In a narrative where almost nothing has gone right or made sense, the appropriateness of this series’ final act taking place in airports feels right. Airports I can do. I get them. There can only be so many surprises in airports. I am quite fluent in the language of boarding passes and baggage claim. Or so I thought.
It was a rare treat that we had evening flights; not waking up when it is still dark out to catch a flight may have been the most relaxing thing we did the entire trip.
We exchanged long hugs goodbye in the hotel lobby with the Thalanannys, who were staying in India til the end of summer. We arranged for a van to take us to the airport. Most of our luggage was strapped to the top of the van, which made me a little uneasy. This is because one of my first Frequent Failer vacation memories was a road trip to Montréal in our woodchuck Ford station wagon when I was 9. We borrowed another family’s carrier top to make more room for our things, because even though we were all little, six people is still three people too many for an enjoyable road trip.
Somehow, as we cruised along the Canadian highway going lord knows how many kilometers an hour, the carrier top came open. Everything from our sleeping bags to our underwear took flight in every direction. I watched in horror as I saw my clothes land on another car’s windshield.
The rest is a blur. I remember my dad pulling over to the shoulder and he and my mom madly running all over the Quebec wilderness trying to salvage our possessions. They were able to retrieve some things, but I specifically recall that the wind blew our sleeping bags too far into the woods to chase after. I like to think some Disney deprived french-canadian girl is still enjoying my Pocahontas sleeping bag.
It should not surprise you that we did not get to the Delhi airport on time. And it should only somewhat surprise you that we were not let into the airport. Because if recall in your reading of Suggested Precautions When Traveling to Kathmandu at 3 a.m., you may remember that on our way from Delhi to Kathmandu, we were not allowed into the airport because we did not have our boarding passes printed out upon arrival at the airport.
It’s not like we forgot. Deirdre even suggested we take the time to print them earlier that morning because we did nothing besides take our time casually sightseeing and going back to McDonalds for ice cream. My dad scoffed at the idea of printing them out, stating that if we got into the airport one time with his iPhone, he could surely do it again. Why waste valuable time printing things out on our last day in Delhi?
Poor Deirdre. I think for her this was the climax of her frustration with my family. Like, why can’t you people learn lessons? Why does everything have to be a freaking gamble? And while I would like to think she was looking out for all of us, I am sure part of her just wanted to make sure she was not stranded a single moment extra in India, air-conditioned airport or not, with us than she had to be.
So we proceeded to the airport entrance like we did the first time. Only this time, my dad’s iPhone paired with sugar-coated sweet talk and a handicapped passenger was not enough to get the guard to let us in. Instead, we were directed to the “alternative entrance,” where we would have to go to our respective airlines, show some identification and confirmation numbers and then have a representative retrieve the reservations and then print the boarding passes out. There is no Easy-CheckIn kiosk and there is no priority line.
In fact, this was even more complicated because our reservations were under four separate bookings. I did mine and Deirdre’s flights together, my dad booked his and Tim’s with miles, my mom booked her own miles, and my dad bought Morgan and Kevin’s tickets. Deirdre and I were flying going to New York and everyone else was headed to Chicago. We couldn’t figure out which kiosk to go to or how any of it was supposed to work. Even I was getting nervous: mine and Dee’s flight left before everyone else’s. So we had the agents look up our information first.
There was no time for reminiscing or closure. When the agents finally printed out our copies, Deirdre and I didn’t even have time to say goodbye to anyone. We just kind of nodded and peaced out, making our way straight to the check-in area.
We checked our luggage and made our way to the first security check point. As had been in the case in Nepal, there were several stages one must pass through. Like a board game, we earned little stickers and pen markings to signify the clearance of each phase. I got called out for two water bottles I was hoarding in my backpack, and when the security guards pointed them out to me, I nodded, pretending to make a move toward the garbage can, but when they turned the other way to examine other passengers for harmless yet forbidden objects, I snuck them back in my bag and kept walking. I’m not much of a gambler or a klepto, but I equate the thrill of sneaking something past security to an incredible if pathetic high.
We still had to hustle, because our flight was boarding in a few minutes. We went to the gate, made sure everyone was still there, and then bolted for the bathroom.
They say travel opens up one’s eyes not only to new places but also changes the way you see your world at home. I can vouch for that statement. I remember the sheer relief and exhilaration of opening a stall to see a running toilet and with toilet paper in a Buffalo Wild Wings. But I felt that first sense of gratitude and appreciation while in the bathroom stall at the Delhi Airport. As I ripped off several generous squares of toilet paper, I soothing peace came over me. When we returned to the gate departing for Bahrain, everyone was boarding. We were still a bit too frazzled to sit down, so we stood up and chatted, keeping an eye open for the rest of our group in case they made it through security in time to say a proper goodbye.
Notice how I snuck Bahrain in there? I may have forgotten to mention that Dee and I were going to hit up the lovely country of Bahrain on our way back to New York. Sort of.
In my unhealthy but economical hobby of searching for the cheapest and strangest flight combinations in the middle of the night, I happened upon a flight that took us from Delhi to Bahrain to London to New York for an incredibly affordable price. While some may turn their nose up at a flight on Gulf Air that connects in Bahrain at 3:15 in the morning and then has a six hour layover at London Heathrow, I pounced on it as if I’d found a Van Gogh at a garage sale.
What do I know about the Kingdom of Bahrain? Nothing really. In fact, after visiting it, I still can’t tell you anything about Bahrain without citing Wikipedia. I did know from one of my foreign relations classes that the U.S. military had a base there, 6,000 people as it turns out, which is nearly half the size of Bahrain’s entire army. You may think it a pretty dinky national army until you learn that the entire country of Bahrain is just the size of three Washington D.C.’s put together.
