Bollywood movie climax scenes, I ran to save myself from this misery. With one bag in hand, one bag on the back and tonnes of hopes, I geared myself to have the run of my life.

Unlike the movies, you do have to stop at the security check. The 13 KG bag and bagpack went into the scanner and no one batted an eye for the excess cabin luggage. As the officer was patiently scanning over my body, I wanted to scream at him to hurry up. But of course I didn’t. Some brain cells were still working at that moment which advised me to stay shut. I just dumped the electronics and wallet from the tray into the bagpack and began running again.

I kept on running from one end to another for a few minutes (had obviously lost the count of time by then) before I could see my boarding gate. The guy from the next counter just passed through. I felt like an athlete almost about to cross the finishing line. There are chances that I can make it.

Seeing me running, the guy at the boarding gate signaled for the bus about to leave for the aircraft to stop. I had the pass scanned and then again ran towards the bus.  The doors of the bus closed as soon as I entered. My heartbeats were back, I could feel my pulses and I managed to catch a breath or two.

Flight? Not missed

Lesson? Learnt

Hotel? Trivago.

We aren’t done yet

It was as if life really wanted to make sure I have had that realization of being an adult. On my way back to Delhi, another anecdote is waiting to happen.

17:45 - Security Check at the Mumbai Airport

I am well on time, patiently waiting in line at the security check. 15 minutes left for the boarding. Nothing can go wrong now, right?

For those who haven’t been to airports, here’s how security check goes – you get yourself checked while your cabin luggage gets scanned through a machine with a moving belt on which you are supposed to keep the bags. As per the rules (which I don’t completely understand) all your electronic items and wallet should go in a tray provided, which is also put through the moving belt.

My belongings get scanned and are waiting for me at the other end, while the human checking is taking its own sweet time. The officer here is going at an even slower pace than one at the Delhi airport. But there is nothing to hurry about this time. So, I let it pass.

After I’m done with the checking, I reach at the belt for my bags. I keep my laptop, wallet and power bank in leisure, at its designated place in the bag. Just as I was about to leave, I had a feeling I am missing something. It didn’t take much time to figure out what. It’s my phone.

I began searching the contents of my bag. I looked around the desk. I checked my pockets. I removed all the stuff from my bag and checked it again. All in vain.

17 : 55 - Still at the security check

5 minutes are left for my boarding to close and I am miles away from the gates, with a missing phone. It was of course a moment of severe panic. But since it was nothing compared to the volcano that erupted the previous time, I was absolutely calm and ready to tackle the situation. I informed the police squad at the counter. They scanned the bag twice through the scanner, searched the checking area entirely. When that didn’t work, one of them called at my number. It was ringing, but we couldn’t hear the call in the vicinity. Which meant –

  1. Someone has taken the phone
  2. They didn’t mean to steal it (Since the phone isn’t switched off)

The next step was to check the CCTV footage. The control room was instructed accordingly. I checked the time. It was almost 18:00, my boarding time has started. I informed about this calmly to the officer.

I knew I am not missing this flight due to my ignorance, and things will be taken care of. It was logic and maturity which were supporting me, and not the emotions. This is when I knew that I have embraced the fact that I am an adult. And that felt good!

As we were waiting for the control room to respond, the officer tried calling on my number again. I expected it to not ring. But guess what? It did. And the sound came from my back.

I turned to see a guy with specs and a smile on his face, holding 2 phones in his 2 hands. Both phones were exactly the same, with same colour and casing. I didn’t need further explanation.

“My phone is also same bro, and it got into my tray!” exclaimed the guy and started giving a broad it’s-so-funny smile, having no idea what me and the officers went through. We all gave a bewildered look at him, and I grabbed the phone to have the second airport run of my life.

And yet again, I managed to catch a flight moments before the gates closed.

If there’s anything to learn from these incidents, it is : JUST BE AT THE AIRPORT WELL BEFORE TIME!