That Delhi fog

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

It all began with the ordeal of enduring a long wait of going through security checks entering the NAIA 1 terminal last Wednesday. My wife Menchu and I were booked to fly to Jodhpur, India, via Bangkok and New Delhi to celebrate our 39th wedding anniversary and attend the opening of an art exhibit by our dear friend Katherine Virgils at the Fort Mehrangarh in Rajasthan state’s second largest city which is 585 kilometers from the nation’s capital and 250 kilometers from the Pakistan border.

The problem wasn’t in the security checks which were carried out efficiently by inspectors. The problem was with the kilometric queues, forming from two entrances to the terminal, which became unwieldy as the lines formed out into the sidewalks. Then, there were line jumpers, showing lack of discipline and patience, to contend with – probably chasing boarding deadlines.   Only two security conveyors worked to attend to thousands of travellers so that’s an issue the airport management should address. Can you imagine the terrible impression we leave to foreign visitors? It’s also a disservice to our OFWs.

After passing through the initial security check, the next challenge was lining up to get  boarding passes at the Thai Airways counter. We would’ve preferred to fly Philippine Airlines but PAL doesn’t do the India direct route any longer. The check-in proceeded without a hitch but wondered if anything would happen to our luggage before they’re loaded for Bangkok. Some years ago, Menchu was victimized at NAIA 1 when unscrupulous pilferers broke into her luggage to steal a camera with a priceless memory card of pictures before boarding a delayed Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong. We reported the incident to NAIA 1 management and were assured of an investigation but the assurance was all we got. We never found out if the investigation was even carried out and where Menchu’s camera went.

* * *

Our boarding time was 12:30 p.m. for the 1:10 pm flight to Bangkok on TG621. The boarding was postponed by about 30 minutes and we finally got off the ground close to 2 p.m. The three-hour flight was smooth. At the Bangkok airport, we tucked in for the eight-hour layover to catch the flight to Delhi. We walked around the terminal to kill time, checked our email and chatted with family on viber at the Silk Lounge. Then came the bomb. Our flight to Delhi was reset to the next morning, Thursday, at 8 a.m. That meant spending the night in Bangkok and missing our 11:10 a.m. connection to Jodhpur. The reason was low visibility in Delhi because of fog.

Because the delay wasn’t aircraft-related, we weren’t provided a hotel to stay in for the night. Thai Airways took pity on affected passengers and kept the Silk Lounge open through the evening even if it was supposed to close at 2 a.m. So Menchu and I slept on uncomfortable leatherette sofas without a pillow or blanket that night. We got through our travel agent Mau Tan of Global Link by overseas phone and she rebooked us on an Air India flight to Jodhpur on Friday. We would miss the connection to Jodhpur on Thursday and were forced to spend that night in Delhi. We never planned to spend more than a few hours of waiting in Delhi.

The next morning, the flight from Bangkok to Delhi was delayed about an hour more. In all, we spent 18 hours in the Bangkok airport. There are only two flights from Delhi to Jodhpur every day and we missed them both on Thursday. Our original booking on JetAir was declared a no-show because of the delay. So we wound up staying at the Ibis Hotel near the Delhi airport on Thursday night. We got on an Air India flight to Jodhpur on Friday morning and finally arrived at our destination 45 hours after leaving Manila.

* * *

Hopefully, our travel insurers will pay us back for the unexpected expenses in booking a hotel in Delhi for one night and a new flight to Jodhpur via Air India.  Friday’s opening of the art exhibit was at 11:30 a.m. with His Highness Maharajah Gaj Singh as guest of honor. We got to the Ajit Bhawan Hotel at 2:30 p.m. so we also missed the opening because of that blasted Delhi fog. 

Now, we can’t really blame Thai Airways for refusing to fly against the fog. The safety of passengers is the highest priority and we appreciate that. Maybe, Thai Airways could’ve done a better job of looking out for passengers who missed connecting flights and arranged for some kind of a recovery plan. As it turned out, we were on our own, making endless calls to Manila with our cellphones. We were lucky Mau, as resourceful as ever, sorted out the mess.

When we finally saw Katherine and her husband Peter, we couldn’t believe we’d made it to Jodhpur. That Friday night, we had our 39th anniversary dinner at the Fort rooftop with Katherine, Peter and our other friends Joss and Jayne who own and run a London antique shop patronized by the royalty and celebrities like Mick Jagger. Katherine, a multi-media artist, was our next-door neighbor in Bel-Air, Makati, where I grew up and Menchu’s Maryknoll (now Miriam) schoolmate. Katherine is American and lived in Manila for two years while her father Russell Virgils was employed as an engineering consultant by Meralco. 

More on Jodhpur in tomorrow’s column.

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