Best and Worst

Tour 1

Worst 72 Hours

Delhi, India to Athens, Greece

We were nearing the end of our tour-by-car of Rajasthan, India when we decided to cut short the rest of our stay in India and cancel Nepal altogether.  We made a call back to Latif at the travel agency in Delhi and asked him to cancel our train trip from Agra to Varanassi and the flight from there to Kathmandu, and book us on the next available flight to Athens, Greece.  "Okay, no problem."  It was Friday – Latif said he could probably get us on Monday's flight.

When we got back to Delhi the following day, we were told that the flight on Monday was booked.  There are only three flights a week on Emerates Airline (the cheapest option) and it appeared that Wednesday's flight was full, as well.  After exhausting our other options – like going to Athens via Bangkok instead of Dubai or even going to Rome instead of Athens – we finally settled on a confirmed booking for the following Friday, with the promise that they would continue trying to get us on the Wednesday departure.

Tuesday afternoon...  What luck – we got our booking for Wednesday – well... sort of.  Latif came by to collect the airport tax and explained that we should take our tickets that were for the flight on the 27th and they would be changed at the airport to the correct date (the 25th).  Yes, we had confirmed seats – no problem. [I started to hate hearing that phrase in India.]

Back on Sunday, when I thought we were going to be stuck in Delhi for another five days, I started some rather major updates to the web site.  I had already found an internet cafe that would let me connect the laptop to their network (some are quite reluctant to do so) and was working on the updates in my spare time (of which we had quite a lot).  When I found out we were to leave early Wednesday morning, I only had a few hours to finish the updates and get them uploaded to the host server.

Our flight was scheduled for 4:30am and we were told we had to be at the airport three hours before departure time.  Drive-time to the airport was thirty minutes – so we had to leave our hotel at 1:00am.  We had a late dinner and got to the internet cafe at 10:00pm on Tuesday – that was the beginning of the 72-hours.

Working fast and furiously, I uploaded the web site, downloaded transactions from my bank and credit card accounts, paid bills online, checked and replied to e-mail, etc., etc., etc. – and finished at midnight, just at closing time.  Our taxi would be at the hotel to pick us up in one hour and we still had to pack our bags.  So, no sleep for us that night.

Thanks to the arrangements made by our helpful host (who got up in the middle of the night to make sure our taxi was there on time), we made it to the airport on time.  I couldn't imagine why we needed to be there three hours before departure – in all my years of flying, I've never had to be there that early.  Then we ran head-on into the infamous Indian bureaucracy.

First, we had to queue up just to get in the airport – a security guard checked our tickets to make sure we were entitled to actually be in the airport – he missed the fact that we were there on the 25th and our tickets were for the 27th – so we got in.  Then we searched for the Emerates check-in counter – only to find a sign telling us that we should go to the Indian Airlines check-in counter for our Emerates flight.  We found the Indian Airlines check-in counter and, what luck! – only a few people in the queue.  Then we found out why – our bags didn't have the proper security stickers – we would have to get our bags x-rayed first (which is why the queue was so short – everyone else was in the get-your-bags-x-rayed queue).

So we went to one of the four security stations (the one with the shortest queue) and were told that the one for Emerates is on the other side of the airport.  "You mean the one with the really long queue?"  "That's the one."

We waited in that queue until we got almost to the x-ray machine.  Our tickets were checked again to make sure we were in the right queue on the right day at the right time (like we'd be at the airport at 2:00am if we didn't have to be).  This time the agent noticed that our tickets were for the 27th.  I explained that our booking had been changed and that our tickets would be changed when we got to the ticket counter – if ever.  He pulled out several printed sheets of paper stapled together and quickly scanned them for our names – we weren't on his list.  Printed sheets, stapled together?  All passengers, for all flights, for all airlines – there on those sheets?  How could that be accurate?

Anyway, he got on his radio and talked to someone who was supposed to book us on the proper flight.  Yeah, right!  But the important thing was that he let us go on through the security check and, finally, our bags had the required and oh-so-elusive stickers. Back to the Indian Airlines counter.  Now the queues were incredibly long – since our running around from counter to counter put us at the end of the security check-in queue, everyone else had gotten through ahead of us (how they knew in advance I'll never know).

So, we wait in that queue forever and, as luck would have it, we ended up behind a woman with more luggage than any one person could possibly need.  She had six of the biggest suitcases I've ever seen – I don't think I would have been able to lift even one of her bags.  She had to have three luggage carts to carry them all.  When it came her turn to check-in, it took forever.  They had to weigh each piece separately – weigh them together in groups of twos and threes – discuss at length whether they were even going to let her carry all of them on the flight – fill out multiple forms for excess baggage – calculate the excess baggage fees – and go across the airport to get change when she finally paid the fees.

Finally, it was our turn at the counter.  I explained that our tickets were for the 27th but the booking had been changed to the 25th.  Without even checking the computer terminal right at his fingertips, the ticket agent said, "This flight is fully booked – there are no seats available."  After all the walking we did through the airport and all the waiting in queues for security stickers and ticket counters – I wasn't about to be brushed off that quickly.  Very calmly, I asked, "Would you please check the computer?  We were told our booking had been changed to today's flight."  He checked – I think – at least he pressed a few keys on the keyboard.  "I'm sorry.  You aren't on this flight."  We were dismissed.

