Saturday, September 24, 2016

Emotions Run High

Traveling is one of the things I love most in life. But even the things you love most can be tense and stressful sometimes. I recently had a harrowing trip home that I think tops all my other travel stories. It is probably the most epic plane trip I've ever had. Despite the fact that I love to travel, I found myself at one of my lowest points during this trip, but it hasn't suppressed my wanderlust.

I had been in Mumbai for work for 5 weeks and upon finishing this stint I decided to travel to Myanmar for a week for vacation before heading home. Despite my long journey home, this was an amazing trip that I will detail later. My trip home started in Bagan, Myanmar. From there I took a night bus to Yangon where I got a hotel room for a few hours before flying to Bangkok. From Bangkok, I flew to Mumbai then to London, then to Washington DC. I knew this was the plan when I booked this trip and it was the route I ended up taking, but things ended up going differently than planned.

My journey started in Bagan on a Thursday night and I was supposed to arrive in Washington DC on Saturday afternoon. Up until when I got to Bangkok, things were on track. I knew I was going to have a tight connection in Mumbai, but it was looking like I would be able to make that flight and get all the way home. My flight from Bangkok even left on time, but unfortunately during take off my plane hit a bird. Right from the moment we took off I could tell something wasn't right. The crew were moving about the cabin quite a bit and then they were all looking out one of the windows on the left side of the plane. I later found out that they could see blood on the wing of the plane. Because of this mishap, the pilot decided to turn around and go back to Bangkok. I understood the precaution and at that point did not even really mind the delay this was going to cause me.

After sleeping in the Bangkok airport Friday night, they got my flight out at 6 AM Saturday morning. At that point, I had already missed my connection in Mumbai. My flights from Mumbai to London to Washington were supposed to be American Airlines flights operated by British airways and it was a fully refundable fully flexible fare, so I was convinced that if I could just talk to BA in Mumbai that they would help me rebook my flights. But first I had to get through immigration.

When I originally flew to Mumbai for work 6 weeks prior I was traveling on my diplomatic passport and had an Indian diplomatic visa. But at this point, I was traveling on my personal passport and I had an e-tourist visa. As I went through customs, the immigration officer didn't seem to understand why I left my local address blank. He just couldn't seem to understand why I would have a 30 day tourist visa and only stay for 3 hours, but he did eventually let me through. Once getting through immigration, I tried to follow the signs for departures. I was starting to get anxious because time until the next BA flight was closing in. Even though I was following the well labeled signs, I was constantly getting told I couldn't go that way. In Mumbai you need to have your flight itinerary just to enter the airport and I had a bit of trouble getting in because my itinerary was now old.

Finally I got to the British Airways check in counter where I had to stand in a long line just to talk to someone. At that point they made a slight attempt to help me before giving up. They told me that they didn't have a ticket counter in Mumbai so they had to call BA ticketing and then let me talk to them. After doing this they realized that my flight was booked through American Airlines and BA couldn't rebook it for me. So they offered to call American Airlines for me. This sounded just fine until they actually tried to call American Airlines and the number didn't work. That was the extent that BA tried to help me get home. They told me the only way I was getting on the flight leaving for Heathrow in two hours was to rebook it myself with a travel agent in the airport and hope that I would get reimbursed by American Airlines later. After speaking with the travel agent was when I really started to lose it. The travel agent told me that the flight just to Heathrow would cost me $1000 and deep down I knew I was never going to get reimbursed. BA was also not willing to even help me figure out my flight back to Washington. They said I could figure that out when I got to Heathrow. This was one of my lowest points. I had no idea how to get home.

After losing it a little, I put on my thinking hat. Think, think. How can I get my ticket changed without paying for it? My ticket was flexible; this had to be possible. I had to do one of two things. I either had to get a hold of the government travel agent to change the flight or I had to get a hold of American Airlines. Luckily, the Mumbai airport has free wifi, so I got online. I couldn't find a phone number for the travel agent, but I did find an 800 number for American Airlines. Considering I was in India, I was able to call this number, but I had to pay $1.79 per minute. I didn't want to have to pay this, but considering I really wanted to go home, it was worth it. I was also doubting if anyone was going to answer, because it was the middle of the night in the US. Nonetheless, I had to try, otherwise I was going to completely fall apart right there in the terminal of the Mumbai airport. Sure enough, I did get through to a live person who was willing and able to help me!

They got me on the 1 PM flight out of Mumbai, but they couldn't get me out of London until the next day. I was so happy to have a plan for getting home, I almost didn't even care that I might have to pay for my hotel in London out of my own pocket. So I got checked in and headed for security. Security in India takes forever for women because they have to take every single woman behind a curtain to scan them with a metal detector wand. I don't understand why it is necessary to go behind the curtain, but this is the way it is all over India. After making it through security I got in line for immigration. My time was running out, but the line wasn't too bad. I finally made it to the front of the line and again I was hassled by the immigration officer because I didn't want to stay in India on my tourist visa. I just couldn't understand why this was a problem! I paid my $60, which gives me the right to stay for 30 days, but that doesn't force me to stay for that long. I really didn't understand why it mattered. Then the officer started asking where my previous visa was, so I pulled out my diplomatic passport. This was mostly a problem because the officer was just not as familiar with diplomatic passport holders or those with two passports. For these reasons he took me to secondary. After the primary and the secondary immigration officers discussed this for a few minutes in their local language, the secondary officer asked me if I was allowed to have two passports. After explaining that I was, he agreed with me that this was completely fine and I proceeded to my gate where my flight was already boarding.

Upon arriving in London, I got in line at immigration. Heathrow has to have one of the worst immigration controls of anywhere. I waited two hours to get through this line. Once I finally got through the line, I went through to baggage claim. I usually don't check my bag, but seeing as I was on my way home and I was too tired to carry it around the airport anymore, I had checked it. Once I got to baggage claim I found out that because my flight had gotten in two hours prior they were no longer announcing the belt that the bags were on. Again, I was told to stand in line to find out what they had done with my bag. This seemed ridiculous, but I did as I was told. Eventually I was pointed to the belt that my bag was rolling around on. From there I got an uber and got to my hotel.

After that point, my trip was mostly uneventful. I ended up getting in exactly one day later than I was supposed to, which wasn't too bad. The big problem was what I was put through in the process of trying to get there. Before this trip, I thought highly of British airways, but now I really don't know anymore. This trip proved that even the most seasoned traveler can come across problems that can completely break your spirits. This doesn't stop me from doing what I love. Instead I like to think it makes me a better, more resilient traveler and for that I am grateful. I guess they always say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.