From: BRU. LHR. CDG. FRA
To: COK. BOM…
I thought about it a while and typed decisively.
17th April 2009.
It was the first time I was going home in almost a year. And hell, I wasn’t going to lose my chance to go and see my friends in amchi Mumbai.
A few mails and general mayhem ensued. Happiness! I was going to meet at least Kenny (all the way from Hong Kong! Amen), Vinay (from Hyderabad) and Abhay! Yay. This trip looked great! Who cared if I had a sum total of three days in India of which 2 days would be back home in Kerala. I was meeting friends. Oh wait. And family.
The connection to Frankfurt (Deutsche Bahn ICEs- my favourite trains!) and to Kochi, (Deccan Air- so not my favourite) were done. Using my newly-learnt principles of JIT*, I had optimised my time to 1 hour at the Frankfurt airport and 2 in blissful Dubai duty free! Life’s great, ah non?
The list was written.
Online check-in. Check.
Hand luggage only. Check.
Passport, residence card. Check
No liquids. Check.
Printouts of all tickets. Check.
Cometh the hour, I clambered onto the train to Frankfurt Flugenhopf and prepared myself for a short-ish train journey.
Till Koln happened. Till they announced in3 languages (German, French and Dutch) that we would have to change trains at Koln because the present train has an (I quote) engine problem.
Ack! I HAVE A FLIGHT IN ANOTHER 2 HOURS!
We were unceremoniously booted out into the station. People were running through the platforms to the next ICE.
They refused to let us in. I was freaking out. My mother was freaking out. I was freaking my mother out. (Ah. Not so hard to do, by the way).
The train left and I was left alternately staring at an empty platform and my watch ticking away the minutes.
30 minutes passed and our replacement train pulled in.
The conductor announced that the train would reach Frankfurt 40 minutes late (which, observant readers will note leaves me 20 minutes to change terminals, go through immigration, security check and board. Oh yes, the gate closes 15 minutes before departure). And oh yes, the Deutsche Bahn apologised for any inconveniences.
I started plotting scenarios where I won 1 million euros from DB for mental agony.
And yet, time ticked on.
I gave up making money off this sad state and starting calling other airlines. My friends’ faces were swimming in front of my little eye, which is the eye of solitude. I was mentally mapping my epic run to Terminal 2 and the gate in my head a million times.
Freaking out some more, of course.
The train threatened to pull into the airport bahnof at 8:40. (Ah, I have 30 minutes! Wow) I pulled my suitcase out. The elusive airport remained elusive. Till 8:50 happened and the train pulled in.
I punched the green button and ran out.
And promptly fell over a German Herr’s suitcase.
From my vantage point, sprawled on the ground, I looked at the man with a hurt look on my face. He apologised and I waved it off, running to the escalators, my strolley bumping along the steps as I ran up and down.
Run, run, run… out of Terminal 1.After 2 minutes, I reached the outside, and went to a taxi to beg him to take me to the other terminal.
The man had a stupefied look on his face and shook his head.
“Pleaaaase?” Like it would change ANYTHING.
Argh, I had to run to the Sky Train.
Now, Frankfurt Airport is a huge monster. I ran to the other side of Terminal 1 and up the escalators. Right in the middle of the checkin area, I lost sight of the sign of the sky train and the gates D and E. Yelling at the information guy seemed a good idea.
“WHERE IS THE SKY TRAIN?”
“Up 4 escalators on the right”
You GOT to be kidding me!
I ran like a pack of angry dogs were behind me. (Yes, I forgot that there were things called lifts in this dratted place). Up those blessedly short escalators only to see a sky train pull out.
The German police in front of me looked startled. I snapped my mouth shut, remembering old times of them checking my Schengen wherever I went.
The next Sky train pulled in. I sedately walked in and sat down. The watch said 9:00. Hope was almost dead. The train clattered to Terminal 2 at 9:03.
I was off like a shot down the stairs and straight to immigration.
The policeman picked up my passport. And spent a few minutes trying to find a valid Schengen. He shook it a little, hoping for a magical schengen visa to drop out.
I hissed, “I have a Belgian residence card.”
He took it up lesiurely and looked at the photo. And at me. Then the first passport.
“Sigh. Can I go?”
“I need to verify it.”
He mentally translated the Dutch to German. Swatted a few flies and handed over my documents.
I was hopping from one foot to another. “Where is gate E2?”
“Left from the Duty Free.”
A bullet from a gun couldn’t be faster.
Thankfully, Gate E2 was the first one. I sneaked a glance at the watch. 9:06. This was my last leg… and maybe my last legs too.
The barriers snaked through 3 rows. I ran through them and pushed my bags into the scanner, pulled my belt out and told the security guard I was in a hurry.
Just for that, he passed my laptop bag twice through the scanner.
The time was 9:10. The girl in front of me snapped at me.
“You hit me with your laptop.”
Visions of me hitting her on her dumb head instead danced through my mind. I muttered “sorry” and looked towards the Promised Land. The Boarding Gate.
My eyes misted over. Would I be Moses?
I ran. Again. Two women and a man sat there idly, chit chatting.
I arrived. There was no other word for it… hands flailing, bag strap trailing, shoelaces undone.
“I have to goooo”
“Excuse me, madam. You are on the EMIRATES flight?”
I nodded my head furiously.
“Sorry, ma’am. The plane has already left.”
I stared at the man and burst into tears.
The air in the gate became a little tense.
“I was… late… because” (heart wrenching sob) “the train was late.”
“Ma’am, are you Shruti George?”
I nodded my head again, wiping my eyes. “But… now… the flight…” (Some more wailing ensued).
A motherly looking woman patted my head sadly. “Don’t worry.”
“Where did you come from?”
“Brusselssss”, and the wailing continued.
They handed me my boarding pass and said, “We can try.”
I was sniffling.
The man talked on his walki talkie and 2 minutes later said I could go.
And again, I ran. But this time, between crying and saying thank you.
The woman followed.
The guard at the gate said, “Your tags”
She grimaced and yelled at him in German. The gist was… “Let her go”.
And I ran again. Down the stairs, through the still open First/Business concourse into the airplane, waving at the sweet woman.
In the Boeing, I collapsed.
The cool airhostesses looked a little alarmed.
“I hope you are okay. Where are you coming from?”
“The… railway… station.”
I was gulping some deep breaths. They pulled my bag for me into economy.
Once in my seat, I drank 2 bottles of water, and promptly fell asleep, neck all askew, dead to the world.
They upgraded me to Business in Dubai. 😉
Moral of the story: A stitch in time isn’t as good as 9 tears later.
Second moral: Take the direct flight from Brussels next time.
* Long story