Friday, January 26, 2007

One day at the Detroit Airport…

There are always some incidents in our life which remain etched in our memory. For me, a collection of such interesting incidents occurred in Detroit Airport on October 8th 2006. I just kept postponing writing about it till now.

To start with, I was slightly concerned as my itinerary involved a transit in Baltimore on my way back from Detroit to Boston with the transit time being less than an hour plus a different airline, which meant, I thought, me having to check in again at Baltimore. With butterflies afloat in the stomach, we (My family) left my brother’s house at 3.45 pm for the 5.25 pm departure.

En route, there was a deviation of almost 15-20 miles to airport, and it caused a slight delay in arrival at the airport. Quickly bidding adieu to the family, I went to one of those machines which provides the boarding passes if the e-ticket number is punched in. It displayed an error message, saying flight already departed.

Nonplussed, I went to the counter and gave her the printout of my e-ticket. She apparently was new to her job and had no idea what was going on. With less than 20 minutes for my flight departure, I was getting freaked out. She mumbled something about me being booked at a 12.30 pm flight and that she can give me a direct flight to Boston at 7 pm. I thought she just didn’t know what she was doing because there was no way I could have been booked at 12.30 pm flight (when my e-ticket clearly said 5.25 pm) and also there was no way the airline could give me the 7 pm direct flight at the same cost if indeed I had missed my flight. If I couldn’t afford a direct flight in the first place when I was booking the tickets in Orbitz, why would the airlines provide me the same just because I missed my flight? Not that I would mind, because, I did need a direct flight compared to all the circus I had to go in Baltimore!

The attendant called another senior attendant and both of them quickly punched in something in the monitor and gave me my boarding pass without any further talk. I assumed everything was resolved and I could still make the 5.25 pm flight. I rushed to the security counter. The security officer scrutinized my T-shirt (which had the caption This is the worst day of my life) and gave a smirk: “I can make it bad for you, if you want.” I just managed a mirthless laugh.

With the security check completed, I analyzed where I was and where I had to go. Detroit airport is like an H-shaped airport with the 2 layers in the first vertical of ‘H’. I was at the centre of the second vertical of ‘H’ and my gate was at the top of the second vertical. The best way was to take the inter-terminal train. I got onto the train and thought “Only a few minutes from now I would be on board.” It was then that I saw my boarding pass.

It was a boarding pass to Boston direct in the 7 pm flight and not the 5.25 pm flight! A surge of relief went through me. The flight attendant had been actually able to give me the direct flight without any extra cost! It even spared me the trouble of changing airlines at Baltimore amidst the rush of time! This was the best thing that could happen. [It was only later that I came to know that there was a disclaimer in the e-ticket which said ‘Itinerary is subject to change. Please check mail 24 hrs before the actual departure.’ The itinerary had indeed changed and I had been booked for the 12.30 pm flight instead of the 5.25 pm flight!]

But just to confirm, I went to the gate corresponding to Baltimore flight and confirmed that indeed I was booked onto the Boston flight direct at 7 pm. The gate to Boston flight was at the lower end of second vertical of ‘H’. I went all the way walking to the other end just to pass time and window-shopped. I still had about an hour and half to kill. So I thought I might as well see the airport in its entirety. All terminals and all gates. Plus I had to have dinner as it would be pretty late by the time I would reach home. With these tasks in mind, I set forth with my camera to walk around the terminals and click away at glory.

My pace was slow and measured. Like I had all the time in the world. I looked at everything and anything, appreciating beauty in all its hidden camouflage. Like watching two small kids play with the walking conveyor. A beautiful fountain which switched on and off at different places to create a steady and rhythmic albeit unpredictable swoosh of water keeping anyone walking by it in rapturous attention. A pure pleasure just to watch it. Its amazing how beautiful a simple stream of water can be. Its such a boon to have eyes to appreciate it.

Having walked hither and thither all through the airport and exhausting myself I placed myself comfortably in a posh leather cushion couch and relaxed. There was still almost an hour to go before my flight departure. I have been in such situations in my life many times. Waiting for a transportation in a busy industrious area, and more often than not, I derive enjoyment just by looking here and there, and watching different people, the young and the old, the rich and the not-so, the husbands and wives, the children and their siblings, the busy ones and the ones sleeping away to glory, the young love birds and the teenaged youthfulness. It is much more engrossing and so much filled with life and activity than hearing an iPod or even reading a novel. It resembles so many of those cinematic scenes in which the actor just stays put and everyone and anyone moves about him in a fast forward sequence. You are just a mere lifeless pawn in the whole gamut of life and its activities. Like a standing by-passer watching everything around with great interest and yet emotionally involved with nothing. It was a moment of simple yet inexplicable glory.

