It is mid-2008 and since I am employed in the technology division of a leading American bank, I am acutely aware of the entire global financial industry deep in the throes of the entire sub-prime mortgage crisis. As if this wasn’t bad enough, my supervisor decides that it is a good time for me to get some onsite exposure and figures that I could get started off with transitioning the testing of a software application from the West Coast to Hyderabad where me and my team were located.
For somebody who had visited the northern parts of India (read northwards of Mumbai) only a couple of times and whose only claim to have travelled extensively would be a 7 day trip to Leh, Ladakh, this came as a bolt from the blue. Further, the fact that I was ‘newly married’ (it had been only around six odd months into my marriage then) and had to leave behind the Missus in a new city where she didn’t even know the local language, Telugu added to my palpations even more. But encouraged by her and by my supervisor, I consented and started off with the formalities such as the Visa, Tickets, Guesthouse bookings, etc.
A good 5-6 weeks after the decision was made, there I was at the old airport terminal at Begumpet, Hyderabad, passport and tickets in hand. The fairly lazy old Immigration Official there didn’t even seem to care that I was leaving the country and stamped my passport without any questions whatsoever. And in those days, airline companies were not progressive enough to keep passengers informed of delays in their flights and I therefore ended up at the waiting lounge of the airport a good 7 hrs (3 mandatory hrs + 4 delayed hrs) before the actual flight departure time.
Now, anybody who has ever travelled from the Begumpet airport will attest to the fact that it is anything but a pleasant experience. However, the only saving grace was that the friendly janitor was allowing people to step into the mens’ rest room and smoke out of a window at its far end; for the small price of a ten rupee note or in the case of a few Americans, a dollar bill.
The flight itself was quite uneventful except that since it was my first long haul flight I had to actually consciously get my butt out of the somewhat comfortable seat and the nice in-flight entertainment system every once in a while and take a walk up and down the aisles, just to keep the blood flowing in the lower half of my body. However, things took a turn for the worse just before we descended into Frankfurt for the connecting flight. An announcement was made that the seven passengers who were travelling onwards to San Francisco would have to ensure that they de-planed from the back door of the aircraft to be specially whisked away to our connecting flight which was actually being held back due to the delay in the Hyd-Frankfurt leg. Nothing was mentioned about our luggage at all, and I assumed that it would inevitably fly with me to San Francisco. Oh, how wrong I was!!!
The second leg of the journey was also quite uneventful except for a lovely cake which was served to a few passengers, courtesy the tenth anniversary of a couple who were actually seated bang next to me on the flight. So far so good. My troubles with this trip really began after I landed at SFO. By the time I got anywhere in the longish Immigration Queue to get my passport stamped and actually set foot on American soil, I heard my name being announced (actually mispronounced) over the PA system along with a few other Indian sounding names.
After getting my passport stamped when I made my way to the airlines counter I was informed that my luggage had missed its flight and would be delivered to my local address 24+ hrs later when it would take the same flight to SFO from FRN. There I was, at least 13000+ kms away from home with just the clothes on my back and my travel documents in my satchel (or man-bag as it is called in the movie Hangover). Since this was my first international flight I wasn’t quite aware that luggage getting delayed, or even worse, lost in transit was quite common and travelers always needed to carry a spare set of clothes in their hand baggage. As with most other lessons in life I learnt this one also the hard way.
In any case the airlines compensated with a AmEx Travellers Cheque for USD 50 and also handed me a night kit consisting of a sweatshirt, boxer shorts, a toothbrush and a small tube of toothpaste, packed in a nice pouch as compensation for the missing luggage. There I was, stuck at SFO International Airport with just my travel documents, satchel and this pouch with spare clothes for the night. Thankfully, the weather wasn’t too nippy and I could manage with the jacket that I had worn.
Making the most of this situation I decided to use public transport to complete the last leg of my journey from SFO to the small town of Concorde, California which was a good 65 miles away. After making preliminary enquiries at the Helpdesk at the airport and armed with a Google Maps printout which they helpfully provided me with, I finally ended up using the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) Metro train from the airport to the Concorde station and then walked the last 5 mins to my guest house near the station.
It was only when I finally got indoors, switched on the room heater and settled down did I realize that I had finally arrived at the US of A. All the Hollywood movies, the TV series, the conversations with cousins from there, the banter with colleagues who returned from onsite trips, wouldn’t have prepared me for this experience.
This, my friends, is just one of the stories from the time I had travelled the furthest from home.
I am sure you all have similar stories of your own, with lost luggage, misplaced passports, mistaken identities, bad weather, delayed flights, etc. Go ahead, share some of them in the comments section below.
This post has been written for Project 365: A post a day where the idea is to publish at least one post a day based on the prompts provided. Today’s prompt was to share a story from the time when I traveled the furthest from home.