Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Lesson Learned

When last night blended into this morning, I learned a valuable lesson about picking people up from the airport: always check the most recent email with flight arrival information.

On Tuesday night, as a blizzard blanketed Chicago, we received an email (as expected) that Lindsay's Mom's flight was canceled and that she was being rebooked for a later day. She included a new itinerary that included a stop in London before boarding an Air India flight set to land at 3:20am Saturday. Very few flights from Europe arrive in India at a convenient time so the hour wasn't unexpected and we planned to sleep a few hours before heading to the airport at 3:00am to welcome her.

On Friday morning, we received an email from Lindsay's Dad saying that Mary Jean was at the gate in Chicago. I skimmed that piece, figured all was well, and didn't think twice. The part I missed was the flight details indicating that she was now on a British Airways flight arriving in Delhi at 4:55am. In my defense, I later learned that Lindsay hadn't even opened the email, but to be honest I'm not sure which is worse.

And so we left our apartment for the airport at 3:00am, arrived at 3:27am, which was only notable because that was the exact time listed for arrival on the Air India website for the original question. Lindsay, nervous with excitement, hurriedly walked to get to the terminal so we wouldn't be late (even though I, remaining calm as usual, knew there was very little chance a flight arriving at 3:27am would process passengers through customs and baggage claim before 4:00am - I reminded her of this later, as you might have guessed). At the arrivals hall, you actually have to buy a ticket for Rs. 80 to get inside. We paid and then quickly walked the wrong direction (we're typically on the "getting picked up" side of this situation) before being redirected, the stress level rising the entire time.
Anxiously chipper at 3:35am
Finally we arrived where every person arriving on an international flight in Delhi clears customs. I checked the flight board, the flight had arrived, and I thought it would just be a short wait. But then we waited. And waited. And waited. I started stalking checked baggage tags and realized that flights that had landed 40 minutes after the Air India flight we were waiting for were spitting passengers out of customs. Finally, we decided to call her cell phone, figuring if anything were wrong she'd probably have it turned on. It wasn't. The next step was to call Lindsay's Dad to see if he had heard anything. He hadn't. Thankfully, Lindsay mentioned we were considering calling the airline to see if we could find out if she had checked into the flight (though I'm not even sure they would give out that information). He seemed surprised that we would call Air India when she was flying British Airways. Finally, a light bulb illuminated above our heads.

At this point, it was 5:15am, twenty minutes after it was supposed to arrive. I went to the arrivals board, and found the flight. Of course, it was the one flight with a blank spot indicating whether it had landed and if not what the expected time was. Seconds later, a word appeared: "Landed". Finally our wait was over. Or so we thought. Technically, it was over an hour later when her Mom finally emerged through customs with a carry-for herself and two suitcases containing 100 pounds of goods for us to restock our imported American wares.
Deliriously excited at 6:15am
Lesson learned; next time I'll read the entire message regarding flight information. While Terminal 3 is a much more welcoming place than the old terminal, landing in India after twenty or so hours or travel can be a little discombobulating. On the bright side, at least we were two hours early and not two hours late. Of course, I never thought I'd have a three hour wait at an airport for a flight that was on time and basically give myself jet lag in the process.
Finally able to pause for a photo on the world's longest walk to a parking structure

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