We struggled to find the entry point into one of the queues. I thought I had almost made it to the point from where dividers were put to make the serpentine queues a sense of circuitous direction forward then some one told me that the queue was not for Air India but for Lufthansa passengers.
We moved forward and finally got to what was supposed to be the right queue.
Then we are confronted by a young man with A4 size bunch papers in hand who was trying to do crowd control and also checking with every one आप ने फार्म भर दिये हैं ? ( Have you filled the forms? )
“What form ? ” I asked.
Looking at me a bit tense and with a quizzical face he did not answer but handed over two pages from his hand saying ” पहले यह फार्म भर कर लाइये फिर लाइन मे लगिये” ( First fill these forms and then come in to queue. ) Now I had a difficult time persuading others to move and let me go out of the queue and find a place where I could park my baggage trolley and look at the forms.
Fortunately I had a pen with me. One paper had two parts with identical items on which information was sought such as Name, Passport number, Address in India, Flight number, Address at Destination and a few questions about my travels abroad in last three months etc and probably about my having fever etc.
The second paper was a kind of indemnity declaration which was to make me responsible for anything that may go wrong. I filled the form for my wife and we both signed at three places on the two papers.
After joining back the queue with some difficulty I tried to hand over the paper to the same person who had given the papers to me and who was still around managing crowds and distributing forms. He refused to take my signed forms and waved his hands indicating me to move forward.
The serpentine queue of which I was now a part of appeared endless. I was soaked in perspiration and was worried about my wife’s condition post this ordeal as she has problems with her back and knee.
After some time I could see that luggage being carried by us was being screened. The action of putting luggage to pass through screening and lifting it again to put back on the trolley by each passenger was causing the delay. This was not screening for security purposes but our luggage was being treated by ultra violet rays so that it’s surface is bug free.
Mercifully this ordeal ended and after about an hour we were found ourselves in a small open area no longer restricted by pathways defined by the ropes.
There were some of people sitting on chairs while others were standing. One of them took our temperature through a remote thermometer. Another person took the paper stamped it tore it in two parts and kept one part while handing over the other stamped part to me.
He took my signed indemnity declaration too. His hand were full of papers and the table too had a huge bundle of papers. With the half stamped paper we were asked to move to the entry gate.
We showed relevant pages of our passport, boarding pass and the other half of self declaration by putting them against a transparent glass to the security person at the entry gate.
He asked us to remove our mask and compared our face with the picture on the passport page. Having satisfied himself he allowed us to enter the airport.
We took more than one and half hour to reach inside the airport.
I was still worried as there were still a little over two hours left for the departure of the aircraft.
Air India Counter and the wheelchair saga !
Only two or three Air India counters were were manned. There was not a long queue. However, the computers were working lazily and the over worked staff also was taking their own time to clear passengers. It took about 45 minutes to drop baggage and get boarding passes.
I had booked a wheel chair for my wife. I enquired about wheel chair and was told to go to information kiosk near gate 4 and the person incharge will guide us. Hesitatingly we moved to gate 4 which we had earlier passed by.
The person on duty asked us,
“What air line you are flying by?”
“Air India” we said.
“You then need ask Air India for the wheel chair.”
Before I could say anything Kiran took on the man angrily and said that Air India directed us to meet you and you are asking us to go back to Air India counter?” …..and much more.
The commotion was heard by the supervisor of the man on duty whose job was to provide information and help passengers. At his supervisors bidding the man finally moved his legs and walked with us to a corner where people who had booked wheel chairs were waiting.
Here also there was another gentle man with a register making entries and assigning passengers to wheel chair attendants as and when available so that the passengers can be taken on wheel chair through immigration onwards to the boarding gate.
There were some 10-15 senior citizens already sitting on chairs waiting for the wheel chair attendants. Details of every one who had booked wheel chair was being duly written down in a register. The person who was writing down would allot wheel chair attendants. Slowly the crowd of wheel chair passengers increased. My wife’s number came and we noticed that this attendant was pushing two wheel chairs.
It took about 30 minutes to get the wheel chair. It was important that my wife has the wheel chair as the walk to the aircraft through immigration was long and we had a long journey ahead.
Immigration and Boarding at Delhi
Once we got the wheelchair it appeared that our woes were over. The attendant was nice and all through he chatted while pushing two wheel chairs.
We finally reached the immigration counter. I thought the ordeal was over.
It was just the beginning of a frustrating, excruciatingly long anxious wait. The immigration counter was crowded. Two counters were open dedicated only to wheelchair passengers and passengers who require special assistance.
There were at least 30-40 passengers in two queues which were moving ever so slowly. In between the immigration officer will leave the counter and return after a while. If I remember we were 10th in the queue. It was talking 5-10 minutes for each passenger. Families were asked to present themselves together.
However, one elderly lady who was a US green card holder ( just ahead of us ) was at the counter for over 20 minutes. We noticed the immigration officer asking her questions. I could hear him. He was asking “आप हिंदुस्तान कब आये थे” (When did you come to India? ) . It was not clearly audible what the lady answered. Apparently her passport was not stamped at the immigration counter when she entered India some months ago. The immigration officer went out probably to check from his senior and the wait continued.
One “smart” wheel chair attendant tried to jump the queue and put his passenger ahead of us in our queue. There was an uproar of protests from people in our queue. He had to take his passenger back in his original place.
