Just before 1130, the monitor displaying flight statuses said "Gate Open" for our flight, which had been originally scheduled to leave at 1125. So we walked down to the relevant gate, where things looked chaotic. (Then again, most gates looked chaotic that morning). People were crowded around 2-3 uniformed officials, all talking in low, urgent tones. The officials didn't seem to be saying much. A few passengers pushed through the crowd and harangued the officials. I had no desire to add to whatever pressure the uniforms felt, so I got in the line and pulled out my book ("Being John McEnroe") to read while we waited.
One of the haranguers came back past me, telling a friend behind me that the PM was flying in, so "no traffic movements at all." Another came back muttering "bullshit cheapos" under his breath. I tried to stay patient, kept reading.
At exactly noon, someone announced the departure of our flight. Many folks milling around suddenly snapped to attention and joined the line. We showed our boarding passes and clambered up steep stairs into the bus. When it was bursting with passengers, it moved. At walking pace -- I am not making this up -- we meandered all the way across the tarmac to an aircraft with a smartly-coloured tail. When we neared, I noticed passengers streaming out of the plane. It had clearly just landed and was still offloading passengers.
So we waited. From where our bus stood, I had a good view of a moving ramp being used to load baggage belonging to Delhi passengers like me onto the plane. From a cart, two handlers put a bag on the ramp. Then another. Both moved angularly upwards. At the top, one was stopped by the lip of the aircraft's baggage compartment door. The other bag bumped gently into this one, then just as gently toppled off the ramp and fell about 15 feet to the ground below.
In quick succession, seven more bags did the same slow-motion toppling act. Like a Marx Brothers film. I didn't know whether to be amused or angry. In between, I did see my own bag making the ascent, and somehow it didn't fall. My bottle of home-made chutney would survive.
Eventually, we climbed the steps into the plane and found our seats. Within minutes, the hostess asked us for our boarding passes. There were three others who had the same seats as us, assigned to them. This turned out to be a common complaint this morning: up and down the plane, people were finding folks sitting on their assigned seats who had been assigned those seats too.
The staff took some time to sort all this confusion out. In between one man who was escorted to a free seat suddenly balked and began shouting: "Yeh koi tarika hai seat badalne ka?" ("Is this any way to change my seat?") He refused to sit down unless he was given his originally assigned seat, now taken by someone else also assigned to that seat. The airline official explained that the flight could not leave unless he sat down. Eventually he sat.
We left the gate at 1305. An hour and 40 minutes late.
On the ground in Bombay, we were standing at the conveyor belt waiting for our bag to arrive. Before the belt started moving, a uniformed head poked through the plastic strips at the end and asked my 11 year-old, standing nearest to the strips: "Yeh [the airline name] hai, na?" ("This is [the airline name], right?")
Which, all in all, seemed like an appropriate coda to an oddball flight experience.
All right, you sharp-eyed dudettes and dudes will have noticed that I excised the airline name since I first posted this. Just that I'm not interested in any possible lengthy wrangles.