Yesterday, I happened to stumble upon 9/11 movie United 93 during my post-dinner channel surfing pastime. Some of the opening shots of the movie are detailed around airports of New York. Memories of my recent experience at that airport came fore. Fortunately, I don’t have to travel frequently. But I do get to travel sometimes. And yes, you guessed it right. You know what this blog is about. The title say it all. Many of us travel frequently, and in the lifetime of travelling, I am sure you would have faced situation where your checked-in luggage does not arrive with you or gets lost. This is exactly what happened to me during my last travel. It was international travel. I had a long nonstop, long-haul flight from Delhi to New York.
I have flown into New York few times in the past. This was the first time I was traveling by Air India, internationally, I mean. It was cold month of January. The last week of December last year, the entire north east region of USA experienced heavy snow dumping, snow storm. This was termed as bomb cyclone. Many flights all over USA were canceled, airports were shut down. The situation was pretty bad. And unfortunately, early January, when the situation was not normal, I had a travel itinerary which was to land me in New York on Jan 6. City of New York is served by 3 major international airports viz John F Kennedy international airport(JFK), LaGuardia airport(LGA) and Newark Liberty International airport(EWR). My Air India flight AI 101 landed on JFK right time, that is at 6.30 am, on January 6. Let me correct. Though it landed, it did not dock at the bay. Here is where the fun began.
Our plane landed smoothly on the tarmac right time. Like all other passengers, I also was pleasantly surprised on this on-time landing. I had a connecting flight to Boston in 3 hours. I gazed out of the window. The airport had lot of white and black snow lying around. This sight was clearly telling tale of preceding week’s bomb cyclone. We got our first announcement that our plane is in the queue for getting docked. And then we kept getting updates every now and then. The captain of the plane was a lady. You cannot believe, we were stranded off on the tarmac(taxiway) for more than 4 hours before we finally got an opportunity to disembark. The situation inside the plane was getting worse by every minute of the wait. Kids started crying, others who had connecting flight were getting impatient. Fortunately, we were allowed to use our phones, so folks who had someone waiting, were able to inform them.
I had a young man as my fellow passenger. He was a student from Ahmadabad in India and he was to start attending university for a spring course at Stevens Institute of Technology. He did not seem to be fazed by the situation. In fact, he was quite relaxed. He was talking to his folks back in India over WhatsApp video call, also reached out to his uncle in New York who was to come for receiving him. I was wondering how would I have reacted if I were him. This young generation is certainly different. To kill time, I kept chatting with him when our plane was standstill on the tarmac. Fortunately, the entertainment system was still working. Some of us switched to that once again. Other passengers around me were moving, not understanding what can they do. Airline also were done with food as well. Passengers were going to pantry areas in the hope of getting some tea, coffee and something for munch. I also joined them. The lady captain was appealing for patience and co-operation every now and then. She updated us that ours was not the only plane which was stranded. There were many behind us. It was turning out to be a nightmarish endless wait. So far, so near!
Finally, announcement came in, that aircraft stairs are getting docked to the flight for getting us down and out. There was a sudden commotion and chaos. The moment I stepped out of the airplane, the freezing cold air hit me. It was -15 degree Celsius outside, with bone-chilling wind and cold. I got down to the last step and I was asked hold on for next bus which was yet to get ready for the next batch of passengers to be carried to the terminal. Those few seconds were like hell for me. I was shivering and shaking top to bottom. I did not have anything except a pullover. Finally, I got inside the terminal, which was terminal 4 at JFK. After usual chaos at immigration check lounge, I went towards baggage claim area only to find that my baggage is not in there yet. And some more fun began!
It was belt#10 which was announced where the baggage could have been claimed. That is where all the AI 101 passengers had gathered together. There was no sight of anyone’s baggage. There were couple of Air India employees who were surrounded by passengers. The news traveled finally to us that baggage has not been yet offloaded from the plane and that the flight has moved to some other area to make space for other flights in the queue to get their passengers disembarked. No one knew when and where would our baggage be offloaded and when would we be able to get it. Most of my essentials, include warm clothes were in my checked in baggage. My next Delta Airlines flight to Boston had departed without us long time back. I was trying to find the next one to Boston, while trying to know about my checked-in luggage. I was running literally pillar to post.
It was getting clear that there were no flights out of JFK to Boston where I could be accommodated that day. I worked with my travel agency to get next morning’s flight and also got myself a hotel to stay near LaGuardia Airport in New York from where next day’s American Airlines flight to Boston was to fly out of. Now I was more focused on my luggage situation. After some time it was clear that we would not get our luggage that day. I was, of course, tired. hungry. It was well beyond post-noon already. There were two food shops on the ground floor of terminal 4 at JFK. Central Diner and Dunkin Donuts. Both of them were packed, and had huge waiting period. After long wait, finally, got hold of something to eat. I reached out to Air India staff again, who accepted the contact details, provided us with their phone numbers. And I left the airport, after spending more than 10 hours there, without my checked-in baggage wondering where it is.
To conclude the story, the luggage arrived at Boston Airport after four days, for which I had to go, in person and claim it. Luckily, everything was fine with it. This was my personal story, refer for more stories in news from the media on this here and here.