A Disaster of a Journey

A Disaster of a Journey

For the fourth time in 6 months I took to the skies and headed for Pune, India. It’s a journey I know well, from the layout of the airports, to the nonchalant security guards in India and the smell of Dubai.

But this trip was unlike any of my previous trips. Firstly, we were flying out on a Monday and returning on the Friday, meaning we would spend (nearly) as much time in transit as we would in India. And secondly, we had planned to travel a different route due to leaving Durban in the morning, rather than on the usual evening flight. As a result we had to route through Jorburg, meaning the trip now had 4 legs rather than the usual 3. We were also planning to fly from Dubai to Mumbai, and then to drive the roughly 3 hours to Pune. This was however changed at the last minute when we discovered it was monsoon season and were told that driving was not advisable. This meant our planned route ended up being Durban – Joburg – Dubai – Delhi – Pune. Ouch!

I left home at 3:45am and picked up my 2 colleagues on route to the airport. Everything got off to a good start as we lifted off for Joburg on time, but an hour later everything changed. As we descended into Joburg it was evident that thick fog was covering the airport. Looking out of the window all I could see were the tips of the tallest buildings peaking out from a white blanket. Amazingly there was no fog to the left or the right of the airport, but this was of little help to us.

We began our descent into the thick fog to land, and instantly lost visibility. Seconds later the roar of the engines intensified, the planes nose lifted, and we climbed back above the fog as the pilot aborted the landing. This was followed by an announcement that we were being diverted to Lanceria which was roughly 60 kilometers away. I guess we were lucky as other planes had been diverted as far away as Bloemfontein.

For the next hour and a half we sat on the tarmac at Lanceria, as we were not allowed to leave the aircraft. This quickly put an end to our original plans of rushing off the plane and catching an Uber to OR Thambo. Eventually the fog cleared and we took off for what was my shortest ever commercial flight, across the width of Joburg.

At OR Tambo we had a great meal while speaking to our office travel agent. Morale was still high despite the obvious delay. Perhaps this was helped by the fact that all 3 of us were travelling with hand luggage. So while we had just left the plane and headed through to international departures, other passengers were queuing at the baggage counter to try and locate lost luggage. The confusion seemed to be that they of had checked their luggage through to their final destinations, and then had missed the connecting flights, leaving their luggage somewhere in limbo.

With new tickets in hand we headed for the Emirates lounge, hoping to relax there for the next 4 hours. I made good use of the walk to the lounge by mocking Mark who didn’t have lounge access, although Mahen assured us he could take in a guest as he was a gold member. Much to my dismay karma hit hard when I was turned away – apparently my silver status only gets me lounge access in Dubai, not in Joburg. Mark’s quick thinking – and FNB – saved the day as we headed for the Slow Lounge. Soon we all had beers in hand, and some much needed wifi. Yes, it was probably a bit early (for beer), but we felt we’d earned it thanks to the delay.

From Joburg we boarded the 1pm flight to Dubai which ran smoothly, as Emirates flights generally do. Being a (mostly) daytime flight we hadn’t had much sleep when we touched down in Dubai.

An Emirates plane

We instantly made our way to the business class lounge where we enjoyed a shower, some better food, and another beer or two. It was now around midnight back home and, having woken up at 3:30am, we were starting to feel the effects of the delay. Mahen used this opportunity to inform us he’d been upgraded to first class, to which Mark and I grunted, knowing we wouldn’t get much sleep in cabin class during the 4 hour flight to Delhi.

After walking to the wrong end of the airport we were forced to take a golf cart to our gate, in order to not miss our flight. This added some munched needed excitement to a sleepy moment and got us going again. Much to my amazement, when we reached the gate and I handed in my ticket, the attendant ripped it up and replaced it with a shiny business class ticket (okay, it wasn’t actually shiny, but it definitely felt like it). Mark faked a smile while I tried to hide mine. He then politely raised his middle finger to us as we headed off down the first (and business) class tunnel.

Mahen’s first class “room” was amazing. A small bar, plenty of room, a desk, a huge TV, and the privacy of a door. But it took nothing away from my first business class experience.

I was served champagne as I sat down in my larger chair, and then went through what looked liked an amazing breakfast and drinks menu. I say looked amazing as I didn’t actually eat anything from the menu. I was in a quandary as to whether I should stay awake and experience business class, or whether I should sleep. The reclining chair won and soon I was fast asleep, lying flat, and feeling sorry for Mark. It truly does make a massive difference to sleep. This was of course after I fiddled with all the buttons, accidentally dropping the partition while trying to recline my char – an act that got me a very dirty look from a fellow passenger.

Enjoying my first business class experience

Semi refreshed, we joined up with a red eyed Mark in New Delhi and made our way to the domestic lounge for our final wait. The Delhi domestic business class lounge was by far the worst of the 3 lounges we’d been in. Firstly, it was the most cramped. Secondly, beers weren’t free. And finally, there was a very loud speaker screeching out boarding announcements every few minutes. The Indian food was however great, so not all was bad.

Eventually the annoying speaker bellowed our flight number, and we headed for the gate. Luck was clearly still not with us as we were quickly informed that the flight was delayed by 15 minutes. This quickly turned to over an hour and by the time we landed in Pune, and drove to our hotel, our total journey had taken around 34 painful hours.

Less than 3 days later our return leg seemed to get off to equally as bad a start…

After boarding our first flight slightly behind schedule we began taxiing for takeoff. Then, somewhat unexpectedly, we turned around and returned to our bay. This was followed by an announcement that we had a technical glitch and that the ground  crew were looking at it.

We sat on the runway for over an hour, in immense heat (as the air con was also not working), before finally getting going. And then, just after getting into the air, some sudden, unexpected and rather severe turbulence left people looking scared, and quickly fastening their seat belts. It also meant no coffee was served during the flight.

Thankfully however this was the end of our misfortunes and the rest of the journey went as well as expected.

It wasn’t all bad – the company was great, we had some fantastic craft beers from several countries, and I got to experience business class. I guess every cloud does have a silver lining.