Finally the immigration officer appeared and after a brief conversation with the lady reminding her that she must always check at any immigration counter whether the passport has been stamped or not. He, thereafter, stamped her passport and allowed her to proceed.
Now it was our turn !
We submitted our passport, boarding card, PR card for Canada and half of the stamped health cum declaration about my address in India and destination in Canada plus passport details and date of birth etc. written on it and signed by me.
Immigration office was not happy as in address column I had put only my Canada address. However, on the back of the page I had also written my India address. Once I explained he was okay with it and started typing in the data from my self declaration stamped paper. I think he kept that paper with him too.
I was wondering as to why they create so much of bureaucratic form filling. I was worried about missing the flight too. As it was getting late.
Finally when our passports were stamped there was announcement for final boarding for flight AI 172 to Chicago.
I was not sure if duty free shops were open. Well the shops were open and I was in two minds to buy some thing or not but fear of getting late made me move on.
At the boarding gate we were given a kit containing mask, , a plastic face cover etc.
We finally got into the aircraft.
On board flight AI 172
Our seats were towards the rear of the aircraft and we had to pass through many rows. Finally when I reached my aisle seat there was a plastic bundle kept on it. The middle row passenger was sleeping with his mask and plastic cover on. I thought he kept his bag on my seat. I woke him up. ” Excuse me, this is my seat” He was visibly upset being woken up at 2 am in the morning. “आपकी ही है तो बैठ जाओ न” ( If it is your seat why don’t you sit ?). Question answered with a question made me look carefully and I realised that it was a bundle of food 🥘 packets that was kept on my seat. Later when I opened I found a lather roll, sandwiches, wafers, pastry, cake, assortment of savouries, soft drink, fruit juice in tetra pack, water, gloves etc. nicely all bundled in side a plastic bag.
We were in no mood to eat and after a soft drink and water tried to settle down. The flight took off on time and I was relieved when announcement was made that we will male it to Chicago in 14 hours instead of 15 hours and 20 minutes. That gives me one extra hour at Chicago to change plane, I thought.
Flight was uneventful. I watched a coup,e of movies on my iPad with headphone on. Tried to sleep and slept as well. Wash room was clean throughout.
People woke up and there was a lot of activity as many elderly like to epwalk in the aisle. Kids also were running around. We had a sandwich and a part of Kathee roll and some snack. No tea or coffee! Only one bag of food was opened between the two of us. The other bag we left behind in the aircraft. From the opened bag too lot of goodies were left as we took a couple of sandwiches for our onward journey.
Disposal of food bags was a huge problem. Passengers left the bags in the galley despite announcement by crew that we need keep it under our seats. There was no space to keep things under the seat.
Crew all dressed in protective suite from head to toe were making only announcements and doing things necessary for safety. No service. No pillow no blanket was available. Our neighbour who works for Air India had told us about it. We had small blanket and pillows which came very handy for this long journey.
Immigration and Check in for Air Canada flight at Chicago
We had to walk a lot to reach the immigration area. I was struggling at the automated machines so that my my finger prints are read, print of my US VISA and my picture is taken. We noticed a lady who was assisting passengers. She helped us. Thanks to her the process was smooth.
The immigration officer asked us for our final destination and did not even look at our boarding passes of the connecting Chicago – Toronto Air Canada flight and waved us to move on.
We then moved to baggage collection. We finally got our luggage loaded on free trolleys and moved out to wait for a bus to take us to terminal 2 for our Air Canada flight. Wait was not long and the bus was practically empty only a couple of passengers besides the two of us.
There was a problem at Terminal 2 as trolley was not free. I needed 6 dollars each for two trolleys. The machine would not work to accept my do.lar bills. Finally I used my credit card and added 12 dollars to American GDP put our luggage on the trolley and presented ourselves at Air Canada counter.
Here also process was smooth and only paper besides our passport and boarding pass asked for was PR Card.
We ended up quite early for the flight to Toronto. We waited near a McDonald counter. I bought a breakfast for seven dollars with coffee and together with Air India sandwiches we had our breakfast at Chicago airport waiting for flight announcement.
There was enough time so I moved around and also made some duty free purchases.
Air Canada flight to Toronto and immigration
Finally the flight was announce and we boarded. The flight was less than half full.
Immigration at Toronto too was smooth but it took a while as only two counters were operating.
As we felt that we are about to reach our final destination it filled us with a strange kind of self satisfaction. The hassles at Delhi airport, tense unusual 14 plus hours on the flight to Chicago were all forgotten and became part of stories to be narrated later.
Like this story that I share with you …
My friend Madhav Rao has this comment after reading this blog “ If one is rooted in Indian resilience, he or she forgets the ordeal, when once end is achieved!
This is precisely the reason that our services don’t improve for we surrender than protest! We are a peace loving country in the sense we take it all…….
The last lines killed the power of the story!”
I kind of tend to agree with him. But that is the fact.. I should have perhaps added that we were eager to meet our grand daughter in Toronto and once the journey was about to be over it was prospect of us meeting her that made us forget the ordeal..
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- The unfinished Blog: Finally Completing the Story of Meeting Rajeev Deshmukh
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- Shri R N Haldipur. Humility Unlimited