Leaving India is always a fight. It has got to be one of the most trying experiences I can describe. Unfortunately for me, I leave India about once every quarter, so I get to relive the agony multiple times a year. There was the time I was so sick that I nearly passed out at the check-in counter for Lufthansa. There was the other time that the military guards would not accept my e-itinerary to let me in to the departures terminal, so I had to go back to Door 1 – let’s say 25 yards away, but with bags it feels like 25 miles – in order to get a print out of my itinerary to then give to the guards to get in, and then to throw it away once inside, because who the f*ck uses print out itineraries anymore anyway?! This last departure took the cake, however, so much so that I plan to use an abbreviated version of this account to send a complaint to Ethiopian Airlines.
About four hours before I’m set to depart, I get a phone call from some unidentified person. The conversation goes like this
Caller: This Miss Ali?
Me: What do you want? Who is this?
Caller: You go fly Ethiopia tonight? No?
Me: Yes, what do you want?
Caller: You pay credit card?
Me: Yes, I paid online.
Caller: Your credit card number 34..
Me: WHOA! I don’t know who you are! I’m not telling you my credit card number over the phone. What do you want with my credit card number? Are you from Ethiopian Airlines?
Caller: You bring you card to airport when you leave.
Me: Fine. Bye.
And this disjoined, lack-luster customer service, followed by non-existent security measures was exactly how I’d like to define the two hours spent waiting to check in at Ethiopian Airlines at the departures terminal in Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA). I mean at the check in counter, not at security, not at the Gate of my flight – I mean at the check in counter for Ethiopian Airlines.
Let me say this, the experience of trying to get out of India is only ironic because the truth is that it really doesn’t feel like many people want me in India to begin with. From the stares, to the rude gestures, to the bartering and rip offs, it’s pretty clear to foreigners that they are not all that welcome anyway. So, when I’m ready to leave, you’d think the goal would be to facilitate me getting the hell out. Right? Wrong!
So, we wait. We wait in a line of about ten people, but no worries – we’re about an hour and a half early. We wait. Someone from the airline looks at documents, checks the information of the people in front of us, then gets a phone call, takes it, leaves us there looking like buffoons, and proceeds NOT to come back – while we continue to wait. A half hour later, we’re still waiting. Now mind you, it’s pretty clear that these people don’t really give a damn whether or not we make this flight that they’re checking us in for.
One girl with a fantabulous weave is waiting with her sister, I assume, who looks to be recovering from some kind of a knee injury. She’s been standing long before us, and she looks like she’s about to pass out if she doesn’t get a wheelchair. The woman from the airline then proceeds to point her in the direction of a wheelchair, not bring it, not help the girl sit down in it. Just points. Five star service delivered.
Finally, this same woman ushers us to the front of the ticket counter, sees my passport, then sends us to the business class line where there is just one person waiting. Okay…
We wait for another 30 minutes behind one guy who is haggling about his luggage. Instead of telling ole dimwit here that his bags weigh what they weigh, he has to pay what he’s got to pay, and there are other people in the line – the passenger and the counter lady proceed to banter back and forth, oscillating between snide remarks and sweet nothings so that he can try to get on this flight with his ten bags, three family members and no extra luggage fees in tow. Now it is officially an hour before our flight is set to leave, we haven’t gone through security yet, and we’re watching this tomfoolery take place. Then another guy comes on the side of the line with a smirk and a grin, as if he’s going to get in front of us. I’m about to flip out at this point and I yell something like “Hey, there’s a line!” He’s like “I had to pay baggage fees. I’m just coming back to pay. I was already in the line.” I think, “Kill me now!”
I finally ask another woman who is seemingly ornamental, because she has really been of no use whatsoever til this point, if we can just go back into the regular line. As soon as she opens the elastic barricades, a short Homer Simpson of a Congolese man decides to walk in front of us to get his bags weighed. “WHOA! WHOA! Buddy!” is what I said, when I’m really thinking “What the f*ck?!” He eats up another five minutes talking with the counter lady, and then it’s finally our turn. FINALLY!
