Having been globe-trotting for the last 6 or 7 years and making like-minded traveller friends everywhere, one line that I have heard most of my friends say, and which I never had a chance to say myself, was:
“I missed my flight!”
Despite being a sticky situation to be in, and despite me making fun of them almost immediately when they tell me, there was always a tinge of jealousy somewhere inside me when I hear that line. I mean, when you think of somebody missing their flight, the first impression you have is of someone who has travelled so much that he does not care about another flight.
Think of it like this, when it is your first flight ever, you come to the airport 3 hours before the departure time, and checked in 2 hours before. But when you have taken about 20 flights, you figure out that you need to check-in just 60 minutes before departure. And without you knowing it, you gradually grow in arrogance in your ability to just-in-time your departures.
Fortunately, the above never happened to me. Even after flying multiple times, I still came to the airport minimum 2 hours before departure, and mostly 3 hours before. And despite my urge to smoke one more cigarette, I ensured that I checked in first, and then proceeded to find a smoking room inside the airport. The closest I came to missing a flight was a domestic flight between Langkawi and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, and then too, I was boarded with just a 10 ringgit penalty for a delayed boarding pass by Airasia.
No more. From today, I can claim that I missed a flight too. But this miss was weirder and wackier than any other misses recorded by any of my travelling buddies. To be fair, it’s even a touch embarrassing for me.
Because, I didn’t miss a flight because of the normal lame reasons like ‘I fell asleep’, or ‘I was stuck in traffic’, or ‘DAMN THE METRO!’. I missed it because I was too lazy to read the clock correctly. Yeah, that sounds embarrassing already.
So after all the hurried capers in Cairo, when my host dropped me off at the Cairo airport terminal 1 at 8.30 PM, I was as relaxed as ever because my flight was only at 10.45. So, I smoked a cigarette outside the airport, said a detailed and delayed goodbye to my wonderful host and his wife, and then finally proceeded to take a stroll inside by around 8.45 PM. I looked at the TV screen for the check-in counter, and found my Jordanian Air flight to Amman. But on the screen, right next to the flight, it said ‘final call’. I was confused. I have seen ‘final call’ statuses for boarding, but was there a final call now for check-ins too?
And then my eyes fell of the scheduled time of departure. 8.45 PM.
8.45 PM. It definitely was 8.45 PM.
I frantically checked my flight ticket. The airline MUST have made a change without informing me. Those stupid clowns! How can it be my mistake when my flight ticket clearly said 20:45 and these guys changed the departure time to 8:45 PM.
20:45. It clearly said 20:45! Fuck!
I slowly had a dawning sense of my own stupidity, when my kindergarden brain sifted through lessons learnt a long time ago, to come to the slow realisation that 20 on a 24 hour clock, was 8 PM on a 12 hour clock. NOT 10 PM!! Oh, the embarrassment levels in Cairo were off the radar!
The cursing could wait. I ran to the security to explain my situation. In Cairo airport, you had to get past the security before you could get to the check in counters, and the security would turn you back if you missed your flight. And so he did in Arabic, while smoking a cigarette casually (Everybody smokes INSDE the airport in Cairo). I understood his Arabic only because of the waving action he made with his hand. I tried to argue back, saying that the flight was still there, and I could still get in if he let me, hoping that he understood my English. Although it should have departed by 8:45 PM, IT WAS STILL THERE because of some delay!!
He moved his heavy head ever-so-slowly towards the TV screen with departures, and then turned to me and said the only words he spoke in English that night.
I looked to the screen, and true to his damned words, the Royal Jordanian Air flight showed ‘Departed’. It was gone. I had missed my first flight ever. I stood for a second to inhale the moment. The security guy stood opposite me, staring at me and inhaling the cigarette.
After a few seconds, I looked to the screen again. There was not another flight to Amman till the end of the departures board, which was at least till 6 AM. I was close to devastated. I looked around for help, and saw the Jordanian airline office. Went there to try my luck on the next available ticket. IT WAS LOCKED!
I could go online and book the next ticket, if only I could find some Internet. I went back to the Security guy, aka the Arabic scholar, and asked him where I can find some internet. The next 10 minutes consisted of me using all known hand gestures to explain to him what internet was. I did the ‘click’ gesture, and he took out his box of tobacco. I did the ‘typing’ gesture, he gave me a sheet of paper. I even showed him my laptop and smartphone, but I couldn’t get the idea of internet into his head.
Finally, a savior of an Egyptian gentleman passed by who spoke some English, and more importantly, knew what the internet was. He explained that there was no wifi in the airport that he knew of, and that the Jordanian air office would open next day morning. But he said I could try my luck at the Egyptair office which was still open.
There was not much hope, because the departure screen showed nothing till morning anyway, so I had already decided to go back to my host’s place. But I felt it was better to book a ticket now anyway, since I wouldn’t have to come back early for it tomorrow.
So, went to Egyptair, and asked about their next flight to Amman.
“11:15”, the guy said.
“11:15 AM is too late for me, don’t you have anything earlier”, I asked.
“Not 11:15 AM, 11:15 PM, just 2 hours from now.”
Wait. What? “The departure board said there were no more flights to Amman today. Are you talking about today?”
“Yep, there are no more flights today to Amman, FROM terminal 1. But there is a flight to Amman from Terminal 3.”
Finally, a ray of sunshine! I didn’t talk much after that. Exchanged every bit of US dollar that I had, and booked a one-way ticket to Amman. The price turned out to be cheaper, because it was a late-night flight. Well, I am merely trying to console myself about the loss incurred by missing my original flight, so engage me please!
Then, I made a mad dash to Terminal 3. As mad as I could on the once-every-10-minute shuttle between the 2 terminals, and finally fulfilled my life-long dream of flying on Egyptair. (Read through the sarcasm in those lines). I had spent an extra 200 dollars, and had missed a good 2 hours of sleep that I could have had in Amman. But hey, if I didn’t miss my flight and travelled from terminal 1 to terminal 3, how else would I have known that Cairo is one of the few airports in the world to have a ‘seasonal flights terminal’? Well, I do have to find reasons to keep myself uplifted after today’s fiasco!
It’s all good now. I Took the 1 hour flight to Amman, sitting next to 2 rough looking arab guys who fiddled around with their phones, talking into it even after the plane took off. My Hollywood-trained eyes kept looking at every move they did, and was ready for any emergency. Well, turned out they were taking their first flight ever, and were just plain nervous. Somebody calm my nerves!!
Reached Amman, issued a Visa-on-arrival for 20 Jordanian Dinar (the only arab country where Indians have a VOA), took a taxi to my hostel, checked in, and wrote this post. I will weep a quick tear before I sleep.