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Transit through India

By UrbanAnthropod, April 26, 2010 6:21 am

That pesky Visa issue

We’ve made it back to the U.S. Not only that, we’ve made it back with our checked luggage. As I’ve mentioned before, there were some issues regarding leaving India on a multiple entry visa and returning within a 2 month interval. On the flgiht to Kathmandu, when leaving Indira Gandhi International, we met some transit passengers. They were off to Nepal for some trekking and had come from the states or elsewhere without Indian visas. After inquiring and witnessing them claiming their luggage in Kathmandu, we were pretty appeased that things would work out for us when we flew through IGI for our flight home. We were told by the transiters that they were separated from the rest of the flight upon arrival where they were barked at for a couple hours until allowed to point at their luggage. This seemed to work out. We would have 5 hours of transit time if our KTM->DEL flight was a little late. The flight from DEL->KTM was delayed due to haze and scheduling issues re: that volcano eruption halfway around the world. I hoped that this would be solved by the time we returned to DEL nearly a week later.

Avoiding the lines

Our guide had called Jet airways to reconfirm our flight back to DEL from KTM. It was a go. The flight time was not delayed despite the chaos still being inflicted by the volcanic ash. Considering how our flight did not go near europe, it made perfect sense. The morning of our flight to DEL and home, we went to an internet cafe –you know the one in the alley across from KC’s :P — to reconfirm our Continental flight to EWR. It was on schedule and we even did our check-in online. We printed out the boarding passes as proof that we had no desire to re-enter India and had an onward flight. Things were looking good for us avoiding lines in DEL. We went back to the hotel content with the fact that we were going home after an exhausting vacation. After the final check of luggage, I noticed I had a bunch of Nepali Rupees left over. So I wandered back through Thamel to grab a quick refreshment and a purchase of some knit convertible mittens — the ones that flip open to let your fingers loose for pressing a camera button.

KTM and the security checks

Upon arriving at KTM airport, our guide ran off to get a cart for our luggage. In the meantime, a bunch of mutes converged on our cab and fought over carting our luggage. As we approached the line for ticket holders, we finally saw our guide returning with a cart. I said our goodbyes and passed through the gates to learn that we were too early for our check-in. The time finally arrived when we would check our luggage. This was the nervous bit. As soon as we came in contact with the agent and passed our papers over, I stated that we could not re-enter India. Apparently, she wasn’t too good with the English so another man jumped in and offerred to have our checked baggage forwarded to our Continental flight to EWR through DEL from KTM. The luggage tags were printed and we were ecstatic. Could it really be so easy? This was the most efficient process we ever experienced.

We were so happy that we hardly noticed that we went through at least 3 more security checks of our carry-on luggage. One check seemed like plain curiosity where the security officers would ask about every single item in the bag. Eventually, we were checked through another security point to the gate. Then through another waiting area 30 minutes later. Then we boarded the bus to the plane only to have another security check on the tarmac! It was a bit ludicrous as the crowd converged disorderly for the check. A man even collapsed during the wait. The excessive checks were probably put in place for flights to India since they’re on heightened terror alert. But was it necessary to have a check on the tarmac? There was nothing available to us at the gate or the other waiting area where we could’ve picked up something dangerous for the flight. At least we were in for some nice service onboard our Jet Airways flight.

Purgatory: It was even more ludicrous than this, I assure you!

purgatory

The transit room at Indira Gandhi International

As we landed in Delhi, the flight attendant announced that it was a cool 39°C (102.2°F) outside. Unfortunately, we were not using a jetway and ended up exiting onto the tarmac and piling onto a bus, exposing us to the 102° heat and the pollution associated with Delhi. This would be the least of our concerns. Upon entering the terminal, the transit passengers were told to step to one side as the passengers entering India filled out their customs/immigration forms. Then we lined up messily to show our onward flight info. This proved to be massively inefficient since there was 1 agent handling 2/3 of the full 737. This obviously took a long time. Another agent eventually came down to the area preceding immigration and told us to stand about 5 feet away from where we had been milling about. Then he started calling outbound flights. We were called out first and asked to stand near the stairwell. He progressed through the hand-written list in a manner not unlike someone picking teams for a dodgeball game in gym class. We were feeling pretty psyched since we were early picks and felt that the nonsense was steadily progressing. But as the flight calling proceeded, we noticed that everyone was being herded to the same position as us. That is to say, 5 feet from where everyone was previously standing! Finally, he called us to head up the stairs. “Not bad for almost 2 hours!” we all murmured to each other.

