Chance makes a connecting flight

Pasteur wrote that “Chance favors the prepared mind.” But it seems that Chance sometimes takes pity on people who would be prepared if they weren’t just so damned tired.

I’m sitting on the floor of the Mumbai airport at 2:15 in the morning. I’ve been up for about 24 hours. Five of which I’ve spent lecturing a roomful of engineers in Bangalore, and another couple spent gazing out the window seat of a Kingfisher A-320, orbiting while the fog burnt off. About one more hour spent doing the transfer between the domestic and international terminals. About two minutes with the Kingfisher folks (who made it clear they had no interest helping me make my international connection), then another hour in delicate cheerfulness-under-duress clarifying the situation with (in sequence) India Airlines, Air India, Continental and EVA. What is most remarkable about the situation is that – pending Chance’s further caprice on my behalf- it looks like I may get to sleep in my own bed tonight.

When “today” started, it was Friday morning, around six a.m. Earlier this week, I was volunteered to give a one-man “workshop” in Machine Learning to our Bangalore team. Supposed to go from 10:30-3:00, and I still hadn’t finished my slides. Ugh. Non-boring version of the day: workshop went fine, but I was about as drained as you’d expect when it was over. Finished just in time to catch a cab to the airport. To catch my flight to Mumbai, so I could catch my connection to Bangkok, so fly home via Taipei. Yeah, not the best routing.

I only started getting worried after we’d been circling Mumbai for about an hour. I’d allowed three hours for the Mumbai connection, plenty of time, yeah? No. It was midnight when we touched down (at the domestic terminal) and my Indian Airlines departure was due to leave (from the international terminal) at 12:35. The inflight staff had been helpful – they’d taken my connection info and told me they’d have staff waiting to help when we landed. I was quickly ushered from the plane to the bus to the baggage belt, and things suddenly took an unhappy turn.

What, the baggage agent asked incredulously, was I doing trying to make a three hour transfer in Mumbai? Didn’t I know that Flight 112 was always late? (No, silly me.) If I had told the gate agent about my transfer at check in, she claimed, they never would have let me check in. (Gosh, I’d asked the gate agent if there was a way I could check a bag through for my international connection – that should have tipped them off, I thought.) But no, the baggage agent was practically irate with me for having shown up on her flight, and made no effort to hide it.

I considered my options. If my Indian Airlines connection was running equally late, there was a chance I could still make my connection, so I wasn’t really excited about standing there and getting lectured: “Hang on – my flight’s now supposed to leave from the other terminal in, umm 15 minutes; what do you recommend I do?” She didn’t seem inclined to waste effort on this question. “I don’t know – go to the ticket office, tell them you missed your flight? There’s nothing I can do about it.” Thank you very much for caring.

Got to the Indian Airlines (IA) office around 1:00 a.m., and showed them my ticket. Explained the connections. They said “No problem – we’ll put you on the 9:45 Air India (AI) flight.” But what time would that get me into Bangkok? “5:45 p.m.” Problem: my connection out of Bangkok is at noon. But they assigned a baggage tote guy to grab my bag, get me the hell out of there office and lead me through the maze to the AI desk.

“No, that’s fine – I can take my own bag”

“It’s okay, it’s okay!”

“No, really, I want to pull my own bag.”

“It’s okay, it’s okay!”

[Sigh – no, it’s not okay, but he’s physically resisting my efforts to take hold of my own luggage]

Fortunately, the AI desk lady got the big picture. I don’t understand Hindi, but what she told the IA bag-toter sounded a lot like “What the hell are you dumping him off on us for!? He’ll just end up stranded in Bangkok!” She ran her fingers over the keyboard a few times, then she switched to English and addressed me: EVA Airlines (my Bangkok-Taipei-SFO connection) had a 6:00 a.m. flight, nonstop Mumbai-Taipei. If I caught that, I’d sidestep Bangkok entirely, and make my Taipai-SFO connection with plenty of time to spare.

But there was a rub: the since IA (the slackers!) had only endorsed the BOM-BKK leg over to her airline, she couldn’t touch the rest of the itinerary, and neither could the EVA folks. IA Baggage Tote Guy got some more scolding in Hindi. She thumbed through the rest of my ticket, and said I’d have to take that up with the issuing airline – Continental (Continental?!? Trust me – there was a reason: we’d flown Continental on the way in two weeks ago).

AI lady looked at her watch. Hurry, she admonished – the Continental folks left for the evening as soon as they’d wrapped up from their final flight of the evening, which had already left.

Down the hall, up the elevator, down another hall – I wrested my bag from Baggage Tote Guy. He was baffled at what I was trying to do, but I gave him a 50 rupee note, and he went away, apparently content.

Damn – the short story’s gotten long again. Abridging one more time: caught the Continental folks as they were closing up shop, and explained that I’d missed my flight. Their first suggestion was that catch the next evening’s Continental flight out, but when I described the AI lady’s EVA idea, they decided to run with it. Ran down the hall to exchange some paper with the EVA office, handed me a slip of paper as my new ticket (business class, direct Taipei), and wished me well.

Went back, thanked AI lady profusely (she was gracious – “So, next time perhaps you’ll try Air India, then?”), and checked in for my new flight.

[pause]

Three hours later, here I am – sitting upstairs (upstairs!) on an EVA 747 enroute to Taipei, trying to decide between BBQ prawns or samosas for my “starter. Or whether to just sleep. So far, so good. I need to write a thank-you note to Chance for having stopped by.

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