Sunday, April 3, 2011

April Fools’

I suppose you could call me a fool for thinking that my flight from Kathmandu to Dhaka would be on time – it was, after all, April first. I guess my prompt arrival in Kathmandu a week earlier was nothing more than a matter of luck.  

I arrived at the airport just under two hours before my departure time. The line in front of the GMG Airline counter was long, but no one was at the desk. Interesting, I thought nonchalantly as I waited to buy a coke. There was a letter-sized piece of paper taped to the counter, but until someone sent me into a panic by telling me that “the flight is probably canceled” I didn’t bother to check that either. When I finally did, it told me that the flight was delayed – instead of leaving at 3:50 PM, we were now scheduled to leave at 6:50 PM. I was not thrilled by the news, especially since I’d called GMG earlier to confirm the flight was on time. (I secretly think that the pilot caused the delay because he was watching the Cricket World Cup Semi-finals, but I suppose we’ll never know.)

Given this news, I decided to search for the most comfortable place to wait out the extra time. The Thai Airlines Silk Lounge was my solution. All I had to do was buy a cup of tea – done! After a couple hours of sitting a completely empty restaurant, I started to grow anxious and decided I should go to the gate.

The security procedure for Kathmandu is marginally better than Dhaka. At least this time, no one who beeped going through the metal detector was actually allowed through without further scrutiny. We were herded into a waiting pen. Bored and facing walls that simultaneously displayed several different local times, I waited out the next hour. A quick side note for those interested in random, amusing facts, the time difference between Kathmandu and Dhaka is 15 minutes.

6:30 came and went and no boarding announcements had been made, so I decided to investigate the situation. I was informed that the plane was scheduled to arrive at 6:50 PM, but no further details were provided. It was only when I pointed out that this obviously made it impossible for us to leave at that time, that I was told we’d be departing at 7:30.

At 6:50 an inaudible announcement was made and all of a sudden the crowd mobbed towards a door. When I finally made it to the front my boarding pass was torn and the little stub was handed back to me. We waited again, this time in a smaller pen, until the bus came to take us to the plane. 

I didn’t know you could board a plane from the rear (such that when you enter you’re standing at the very back of the aisle), but when we disembarked from the bus, we were lead to the back of the plane. Then the official in charge reconsidered – all the men were to board from the back, but the women would enter through the front. Brilliant! Now people will have to squeeze by each other in the middle of the plane to get to their seats. To avoid this problem, we were told to ignore our seat assignment.

I didn’t mind my seat and since there wasn’t any traffic coming from the back yet, I made it to seat 12A without any trouble. However, the steward instructed most of the other women to sit at the front of the plane – “most of the women” came to a grand total of no more than 15. The men filed into their newly assigned rows in the back.

Once everyone was more or less settled, the in-flight safety instructions began. I’ve always found the seatbelt instructions to be particularly useless, but apparently they are necessary for some. The atheist, as his t-shirt proclaimed, next to me was unable to undo the buckle when I pointed out that our belts were switched. He required help from his friend across the aisle.

Buckle conundrum aside, the plane seemed to be filled with first-time flyers. There was a blatant disregard for any instructions provided by the flight crew - people were getting up to talk to their friends and making phone calls as we taxied to the runway. I was a bit unnerved. To top it off, it turns out that leaving late in the day has other pit falls (excuse the pun) – my cabin mates were not smelling very fresh.

As the plane sped along the runway, the stewardess announced, “inshallah we will arrive in Dhaka in one hour” (Inshallah is a term frequently used in Bangladesh. It means “god willing”). Without any further issues we landed in Dhaka 50 minutes later. Immigration was painless, as was baggage pickup. And after the joke that was the rest of the day’s travel experience, I was very thankful for that. 

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