Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Welcome aboard American Airlines

Dream of flying in an American Airlines came too soon when I decided to visit my nieces at San Antonio & Dallas from San Francisco. It was a dream of travelling in a world class flight famous for courtesy & efficiency. More so because we back in India keep blaming our domestic airlines comparing with their counterpart elsewhere in the world.

My flight with South West Airlines, a low cost popular airline to San Antonio was at 4.30 pm sharp. Sharp…..because we also make fun of our sense of timings, The Indian Time! Time passed and it was 4.45 pm when I became restless. There was no sign of my plane arriving. Later, it was announced that the flight is delayed. Just ‘delayed’ no further information about either the cause of delay or expected time of arrival. ‘Sorry, we have no idea’ was the curt reply when enquired. The same reply was forthcoming in this age of fast & furious technological advancement the country boosts of, even after 1 hour (and our techies are dying to work for them)! After an hour, it was known that the plane had some snag at Houston airport and that our flight will take off at 6 pm. The departure time on the display board at the help desk kept on changing from 6.15 to 6.30 from time to time but in the end settled for 6.15 pm. Yes, finally they were sure that the flight would arrive & take off at 6.15.

At last we boarded the plane at 6, greeted by an exhausted not so young air hostess. Unlike India, the boarding pass was taken away at the entry gate and I was not able to locate my seat number inside. I enquired from a steward who was grooming his long hair on the rear side. He gave a surprised look at me and said ‘It’s all free seating like Cinema hall and I can sit anywhere I like’. The flight took off without any customary apology announcement and first thing we were served was a packet of groundnuts & soft drink. Here serving of groundnuts is common whereas back home this item is mostly consumed as time pass by poor people and cinema goers in villages and smaller towns and looked down as foul smelling stuff. Unfortunately, as the day turned out to be, six of the passengers were not served soft drink as the pilot asked them to discontinue serving due to turbulence in air pocket. I was one amongst the six. Its only at the end of journey that pilot announced that the delay was due to snag in the plane due to which the plane had to be replaced and we should not be too worried about the safety as we have already landed safely at the Dallas airport. All the passengers clapped and heaved a sigh of relief.

My real harrowing time started on return journey from Dallas to San Francisco. Here, again I was booked on South West airlines going via El Paso & Phoenix. I was to change plane at El Paso with the same airlines. On reaching El Paso boarded the plane scheduled to fly at 2 pm. Soon after the usual safety drill, the flight failed to take off. Pilot informed that there is some problem with hydraulics and being attended to. All the passengers were seated waiting for about 45 minutes when pilot asked us to deplane. We returned back to the terminal waiting for the plane to be repaired.

El Paso is a desert area on the Mexican border & prone to sand storms. Suddenly, the airport was in midst of a sand storm followed by thick black cloud threatening with bright lightening. In no time, heavy down pour started making the visibility to zero! The announcement of uncertainty of flights taking off made us jittery. One thing was certain, unless the whether becomes clear, no plane would take off.

After some time it was announced that the same plane would now go up to Phoenix only at 6 pm. As I was to travel beyond, they gave me boarding pass for another flight from Phoenix to San Francisco but its departure was at 7 pm from Phoenix. I was assured that the flight would wait till our flight from El Paso reaches Phoenix but that was not to be. It was already 6.30 pm now and there was no announcement about the departure of Phoenix flight. I was sure to miss my flight. I asked the person at the help desk to accommodate me in some other flight so that I can go to San Francisco directly. There was such a flight at 8.15 pm via Las Vegas. They obliged to change the boarding pass and issued for 8.15 pm flight. In the meantime my luggage was transferred from one plane to the other. I had doubt if it would reach with my flight but fortunately it did. Finally, boarded the 8.15 flight via Las Vegas and till then, the other plane to Phoenix had not taken off. I missed watching the desserts of Phoenix but in return could enjoy the colorful lights of Los Vegas which never sleeps.

After, a harrowing time of 6 hours in anxiety touched down at San Francisco safely. The only silver lining of the entire trip was a compensatory voucher offered by the airlines worth $200 for travelling with them again within a year!