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Thank You India!

Started: 2016-01-30 22:21:13

Submitted: 2016-01-30 22:49:09

Visibility: World-readable

4 January 2016: In which the intrepid narrator makes his way home from his third trip to India

We arrived at the airport right after midnight, and entered the main door right at the moment that our flight was originally scheduled to take off. We checked into the flight, waited in the security queue, and then waited in an hour-long queue for an outbound immigration check. By the time we made it to the departure area (which looked like a giant duty-free shopping mall, and appeared to be on the floor immediately above the equivalent domestic departures shopping mall) it was time to head to our gate.

In my sleep-deprived state, I misread the poorly-labeled signs and led Calvin and I on a wild goose chase down the wrong concourse in search of our gate. (I missed the sign that said that gate 87 was down a different corridor, and saw only the signs that said that gates up to 85 were down the main corridor.) At length I backtracked and found our gate, and saw that they were boarding our flight.

Though it turned out that 'boarding' was a bit of a misnomer. They advanced people through the boarding gate, and down to another security checkpoint to verify that we hadn't smuggled any water (or, presumably, dangerous and science-fictional liquids) on board the aircraft on the lengthy flight back to the United States. This dumped us into a tiny waiting area a floor below the main hallway, where we queued to wait to board the plane only to hear an announcement that there was a maintenance issue and they would let us know more as soon as they knew. I found a wall to lean against, and Calvin fell asleep with his head in my lap. Then they announced that seats in rows 39 to 45 were "broken" (their words), and that they would be boarding the rest of the plane. My seat was not in rows 39 to 45, so it didn't affect me, but there was some consternation in the boarding area (not to mention confusion as to what precisely they meant by "broken"). I woke Calvin up and shuffled into to the queue to board the aircraft. Eventually they announced that all seats in all rows were working after all, so they really would be running the flight as scheduled.

We boarded, settled into our seats, and Calvin fell asleep again (which was completely reasonable, since it was about 03:00.) Then the pilot announced on the PA that there was a runway curfew, and encouraged us to take our seats quickly so we could beat the curfew, but we did not in fact make the curfew. This did not seem to delay us by much longer, though we did sit at the end of the runway for longer than we would have otherwise waiting for the curfew to lift. At length we took off, and began our very long flight home to Newark.

We flew a weird dog-leg over Pakistan, then settled into a cruise path taking us over Afghanistan and a bunch of Central Asian republics that I didn't pay careful attention to. I ate supper when served, and settled into an awkward sleep in my coach-class seat. (I concluded that, while coach-class seats may be uncomfortable, it is pretty amazing to be able to walk into an aluminum can and get out a few hours later on the other side of the planet.)

Somewhere over Kazakhstan the PA paged any doctors or nurses on board for an unspecified emergency, and later said that they had enough medical support. It appeared that they were able to adequately triage the medical problem in flight, since we did not deviate from our route to make an unscheduled landing in Central Asia for a medical emergency.

Pre-dawn light somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean
Pre-dawn light somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean

Calvin woke up before did, and I let him watch whatever he wanted on the in-flight entertainment system (rated under PG-13, thanks to the parental controls). He watched Inside Out, Cars 2, Toy Story 2, Elf, and was twenty minutes into Up when we landed in Newark. When I awoke, six or eight hours later, somewhere over the North Atlantic, I watched Inside Out and worked on going through my photos and working on a post documenting my trip, though I had trouble with the power outlet under my seat: It would work fine when I was holding it, but as soon as I let it go it would disconnect.

In-flight map UAL49 BOM-EWR
In-flight map UAL49 BOM-EWR

We began to see light somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean -- we'd been running away from the sun for most of the night. By the time we landed in Newark, it was the middle of the morning. We arrived three hours late, but United had already rebooked us on a new flight home to Denver.

We disembarked, joining the zombie hoards of jet-lagged and sleep-deprived passengers off the plane, and made our way to immigration. I found the Global Entry lane, successfully scanned my passport on the kiosk, let it take my picture and scan my fingerprints, and answered the screening questions. I did the same for Calvin, though his photo only ended up showing the top of his head. We waited for our checked luggage, and when it eventually arrived, took the bag through the customs lane. Since I'd answered "yes" to the "Do you have food or plants?" question, they waved me over to the secondary x-ray screening to double-check I wasn't carrying anything else, which I passed, then let me enter the country.

I dropped my bag for recheck, found the security checkpoint, was relieved to see that I got PreCheck after all (though I did have to stand in the same line as the rest of the non-PreCheck people since my boarding pass, printed in India, did not have the "TSA PRE" printed on it. I found a food court for breakfast, tried to ignore that it was now early evening back in India, and found food for Calvin to eat. Calvin asked for hot chocolate (the obvious companion to my coffee) but managed to drop and spill his entire cup of hot chocolate on the tile floor as we were walking to our gate. It was close enough to our boarding time that I didn't want to go back and get more, so I wrote it off and herded Calvin to our gate.

I realized that we had not been given seats next to each other, probably because we'd been rebooked on an almost-full flight. We were assigned middle seats in consecutive rows, though that seemed unlikely to work well with a six-year-old. I asked the desk agent if she could help, but the flight had already started boarding and she couldn't do anything, so she suggested I ask my fellow passengers on board. I asked the guy sitting in 12C (next to my seat in 12B) if he'd trade for Calvin's middle seat in 11B, and since it was an aisle-to-middle trade he wasn't interested. I sat in 11C, next to Calvin, and when the young woman who had been assigned 11C showed up I asked if I could trade her my seat and she agreed.

The rest of our flight was uneventful: we ate breakfast from the food court, and I bought Internet access on the plane to catch up with the rest of the world, but my laptop battery was about to die so I ended up using my phone for most of the flight. We landed in Denver ahead of schedule (for the flight -- we were still late, according to our original schedule). I claimed our bag, and we ate lunch in the terminal before catching our Super Shuttle home. (I had no interest in driving home after a long-haul flight from India.) We arrived at home around 13:30 MST -- twenty-seven hours after we left our hotel in Mumbai. It was good to be home -- at least until my next planned adventures (to China and San Francisco) -- after more than two weeks away, and back in a place where I could take clean drinking water, super-highways, traffic laws, and seatbelts for granted.

lots of bagels. it's the only way to true enlightenment.
- Scott J. Galvin