It took us 74 minutes two weeks ago to enter the airport. It is now time to experience the blissful experience of actually being in.
Lets concretise the experience. Imagining you are taking an international flight out of Chennai airport, arguably the worst airport in the land. You may recall that the last step before being allowed entry into the hallowed portal is a painful check of your ticket and papers by an uniformed worthy. Immediately after you enter, within 10 yards, the same process repeats itself as you enter a fenced off area - another queue, another check.
You then proceed to yet another queue - this time to screen your baggage through an Xray machine . Not even in Timbuktu airport in Mali, which is essentially a cowshed, does this process take place. Huge queue. People on overloaded trolleys banging you from the back. Since Indians have a general disdain for queues, seven sub queues form which ultimately merge into one chaotic rugby scrum . And unique Chennai practice dictates that your bags be fed into the conveyor upside down - ostensibly the logic is that giving a through shaking of your bag is good for general health.
Having navigated this successfully, you then proceed to check in where it is an axiom that larger the flight, the smaller will be the number of open counters. No less than 5 persons will be at each counter - one operating and the others interfering. Inevitably each person checking in will have a slanging match on overweight baggage - after all every worthy has checked in with 100kgs which she is expecting to be taking for free. When told a firm No - she proceeds to open all her bags right here to retransfer stuff from one bag to another so that at least one bag could be left behind with the adoring multitudes who have come to see her off. So enough entertainment to occupy you for a full hour.
If you successfully navigate check in then you proceed to immigration. After the fall of the Soviet Union, India and North Korea stand unique among the league of nations where the immigration check for home nationals is more intense on the way out, than on the way in. He patiently flips through each page on your passport and wants to know why you are adding to his work by going somewhere - why can you not simply stay at home.
Then comes the famous security line. India stands unique in demanding that you put a silly baggage tag on your hand baggage which has got to be stamped - the most useless security measure I have seen anywhere in the world. Only one xray machine is working. There are no less than 7 people manning it - one feeding the bags, one seeing the stuff on the machine, one stamping that silly tag, and four resting. Just as your turn comes after 54 minutes of waiting, there come the cabin crew trooping in for your flight. They have priority, of course and you sigh as that lot jumps the queue. And just as you get ready to finally "make it" you are rudely shoved aside, by the Minister coming with a retinue of 12 all of whom have priority.
Phew. Past the security check, at last. Immediately your ears are bombarded with shrill announcements delivered at 1000 decibels and completely unintelligible. I am firmly convinced that the only criteria airlines use to select ground crew is that they must be completely in love with the sound of their own voices. Totally pointless announcements non stop, yelled in English, Hindi and the local language. Yelling for some passenger or the other to contact somebody or the other - and since they cannot get their names right, it makes for some comedy; the only saving grace. Announcing "boarding procedure" for a 20 seater aircraft which everybody ignores anyway. Asking you to check your baggage tack. Asking you to go to the loo.
The getting on to the plane. A long line has formed 2 hours before the plane is due to board. And since its late coming in from wherever its supposed to come from, its a three hour wait. Yet people love to queue up - there must be some intense satisfaction in getting on to the plane first ; a joy that has thus far eluded me. Maybe the fear that your seat may not be there if you are not the first to get in.
Aerobridges are only for ornamental purposes; they are not meant to be used. So you are told to stand on a rickety bus hanging on for dear life by the boot straps as the Lewis Hamilton wannabe shows off his braking and acceleration skills.
At last you get in. Only to find that the blighters before you have stuffed every available space overhead. The seat has basically been built for the pygmies of Andamans. You are wedged in the middle between two fat ladies who should have bought two tickets each to accommodate their bulk. Its 3 AM in the morning. Ah ! What bliss it has been.