The couch happened to be near a big glass window, as most couches are in US airports, overlooking the tarmac where airplanes waited for mounting or dismounting passengers at the numerous gates. The plane nearest to the window where I was placed, had just arrived and there were lot of activity going on like removal of baggage, of cargo, of food, of human wastage, etc. One small group of people that caught my attention was the team that was unloading the cargo.

If you have noticed this activity, you will be able to relate that there are 2 main things involved in removal of cargo from airplanes. One is the wide, flat machine which elevates itself to the level of the cargo door in the airplane so that cargo can be easily shifted from the airplane to the flat machine which then goes back to ground level to be transported to a waiting cargo vehicle. The cargo vehicle, again, if you have noticed, is like a small 1-bogeyed train with the bogey being small cargo-carrying flat, open, wide area and it being connected to the driver by links. The storage area in both the machine and the vehicle will have directional rolling rods controlled in its movement by a panel to place the cargo in the right position.

Now, the operator operating the first machine (the wide, flat machine which acts as the intermediary transport agent from airplane to the cargo vehicle) had his act done in a couple of minutes. He had the controls like an expert and got the machine elevated, the cargo onto the machine and the machine depressed back to ground level. Creativity spewing in him, he was even making the cargo dance at his fingers, although I am sure it was weighing tons. What a fascination it is to make tons of load dance by a simple set of levers and rotating floor-balls!

He was ready to offload it to the vehicle but the driver of the cargo vehicle apparently had tremendous difficulty in reversing the vehicle such that the bogey was perfectly aligned with the cargo bearing machine. Since the bogey is connected by links, even a slight change in the maneuver of wheels, puts the train-like vehicle in an awkward position and the cargo cannot be transported to the vehicle.

He spent almost twenty minutes in reversing the vehicle, this way and that, almost tried every possible option and tried to his level best but just could not get his act right. It seemed such a simple task to reverse the vehicle and position it properly but he just couldn’t do it however hard he could try. The machine operator, waiting to offload was getting frustrated. The next set of two cargo-vehicles was already waiting for the driver to get the cargo moving. But the driver was just unable to reverse appropriately. The other set of drivers came to offer him help but he waved them away. His prestige, apparently, was at stake. Finally, he gave up and one of the other drivers reversed expertly into the right slot within a minute. That set me thinking.

In any profession, there will always be non-performers. Or rather, putting it more diplomatically, in any profession, there are always experts and then there are those who need to put in just that little bit of extra effort by investing more time. Be it in analytical reasoning or be it manual labour.

I was so enraptured by the activity on the tarmac – and its telescopic significance in life – and was wondering how would it indeed be to lead a life in an airport (like how it is portrayed in the movie Terminal), that I suddenly realized it was almost 6.30 pm. In my planning what-to-do, I had missed the fact that boarding starts 30 minutes before the flight departure. And I was yet to have my dinner. I quickly went to a cafĂ© nearest to my gate, again in the inter-terminal train (en route being appreciated by a bunch of young teenagers for my T-shirt “I like that caption!” and within a minutes rebuffed by an old lady “Surely its not your worst day!”) and found to my dismay that there was a big queue to place the order.

Just when I placed my order (token number being 135), I heard over the PA that first class passengers for the flight to Boston can start boarding. And I was hoping that I can quickly have a bunch to bite when my token number was called at the counter. Just as I approached to take my order, a young lady gave her receipt and took the food.

Did I hear the number correctly? Or did she make a mistake? Or did the person giving the token numbers make a mistake? Or did the person providing food shouted the wrong token number? Just as I was contemplating which one of the above happened, I thought the best bet would be to approach the young lady to confirm if she got what she ordered. And as I scanned the crowd, I saw her on a table, talking on the mobile while at the same time biting into the burger. In all probability, she did get what she ordered. Or she just didn’t care. And I couldn’t care any more as the call for all passengers to board came on the PA.

Sighing, and hungry, I boarded the plane. Thankfully, the flight to Boston was sleepily uneventful and upon reaching the airport at 9 pm, all I wanted to do was to get home, which was another two hours away. With my hunger temporarily forgotten, I headed home and then again, upon reaching at 11 pm, with no mood to cook, nor to eat frozen food, went to bed directly. What an irony it was that I, who had all the time in the airport to roam around and laze on a leather couch, had to go to bed empty-stomach!

Overall, it was an interesting, blog-worthy evening!!


nikhilraikar said...

A very good blog out of something as simple as a wait at a terminal. I especially loved the 2 paras "My pace was slow and measured... " and "Having walked hither and thither..."

Too good... waiting for some more...

Guru said...


roopa said...

makes for an intersting read..but while you are you in the middle of it all, I am sure it is a tought experience to undergo..:-)

pooja said...

maybe u cud've just snatched the burger from tat lady...!!! he he!!!
neway....a simple yet interesting experience to share with.