It has officially been an hour and half, behind only ten people, and we haven’t even gone through security yet. But, now, finally I can get my goddamn boarding pass. Turns out, we’re underweight by 10 pounds in one bag. Yippie! And the lady now wants to see my credit card. “Sure, here you go.” What happens next then almost causes me to lose my shizznit, and if it weren’t for the fact that I have to catch this plane or else I’m stuck in this country, I likely would’ve reached over the counter to strangle this woman.
They now need a photocopy of my credit card and passport. Where is said photocopier? Your guess is as good as mine. So, they proceed to try to take a camera phone picture of my card and passport. When I turn my back in disgust and say, “I can’t believe these people.” The lady says, “Madam, we would not misuse your card.”
Oh great, now I feel reassured. Your word means a lot. Thanks lady.
The lady proceeds to ask me to sign a blank sheet of paper. That’s when I flip out. Officially, unabashedly, shizznit is flipped. “Are you kidding me? Why am I signing this? You must be out of your mind if you think I’m going to sign a blank sheet of paper. For what? Is it my fault that you people haven’t thought through how this should work. What kinda rinky dink airline is this? What kind of airport has no copier when you need to make copies. No copy machine and now you want me to sign a blank sheet of paper. And then what? You must not know ‘bout me. I can’t wait to get out of this airport so I can file a complaint. This is ridiculous!”
Lady useless then returns and says she’ll go to the back to make the copy since I’ve now refused to sign a M-Fin blank sheet of F_ _kin paper in what’s supposed to be one of the best mid-sized airports in the world. I call Bullshit on that! Absolutely, positively, one of the worst customer service black holes on earth is Terminal 3 of IGIA. By the way, what kind of business advertises that they are second best? Yes, IGIA, you should win an award for keeping it classy!
The lady behind the counter then asks me to wait ten minutes until the other woman comes back with the copies. “Now I have to wait ten minutes because you guys don’t have your act together. If you need a copy of something, you would think you brilliant people could figure out that you might, just maybe, need a copier machine. Trying to take a photo of my credit card with a friggin’ camera phone. How many times have I said this is ridiculous in the last two hours? UGH!” “Well that’s why we were trying to use the phone and have you sign the paper – so you wouldn’t have to wait,” she says.
Now I would have liked to back slap her for back talking as if I were a pimp named Slickback. But, I’m supposed to be a professional, and I’m supposed to have acculturated out of wanting to solve my problems with violence (I have a long ways to go, I tell ya’). I reply through gritted teeth, “Only an idiot would sign a blank sheet of paper. I don’t even know how you could ask me with a straight face to sign a blank sheet of paper. So that was your bright idea? You thought that would work? Hmmm…. Education at its best here in New Delhi. I tell you.”
We wait. And we wait. And we wait some more. Luckily my line at security is always shorter than the rest, so I’m pretty sure we can still make it on to my flight – even if we’re the last to sit. So, I wait. I try to read a book, but I’m so pissed at this point, the words are floating. Finally, lady useless returns with a copy, my passport, and my credit card. I sign the copy and head to security and customs – which happened to be a breeze. We head to the gate, only to find no one there. Then we realize we have to go down two flights of stairs to the underbelly gate where there are about 100 people waiting. Half of them are male, Indian, visibly migrant workers in oversized clothing huddled together, far away from the other travelers – Africans who all seem really excited to be getting on this plane and out of this city. Everybody is trying to use one vending machine that proceeds to eat the 10 Rupees we inserted for a bottle of water. Thanks again IGIA. You stay keeping it classy!
I’ll spare you the next 14 hours of dirty rest rooms, the disorganized transfer terminal in Ethiopia and crappy air hostesses. As if getting out of India weren’t enough, the tuk tuk with wings that delivered us to Africa was a wild ride in and of itself.
May my next fight out of India be my last!