Namaste India but NOT Without a Hitch

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January 27th 2012
Published: February 5th 2012
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I am writing this blog a week after our departure from India in order to cool off from our eventful departure. If I would have written this the day after the events occurred I don’t know if I could have kept a level head and I am the calm/mellow one in our relationship, so here it goes.

It all started at 5pm when we shared a cab with Carole to the airport. She had prearranged the airport transfer with Intrepid Travel at the cost of $36 Australian Dollars as this was her 1st time traveling outside of Australia and New Zealand and she was a solo traveler. The fee was based on per person so Pete and I knew we could get it much cheaper on our own. Carole let us ride for free as she was just thankful to not be alone and enjoyed our company.

We arrived at the Kolkata “International” Airport at 6:15pm as it was a long distance outside of the city center. We noticed the guards were requiring passengers to show their printed itinerary in order to get inside the airport. This was a 1st in all of our travels and luckily I had printed out our airline info with flight numbers and times only. Carole went first in then we quickly followed, except the guard wouldn’t let us in since the paper didn’t have our names printed on the paper. He had an automatic rifle in hand and in Pete’s words he was “a complete douche”. He asked me 3 times where our names were on the paper and I told him 3 times that our names weren’t on it as I had never had to produce this in order to get into an airport. He denied our entrance and told us to go outside. This is when the adventure started.

We got separated from Carole and she was probably wondering what happened to us. I had to calm Pete down at this point as we needed to come up with an alternative plan as our flight wasn’t scheduled to leave until 12:20am. We had 6 hours to figure it out.

We walked down to the airport manager’s office to advise her about our situation. We wanted to use her computer to print out our email confirmation with our names in order to get into the airport. The guard who denied us access walked in the office and spoke with the manager in Bengali, the local dialect; we couldn’t understand what he said but fully understood what had happened through body language. The manager then told us that the airport was on high security alert and only passengers with flights that day could enter the airport.

She took our passports and our flight info and went straigth to the airline office to see if we were on the flight list while we waited in her office. When she returned she said we weren't on China Eastern's flight list. WHAT? This is a HUGE problem as we paid for these flights back in October and had received two emails that the flight time had changed. Now what do we do?

I then went to China Eastern's office with her and they told me that I needed to call my travel agent as we weren't on the passenger list. So we went back to her office and got on her computer with dial up internet and I needed to use Skype. They didn't have it and so we thought lets use our netbook and call to get this resolved. NOPE, sorry no wifi in our International Terminal and NO cybercafe for you to call. It was now around 7pm and the flight was not scheduled to leave until 12:20am. I knew with my patience we could get this figured out.

We saw Carole sitting in the chairs outside the airport managers office and got her attention. She was wondering what happened to us and she couldn't check into her flight yet either as it was too early. So we updated her on the situation and said our goodbye's.

The airport manager had to write a permission letter for me in order to enter into the domestic terminal 500 meters away since I didn't have a domestic ticket they wouldn't let me enter on my own. Of course, the internet prices were over 3 times the rate we had paid our entire 3 weeks in India but I had to use it. I called and they advised me of the emails they sent me with the flight time change. I agreed but only thought it was the time, didn't realize they had pushed back our flight an entire day. NO!!! We were done with our time in India, didn't have hotel arrangements and didn't want to go back into the city in a 75 minute cab ride. advised us to ask the airline if we could get on the flight tonight as there were only 50 passengers on the Boeing 737. If the airline ok'd this then it was fine with also. I knew when I got off the Skype call that it wasn't going to be that simple, it never is in Asia.

The "International" airport only had about 9 flights out from 6:15pm when we arrived until 12:20am when the flight to Kunming, China was scheduled to depart. This meant that China Eastern wouldn't open their counter until 9:30pm and it was before 8pm at this time. I printed out the itinerary with our names on it with the orginal email saying we were to be on the Jan 28th flight, not Jan 29th in order to get into the airport to get this figured out. I told Pete I would handle this situation since I worked in Customer Service way too long to know that yelling and losing one's temper usually gets you nowhere, especially in Asia where "face" is valued.

Pete normally handles most sticky situations in Asia as he knows the language better in China and it is a man's world so they listen to him more, I find.

When we arrived back in the airport manager's office we told her everything was settled and we had our intinerary printed with our names and she let us enter the airport. Elyse and Pete- 1 India -1.

We decided to eat at the only option there was which was a little coffee shop with sandwiches. (Again "International" airport) We had about 90 minutes to kill before the 2nd security guard checking your ticket and passport would allow us the enter the check-in counter area. The minute our watches and the airport watches struck 9:30pm we tried to enter the check-in area but were denied by security as the board with the few flights listed didn't say check-in yet. We waited about 5 minutes with 3 other Chinese girls we got denied right after we did.

