Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Butterfly Effect

Beware of unimportant things, for they may lead to important (and dire) events.

It was around 1pm when I got to check in at Minneapolis airport for my multi-hop flight that was supposed to land me in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. No, still not a non-stop flight between Dushanbe and Minneapolis. So I got to Ohare, where the agent was more congenial, but not much more useful. She knew what Tajikistan was, but still not able to reprint my tags, and directed me to the staff in Heathrow, the mecca of all international travel. Surely they would be able to rectify the situation.

In the meantime, I spent the 7 hours next to a greek couple and their surprisingly well-behaved 9-month old. I did not sleep much, but instead watched excerpts from the epic movies “bewitched” and “sahara” whilst longingly looking at the comfort of the higher-up classes of service. (ranging from Fat leather seats, to super reclinable pods, to basically your own private cottage and waterfall).

I arrived in Heathrow, I was sleep deprived, I was disoriented, and I had 40 minutes to cover several miles of walkways, 15 minutes of busriding, and about 400 yards of escalatoring. I reached the transfer desk panting, sweating, and entirely without higher mental faculties.

This is when I didn’t question the agent, when she said I there is no issue having to get my luggage in Moscow and re-check it on my adventures onwards. This proved ultimately impossible for me.

In retrospect, it was lucky I asked the main attendant about the logistics of reclaiming and resubmitting luggage in Moscow. Then she said she will go and ask the ground staff, and whether or not I had a Russian visa. She came with a quite terse young lady who came with all fangs and claws showing, admonishing me for not having a Russian visa,

‘but I am not going to Russia

‘I know you are not, it is because without a visa, they will charge us 2000 pounds, so there is a problem here.’ and she went on to pontificate further about how I will be disembarked, and be put on another flight later in the day once my visa to Russia is obtained.

‘but I am going to Tajikistan

I thought that would be an A-ha moment, but instead she began telling me how I could be forcibly removed if I made trouble, and I should meet her at the doorway, while she goes and makes arrangements to reroute me to later in the day (I mentioned in passing that the next possible arrival in Dushanbe would be in about 4 days)

I walked to the entrance and I waited and waited and waited, and was smiled at placatingly and talked behind of (all equally politically and grammatically incorrect) by the flight attendants:

‘He didn’t even bother to get a visa for where he’s going’

‘Did you see his passport? there isn’t room for a visa in it’

‘At least he is smiling, but luckily the team is coming…’

‘It will take hours to find his luggage I bet’

I, in the meantime, was on a campaign of my own, giving suggestions, raising the specter, and a dose of flattery:

‘Maybe you can just re-tag my bags?’

‘The humanitarian conference will not be able to function…’

‘I’m sure you can resolve the tagging problem amicably’

‘I am alright having my luggage be confiscated in Moscow;

‘They are like two cabin luggage’

‘can’t we put them in the pram section, so I can get them planeside?’

‘I can maybe bring them onboard….’

‘I am certain you can help my situation without deranging my plan’

And then 2 decked out anti-terrorist SAS commandos (well, just police in flak jackets, and some good guns) appeared in the elephant-trunk walkway, walking confidently towards me…I turned to the nearby attendant to exchange surprised looks about the seeming escalation of events. I suppose my ‘yikes’ expression and subsequent chuckle helped deflate the situation (in my head anyway).

Finally, the pilot came to my rescue by asking the lead attendant about the situation, and then telling her to just pull the luggage and bring it to the cabin, since he had heard me say that they are basically carry-on sizes ( I omitted to mention that they are unruly, LARGE ones)

As we were finally rolling off to the runway, I was still being worked over by the lead attendant about my need to make sure I have visas to the place I was traveling to (including all the airports and airspaces en-route), that my passport was too crowded with visas, that my luggage pieces were actually too large, and that I should do something about my complexion.

I was just tickled that my luggage and I were still not derailed from our destination, or worse.

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