Geographically, Bahrain is a mostly-desert archipelago in the Persian Gulf, just east of Saudi Arabia. In fact, had we simply headed north on the Mohamed Al-Qasim Expressway from the airport, we could have been in Baghdad in just ten short hours, though I should note that Google Maps doesn’t factor in time it takes for two American 23-year-old females being questioned at the borders as to what the hell they are doing driving to Iraq. It may be a fantasy of mine to pull something like that off someday, but it wouldn’t have worked out this time. We would have had to go through Saudi Arabia, and women aren’t allowed to drive there. Luckily, Bahrain is much more progressive; not only can women drive, but it has proudly supported women’s suffrage since 2002.
I felt some strange stares when Dee and I walked up to our gate. We were the only passengers of European anestry and made up two-thirds of the women on the flight who were not flight attendants. To top it all off, we were dressed in what I like to call Grunge Lululemon: athletic gear acceptable to board plane in but not superexpensive: zip-up hoodies and leggings, with backpacks in tow.
Then again, maybe I’m just hyper sensitive. Maybe it was me staring at them. As the flight began to board, I went to proudly present my passport to silently verify to all the onlookers, that yes, I was indeed American. No need to pretend to be Canadian this time, Ben Affleck.
My passport. But where was it? I dug around my backpack and found it shoved in the front pocket. I thought my boarding pass was inside, but my initial flip of its pages proved its contents empty.
As I do in all situations involving the loss of invaluable and irreplaceable objects, I tried to remain calm. Despite this, Deirdre knew exactly what was going on without me uttering a word.
“Uhh, Amanda…” she watched me on my knees in the middle of the airport now dumping the entire contents of my backpack—emergency Kleenex, receipts, candy wrappers—I save everything in the name of the prospective scrapbook that I will complete roughly fifteen years from now—onto the tile floor.
“Oh Dee, you know me, I just threw my boarding pass…somewhere…” I moved on from the backpack and then turned every pocket on my body inside out.
Luckily, neither of us had elite status on Gulf Air, the national airline of Bahrain, so we were boarding in the last group. I gave up and figured I must have dropped it somewhere along the way. As I walked back in the direction of security, I retraced my steps right into my dad, Morgan, Tim and Kevin, who was pushing my mom in a wheelchair.
“Hey! How’d you guys know we were coming to see you guys?” My Dad cheerfully said as he saw me approaching and Deirdre trailing behind.
My mind raced to figure out a way I could say goodbye to my family without them realizing that I had lost my boarding pass. But I quickly remembered that I am not well-enough trained in theater to fool anyone. I hugged everyone first before mumbling to my Dad that I couldn’t find my boarding pass.
“How’d you manage to do that?” My dad said, in an equally muffled but overly stern voice.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” My mom said from her wheelchair. As is always the case with mothers, they always manage to hear things that aren’t intended for their ears. I can’t get away with anything. My mind flashed forward to 40 years to what my mom would be like when she is actually in a wheelchair: loud and as opinionated as ever, and still managing to boss me around from below.
I told them my boarding was probably just in the bathroom a few gates away, which was where I was heading right now. They waited as I ran back in. I checked the vanity. I checked on top of the dryer. I checked the stall I thought I was in. I checked the other stall I thought I was in. Okay, I checked every stall. No dice.
Then a friendly cleaning lady saw me traipsing around the public bathroom—my guess is that she thought either I was a peeping Tom or I had lost something really valuable in the bathroom. She approached me and spoke to me in English at a level on par with my Hindi. But because I am fluent in the universal language of Airport Jargon, “I lost something help me find it before I miss my flight to Bahrain” came across rather nicely. Then the lady switched to speaking in Hindi, because if she was going to speak and not be understood she may as well waste her time in her native tongue. When she got it all out, I simply nodded my head to signal I was thinking what she was thinking and pointed to my gate. So she motioned for me to follow her.
Once at the gate, the housekeeper and I made a pretty good tag team. We explained our situation to the agents. It was here that I learned that the housekeeper had found my boarding pass in the bathroom and had sent it to back the security office of the airport. Normally, I would have suggested that they simply print me out a new one, but it wasn’t that easy. If it were, this wouldn’t be India.
Remember that each security check we passed through garnered a little stamp of approval on our boarding pass. Without these little stamps, I wasn’t going anywhere. By this time the entire flight had boarded except me and Deirdre.
The attendants at our gate got on the walkie talkies and started talking. I stood there, relatively calm, having inferred that at least they were not going to let the flight leave as Dee and I stood there at the desk. My parents and siblings watched in disgust, though none of them were surprised. They exchanged comments along the lines of “this is so not surprising” and ranging to “I only hope they find her boarding pass for Deirdre’s sake so that she doesn’t have to go to Bahrain by herself.”
Several minutes went by as I blankly stare at the attendants at the desk, waiting for them to give me some sort of update on whether or not I am going to board this plane. Then a security guard walks up. He’s holding my boarding pass.
I breathe a sigh of relief and turn to my parents for one last hug. Who knows when or where I’ll see them again. We’re not much of planners. I turn to hug my Dad, but first he hands me “the packet.”
The packet is my father’s creation– a large envelope-turned-code map of sorts that times out Deirdre’s and my plan to exit Heathrow Airport to check out London’s Olympic Village and make it back in enough time to catch our return flight to JFK. I may or may not have also Facebooked my friend living in London to try to meet up for breakfast. That’s right, we’re pulling out all the stops on this trip.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Off to Bahrain. Deirdre and I scanned our boarding pass and walked through the jetway, but not before one of the security guards mocked me:
“Ah, Miss Boarding Pass, you made it!