Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A one week hellish trip to nowhere

A family acquaintance, whose name I won't mention for reasons that will be obvious, sent me this missive.

Ye gods, what a path through Purgatory... It sounds like one of my nightmares where I get lost on trains and planes and can't even remember where I was going in the first place (metaphor for life? nah...)

All this time he's been sending me email, and I'm trying to figure out how he's up so late at night in India. Now I realize he was doing his email from hotels, airport benches and who knows where else. Sigh...

Another family acquaintance responded with his normal humorous form "and I was just fighting freeway traffic!"

It's snowing in New York. How do I know? Because I'm in New York, instead of New Delhi, India. I wish it were a long story, but it was only a long plane ride.

After leaving London on a 7:30 am flight after not sleeping the night before (the taxi came at 4:30 am), I arrived in Helsinki at noon, then hung around the tidy airport for an hour until called to queue for my flight to New Delhi. I handed over my boarding card and passport, and watched with half a mind (my mode of concentration up to this
point) until the Finn Air employee told me that I didn't seem to have a visa. "Oh, I don't need a visa for India," I said.

Some clickety-clacks on the computer and a phone call later, I was told, with ruthless Scandinavian efficiency, that indeed I did need a visa, and while the plane was going to New Delhi, I was not. Americans, it seems, are not welcome without reservation the world over. Americans who can't be bothered to check visa requirements doubly so...

It was Saturday, all offices closed until Monday, usual 10-day wait for visas. For a microsecond I toyed for with the idea of a wintertime vacation in Helsinki, but then looking out the window at the 2;30pm sunset, I decided to go home.

That's when I began to get very acquainted with the high cost of bad planning. From 2:30 pm Helsinki time on Sunday, this was my path.

1. Exit (forlornly) the Helsinki departure lounge.

2. Haggle with Finn Air to get a ticket back to London. They eventually gave me my return leg from Helsinki without charge.

3. Back through security

4. 6 pm flight to London, arrive 8-ish. Wait an hour for my bag, which with ruthless Scandinavian efficiency Finn Air told me I had to check (1 kg. overweight)

5. Hie myself to American Airlines, get there just before the ticket desk closed. Of course I had just missed the last flight, but could take another flight the next day ($200 change fee).

6. A night of purgatory at the Comfort Inn Heathrow, only 1/2 hour away and "cheap" at 75 pounds ($150). Hot water worked fine, but no cold water. No washcloth either, but I managed with the corner of a towel and a decent time to let the water cool. I could have gone into London, but that's a long trip and friend Peter was away at a
conference and I'd thrown his keys through the mail slot. And I was ashamed.

7. Back to Heathrow and "has your luggage been with you at all times?" (Yes, for the last week.)

8. Arrive New York Sunday night.

During this time I told just one person what had happened, the guy I was supposed to meet the next morning in New Delhi.

No harm done; the schmoozing that I was to do in India has been re- scheduled back here in the States, but I feel like a fool. Since then, I've told a few other people, citing "family reasons."

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