We went to stand at the counter for stand-by passengers, even though there wasn't an agent working it.  And we waited... and waited... and waited...  I came to understand why we were told to be there three hours early.  It took the ticket agents two and a half of those three hours to process all the passengers on just one flight.

Finally, they started processing stand-by passengers.  Even though we were first in the queue, it didn't seem to matter to the other passengers – the one that got there last stepped up to the counter first.  By this time, after all the waiting I had endured, my patience was wearing thin.  So I said something to the agent waiting on the man who had cut the queue.  His response, in a very irritated voice, was that he had told me there was no room on that flight.  I asked if he was processing stand-by passengers – yes.  I asked if the man he was waiting on was a stand-by passenger like us – yes.  Well, why don't you process us in the proper order.  He just pointed to another agent (a manager, maybe) and said we'd have to talk to him.  Well, the manager-type was too busy to even look in our direction.

But after a few minutes, he said something to the surly agent and pointed in our direction.  Little did I know when I was complaining about being passed over for someone who was after us in the queue, but they had plans for us all along.  They took our tickets, tagged our luggage, handed us our boarding passes and sent us on our way.  But, since it was now less than thirty minutes before the flight, and we still had to clear customs, they urged us to go as quickly as possible.

We frantically filled out the proper forms – right on the customs agent's counter (since no one was left to queue up behind us) – and hurried on to the gate.  We boarded the plane to discover the only good thing to happen in this most trying period of our trip – we had been upgraded to business class – with seats that adjusted into more positions than I thought possible.  Meanwhile, Mr. Queue-jumper was uncomfortably settled in the crowded coach section far behind us.  Heh-heh!

I had never even heard of Emerates Airline – much less flown on it – but I must say the flight from Delhi to Dubai was the best I've ever had.  The flight attendants were the friendliest, most helpful I've ever encountered – the food was delicious – and the plane was quite new, with all the latest amenities – including screens for each seat (on which you could watch the views from either the forward-looking or downward-looking cameras).

After a 90-minute layover in Dubai, we arrived in Athens in late afternoon – that is, we arrived, but our luggage didn't.  We filled out the proper forms and were given a number to call for information and to let them know where we would be staying.  Outside the airport, we were lucky enough to get one of the few English-speaking taxi drivers (he told us only five percent of them speak English) and, as he drove us to our hotel, he pointed out some of the interesting sights and explained each of them as well as any tour guide could have.  We checked in, had dinner, explored the area a bit (I bought a toothbrush), and then went to bed – after about 40 hours with no sleep.

The next day, we started a walking tour of the Plaka area of Athens, which contains most of the sights of interest.  Halfway through our walking tour, we found ourselves at the edge of the Acropolis – which we had planned to see the following day, but decided to ahead and see it while we were there (instead of climbing that long hill twice!).  So we walked around the perimeter looking for the main entrance and, after many dead-ends and much frustration, we finally found a man making sketches of the ruins and asked where the entrance was.  He told us the Acropolis was closed due to the strike.  Strike!?!  What strike?  It turns out that all the public workers went on strike just that morning – which stopped all bus service, closed post offices, museums and, of course, the Acropolis.  Do we have great timing, or what?

That afternoon, we called the airline – they told us they had located our luggage – it was still in Delhi.  Remember how we had to rush to make it on the plane?  Well, our bags didn't.  Then we were told it would be on the flight the next day (Friday).  Oh, that's right – there are only three flights a week.  So, it turns out that our luggage was going to be on the flight that we were originally booked for and would arrive Friday afternoon.

That evening, after we had been wearing the same clothes for, what?... three days? – we decided it was time to do laundry (in the sink at the hotel, of course).  Don't worry, we had at least washed our undies the night before – but now it was time to wash everything.

The next morning, our clothes weren't even close to being dry.  In India, our clothes were dry almost before we could get them hung on our makeshift clothesline.  But, in Athens, it was much cooler and more humid – so they didn't dry overnight.  In the chill of the morning, we had to put on even chillier, damp clothes and go out for another day of sight-seeing – hoping they would dry more quickly in the sunlight.

We got back to our hotel at about six hoping to find our luggage.  We wanted to shower and change into clean clothes before going out to dinner.  But no luggage.  Again we called the airline to inquire.  The woman who answered said they didn't have our luggage.  I said it was supposed to be on the flight that was scheduled to arrive at 2:30.  She checked our paperwork and said, "Yes, I see that.  Okay, I'll check into it.  Please call back in thirty minutes."

It was actually an hour before I got to call back.  By then she had discovered that our bags had, in fact, arrived and had already been handed over to the delivery service.  She told us the bags should be delivered to our hotel within five hours – which meant it could be as late as midnight.  But she said that, since the plane had arrived four and a half hours ago, our bags could show up any time.

We decided to go out for dinner instead of waiting.  After a leisurely dinner, we got back to our hotel at 10:00pm – to find our long, lost luggage safely locked in our room.  I can't describe what it felt like to be reunited with my belongings.  I guess when all you have in the world is what will fit into one backpack, it becomes much more important to you – and would be all the more devastating if it were lost permanently, instead of only two days.  And I had gone to such great lengths before starting my travels to assemble just the right clothes and gear – it would be difficult (not to mention expensive) to try to replace it all.

So, the long and frustrating ordeal of phantom airline bookings, long queues, surly ticket agents, lost luggage, and public-worker strikes was finally at an end – or so we thought... [but that's another story.]