Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Navigating the Kathmandu Airport or The Saga of Much Security and Many Stamps

An open letter to Jeff and Jen

Leave early for the airport. Bring aspirin. Breathe deep.

First, stand in line to get into the airport building. It’s slow progress because
1. There’s a crush of people.
2. Suitcases go through an x-ray machine with a warning sign: Caution – put no body parts inside this machine.
3. The suitcases are wrapped with a yellow security band before they are released.
4. Men are searched in the line and women are searched inside of a small curtained area. I’m not sure what I was searched for but I rarely put things in the places that were checked.
5. Everyone pushes.

So, you get inside and purchase a departure coupon at the bank. There are two lines – for nationals and foreigners. For us, the foreigners line was on the left and was much shorter but progress was slow. The charge to go to Delhi was 1365 and we didn’t have enough Rupees so had to combine payment in US dollars at an unfavorable exchange rate.

The coupon is actually a set of 4 coupons, perforated on one sheet. Periodically these will be stamped and torn and collected.

The next step is to go to the check-in line. Jet Air was on the far left of the terminal near where we jostled to enter the building. We stood in a line that we evaluated as moving at a snail’s pace. Little did we know.

The sign said that there could be only one carry on but when we were on the plane we saw people with up to four carry on cases so it’s an expansive “one”.

Finally we went upstairs where we stood for an hour without moving. None of the lines seemed to move. We stopped to fill in our embarkation forms and moved to the line but I recommend that you take a form to the line and work on it in line. It’ll give you something to do.

We stood and stood and talked and talked – with an American couple who had spent a lovely time in Nepal and looked forward to three weeks in India. I didn’t envy them the next three weeks.

We were standing behind 20 people at our boarding time so we jumped over to the diplomat line and begged. They sent us back. Other people jumped and went through so we returned to the diplomat line and with the help of another agent we were allowed to stay. Stickers were affixed to our passports and the boarding pass was stamped and I think the last bits of our departure tickets were collected so we were on our way. Except we weren’t.

There was another security check. The bags went through on the far left and people were checked on the right – separate areas for men and women again. We walked right down the center of the room to leave but were sent back to a row of tables for a visual check of our bags and stamps on both sides of our boarding passes.

We were not certain what people were looking at or for. We didn’t take our liquids out of our bags and nobody looked at my computer. Rick even came through with a bottle of water.

So, we went to the boarding area and we were on our way except that we weren’t.

Jet Air uses the second waiting room and the woman at the door said that it would be at least 30 minutes before boarding so I went into the restroom and came out to find all hell had broken loose. They announced boarding for flight 9w262. We were on flight 9w261.

Did Jet Air have two flights to Delhi at the same time? It didn’t seem right so I gently shoved forward (learned this in recent line experience) to ask and was told that the two numbers were the same flight. We went to the boarding bus.

Finally, we were going to be on the plane and out of lines – or not. At the bottom of the stairs was a little tent with one more security check of our bags and one more physical search of the men on the steps and of the women inside a curtained area.

The whole thing took 3 hours from the time we left our hotel for the 30 minute taxi ride until we sat on the plane. We were in a queue all of that time, never sat down and only made it to our plane because it was 15 minutes late and that’s with jumping into the diplomat’s line. When I filled out the evaluation for Jet Air I mentioned some of this though fatigue kept the comments short.

When you leave Kathmandu, you should consider giving yourself lots of time. May the 36 million gods of the Hindus smile on you and your luggage.


PS: The Delhi airport isn’t much easier to deal with. They say that you can’t go in more than three hours before your flight and so offer space in a lounge for 30 Rupees for 3 hours, The lounge has a blaring TV set, a monitor for flight information, a couple of souvenir shops and some nasty chairs.

We sat chairs that were chained together in front of the chained emergency exit on a long glass wall. On the other side of the glass were dozens of people stretched out under or on blankets on the ground sleeping. Our entire 6 hour stay was punctuated with beeping horns. I honestly and without exaggeration don’t think that there were more than a few two-second pauses in the beeping the whole time.

There is a toilet downstairs that offers free urinals, 1 Rupee flush toilets and 2 Rupee baths. Rick offered me 3 Rupees if I would take a bath there and while I needed one I declined.

On the level with the lounge are other toilets. In the lady’s the attendant slept fitfully on a sheet of cardboard. She must have been exhausted and I wondered if she worked 2 or more jobs. As a bonus to travelers the toilets are free and have the comforts of home.

Two hours before our flight we dutifully began seeking our boarding area. Rick chased down a man in a Finn Air sweater when he came out of the men’s room and this man directed us to gate 3 but there were hundreds of people crowding the area so it was difficult to find where progress toward entry could be made.

Getting in took time and as with the Kathmandu airport we went through security and had our bags banded but didn’t thankfully need a departure coupon. If everyone in that airport had to stand in line for a departure ticket, planes would never take off.

Clutching boarding passes we went through customs and then through another security check where I was shunted off to a curtained area for my body search. If Rick hadn’t been there to pick up my computer and bag I don’t know what would have happened.

It took 2 hours to get inside, get the passes, go through customs and security and our flight was called to board while I was still in line to be searched.

All of which is to say, don’t expect an easy time in the Delhi airport and allow yourself 3 (miserable) hours.

Post PS
We made it to Helsinki, sat for hours and hours and boarded the plane but someone had a medical emergency and the plane took her to Iceland. The stop wasn't quick because of course they had to remove her luggage also.

The extra trip meant an extra 4 hours and we missed our connection to Rochester. Since Finn Air didn't have to take us further they didn't owe us anything and we have to sit around here for 12 hours to go home. As a bonus, our car parking will expire before we get to it so there is some chance it will be towed. Can you hear me scream?

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