At the flight of stairs, we were herded to a narrow corridor where we could see a room full of seated people through glass. Again, the agent called out the flights and the passengers. This time, we were in the middle of the pack. Once again, the names called were simply allowed to pass through to the corridor on the other side of the glass. 2 hours and 45 minutes after entering the building, we finally had a seat in a crowded corridor. At least there was a bathroom! And it was fairly clean! 20 minutes later, the agent returned and called out just our flight. He rifled through our passports and ignored our questions and disappeared. Another 20 minutes elapsed and he returned with another attendant and rifled through our passports again. After indicating to him that we had our luggage forwarded through to our other flight, he picked up my passport again and flipped through the pages and returned it to me. He again left. This went on for about every 20 minutes. Each time, we would arise to think we were leaving the transit room only to lose our seats. I had taken to milling around the corridor out of boredom. Plus, I no longer had a seat. At the other end of the corridor was a wide open doorway leading to a security area. I was told I could not pass. Out of complete boredom, I would pass my foot through the doorway expecting to have a team of attendants tackle me. I began to worry since the board indicated that our flight was going through security check-in. Here we were on the other side not allowed to go through. The agent returned one last time and said he was leading us to our bags. Finally crossing the door, we were presented with a large pile of luggage from every airline but Jet Airways! Again, we were told to wait. At least this wasn’t merely 5 feet from our previous position.

The agent returned to relieve us of our passports and snatched a handful of boarding passes/flight itineraries from a fellow passenger resulting in an argument as the other passenger tried to retrieve the paperwork. I pointed out the sign in front of us to the other passenger to lighten the mood. To paraphrase, it was an official sign asking to turn in people looking for bribes. Here we were, hoping that we could possibly bribe someone into expediting this nonsense! It reminded me of the Zero Rupee note, an attempt to shame individuals seeking bribes into proper behavior and remedy corruption. If only we did have a way to oil this squeaky wheel! Finally, he returned and lead us to another pile of bags from our flight and we were able to identify them. But as he started handing back our passports, we spilled them across the floor. Eventually receiving our papers and boarding passes, we ran to the security checkpoint as the flight was boarding. After a mere 5+ hours and countless shifts in position of about 5 feet, we were in line for yet another x-ray machine. The shoe check was not free of hassle as everyone poured their laptops and cameras onto the conveyor only to have a security agent drop one of the computers. Ultimately, after 5+ hours, we were on the plane.

In the end, it doesn’t sound so horrible. But there’s just no way to describe the anger that these people incite. The unresponsiveness from beginning to end in this process. We asked the consulate about the issues to no end. We prophylactically checked our luggage through and checked-in online! We were cordial until almost the end. We heard the stories! We were fully prepared for this treatment, yet we were not! And to top things off, the annoying passengers wouldn’t take their seats on the plane. 15 minutes after the doors closed, you saw people milling about despite being asked to take their seats. The bad etiquette regarding overhead luggage storage was extra enraging after this experience! I was drained so I can’t recall much of anything after this. All I know is I woke up to see that we were still taxiing. Apparently, we’d been taxiing for 30 minutes after pushback. Finally up in the air, I was unable to watch any movies because the parental controls were set. Given the annoyance of the other passengers on the plane, I decided I wouldn’t bother the flight attendants to unlock my system. I needed to sleep anyway. What a harrowing experience!

In conclusion, the best plans just don’t work as fluidly as expected. If you’re transiting through DEL, do check-in online. At least you get some peace of mind and the satisfaction of knowing that it’s really NOT YOU who is being unreasonable.

Granted, we landed in Newark at 4:30 A.M., but we breezed through customs and immigration. We even found our bags relatively quickly despite the use of 2 conveyors and the abundance of bags.

Related posts:

  1. Prepping for India and Nepal, Part 1
  2. Colossal waste of time
  3. Prepping for India and Nepal, Part 2
  4. Prepping for India and Nepal, Part 3
  5. Casablanca… not the movie

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