Christiane has kindly allowed me to translate her blog entries about her recent trip to India.

Hell Airways (Original German text)

Hell Airways

What a day! What can you expect, when you’ve only had a few hours sleep and the day started at 5 am? But in the end everything was fine. My stomach may be telling me that the sleep deprivation and the hot food aren’t the best for it. The car to the airport came (as always) late, but we had enough time. Today’s program was a domestic flight with Jet Airways. Departure: Bangalore Domestic Airport. The trip to the airport was very interesting – we drove through untidied areas, past slums, and saw cows that grazed between the shops wherever there was forage. The Domestic Airpot looked like a storage building with corrugated walls. Only passengers were allowed inside. Since we had e-tickets, we couldn’t prove we were entitled to enter the building. At the ticket counter outside we were told we should just go in, but a grim gentleman in a beige uniform didn’t agree. He sent us back out. I ignored him and just went past him. After a great deal of discussion (a very popular pastime here), we all got in. Afterwards I wondered if he didn’t just want us to bribe him.

At check-in we were assigned economy seats, as business class was apparently overbooked. We were happy just to be in possession of boarding passes. I was able, as before, to take my luggage as carryon. But there some question about checking luggage. My wheelchair was subject to numerous comments as I went through security. A woman hand-screened me. Then another beige uniform noticed me. More discussion. He wanted the wheelchair to be scanned. I offered to go through the metal detector again. It would be completely useless, I thought, but it would satisfy his sense of importance. Nothing doing! He insisted the wheelchair go through the luggage scanner. I pointed out the camel-through-the-eye-of-a-needle-ness of it, without success. A supervisor arrived. And another. And they all wanted the wheelchair scanned. I advised them that this made no sense – x-raying 10 kilos of metal? Here’s what I didn’t realize: they knew this. But the rule came from Delhi, all luggage loaded in Bangalore must be scanned. No scan, no flight.

Ok, I took the wheelchair apart. First the rear wheels went through, then the rest was supposed to go through. And – wonder of wonders! – the rest didn’t fit. I asked another journalist not to let the wheelchair parts out of his sight. At some point they vanished, and came back in a good mood – they had found a bigger scanner. I put the wheelchair back together and off we went. They took me and a colleague to the airplane first. At the exit were a bunch of busses, but our guide steadily took us past them. They had steps. He decided we’d just go straight to the airplane in the field. So we wandered towards the plane, taking care not be run over by baggage-laden trucks or other planes. It was crazy. I figured out on the way that they had absolutely no idea how they were going to get me on the plane, and that turned out to be true. We got to the plane. There were the steps, and the airline personnel staring at me curiously. I felt like I was on “Sendung mit der Maus erinnert”: This is Christiane. Christiane cannot walk, but needs to board the plane. How will she do it?

I asked about an aisle chair. Unknown concept. Then they decided they would carry me up in my own wheelchair. Ten carriers materialized, and they bore me into the plane as if in a sedan chair. But I still hadn’t reached my seat. The aisle was too narrow for the chair. The crew helpfully suggested I try walking. I said that wasn’t very likely, and earned astonished faces. I suggested we remove a rear wheel and try it that way. The helpers held the wheelchair up on three wheels, and thus I got to my row. But, I was told, I can’t sit there! Because of the emergency exit. I went ballistic. I’ll go back one more row and that’s it, I said. My last word. Whoever had that seat, too bad. And that’s what we did.

Then there was more discussion about whether the wheelchair could stay on board. Not a chance. As it turned out, the plane was so overloaded with carryon luggage, it really wouldn’t have worked. There was no closet, and I had my bag on my knees. So I sent my colleague out with the chair to watch it until the cargo bay door closed. Done. We took off, loaded to the gills in Ryanair-style seating. I passed on breakfast; I didn’t have the inclination to eat curry for breakfast.

We landed in Delhi. I had slept for about an hour and otherwise looked out. The sky was practically cloudless. In Delhi, there wasn’t an aisle chair, either. After waiting for the driver for almost an hour in the heat, I made it to the hotel, and nobody’s going to get me out of it today.


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