Finally, the board changed status to check-in and the guard looked at the intinerary and our passports for my 3rd time, Pete's 2nd time and allowed us in. I walked up to the counter and told them our situation. They said they would look at our tickets and see if they could allow us on the flight. NOPE the status of our ticket from India to China in the flight system notes said CPN Note and it needed to say Open For Use. Our flight from Kunming, China to Hangzhou, China 6 days later had the correct note. YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME.

The China Eastern airline manager told me I needed to call the travel agent again and have them change the note. That meant I had to go back to the Domestic Terminal, pay to use the internet for Skype and explain this to the customer service people at I knew it wasn't going to be that easy.

I had the manager, Sanjib, write the EXACT words down and asked for one of the airline reps to come with me in case they needed to speak with He ordered Rakesh, airline rep, to go with me to the Domestic Terminal in order to let me in. Pete waited in the International Terminal with our bags and read his Kindle. Rakesh advised me he wouldn't be able to enter the Domestic Terminal since his security clearance was only for the International Terminal(keeps getting better, right?). I told him if he could get in that would be best in case he could speak to OneTravel about the exact system/wording that needed to be corrected.

My 1st attempt at calling OneTravel went through but instead of being put on hold the rep hung up on me. Attempt #2 took about 25 minutes on the phone with the rep, rep's supervisor and then Rakesh, airline rep, who called his manager on his cell phone while talking to the supervisor of OneTravel. It came up when those 2 were talking that China Eastern had cancelled the flight on Jan 28th for a 5 day period, but then later rescheduled it. That is why our flight was changed from the 28th to the 29th, but OneTravel should have changed it back when China Eastern opened the flight again for the 28th.

Are you on the edge of your seat and confused yet? Just wait more to come.

Rakesh, airline rep, who went with me to the Domestic Terminal told OneTravel at 10:45pm if they resent the booking though by 11:30pm, then 11:45pm at the latest he would put us on the flight. Big Relief on my end. OneTravel would def get this handled in 1 hour time, right?

As we walked back to the International Terminal Rakesh told me if I was Indian he would have never done this for me but since I was a foreigner he helped me out. Thanks Rakesh!! When we got back I told Pete what happened and that we needed to wait for OneTravel to resend our booking and we should be good.

We sat patiently waiting as the clocked ticked around the 11 o'clock hour. At 11:45pm I went to the counter to speak with Sanjib, China Eastern Airline Manger, to check our status of getting on the flight. He was on the phone with OneTravel at that time and just got my ticket through which was corrected and he figured Pete's was also so he hung up. Then Pete's ticket never got corrected. SERIOUSLY? I asked Sanjib if he could just get us on the flight after all of this fiasco. There was a Chinese representative from China Eastern Airlines in the office and said to basically get us on the flight, without me understanding any words spoken in their conversation.

Pete was getting very nervous and was about to lose his cool as it was 11:55pm and everyone else on our flight had already started boarding the plane. The announcements at the airport were calling final boarding call for our flight. At this time Sanjib told the rep at the counter to assign us 2 seats and to get us on the flight. YES!!!!!

We got walked to the front of the immigration line, then went through security and got stopped as we had a stone Buddha head that they questioned. We can't catch a break it seemed. Security made us send the bag through the scanner again. Then asked us to remove it from our bag, unwrap all the packaging around it and examined it. They finally decided it was ok to allow us through.

When we approached Gate 2 (as there were only 2 gates) the airline rep said "We've been waiting for you two. Didn't you hear the flight announcement?" I responded, "We have been here since 6pm and you don't even know what we have just went through." He let us walk down the stairs to 4 more security guards that frisked us and then we hopped on the a bus that literally drove us 25 meters to the plane. When we walked on the plane we were "Those People" holding up the flight. It was 12:15am and the plane taxied to takeoff and then we were on our way to Kunming, China which was only 2 hrs and 10 mins away.

I was so proud that it all worked out and so was Pete.

Finally, Namaste India!

*Originally, our flight was scheduled to have a 8 hour layover in Kunming before flying to Hangzhou. We asked OneTravel if we could change the layover to a stopover for 3-6 days in Yunnan to relax and see more before going back to Hangzhou. It was the same price if we had the 8 hr layover or 6 day stopover. We chose the stopover as we didn't want to go back to the cold weather in Hangzhou for 3.5 weeks before classes started. We thought we could see some more of Yunnan as we enjoyed our time in Li Jiang and Tiger Leeping Gorge back in October 2009.


6th February 2012

Kudos to you for keeping as cool as you did and for getting this resolved. Was the mistake made by the people who booked your entire India trip or did you book your flights separately?

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