Your support can turn a life
“Recently, I had a rather unnerving experience while travelling back from Atlanta to Mumbai. I would like to share it with you”, says Dr R Subramanian.
Date: January 29, 2008
Leaving Atlanta for amchi Mumbai this evening by Delta Airline’s 5 pm DL16 Flight! Packed my bags - a suitcase to be checked in and a shoulder bag as cabin baggage -- and went with my grandson Shashaank and son Ajay to the airport. At the check-in counter we were told the suitcase weighed 58 lbs, 8 more than allowed. So we had to transfer some items, including some forbidden in the hand baggage, to the shoulder bag. So we had to check-in the shoulder bag as well, which was to cost me dear later on!
The flight was a long one, with a stopover at New York. Till we reached New York, everything went off well. The plane landed at the JFK Airport at 7.20 pm as scheduled, and was to resume its onward 15 hour non-stop journey to Mumbai at 9.20 pm. But it developed some snags, leading to an unpredictable delay in departure. That is when I realised my medicines would last only for the night. I had kept the bulk of my medication in the shoulder bag and forgot to take them out before checking in the bag. I started panicking. I couldn’t afford not to have my medication for such a long time, which may extend to even 24 hrs! Kya karoon?
I requested the airline staff to take out my bag in order to retrieve my medicines from it. They flatly refused saying that would be impossible. It had security implications, I was told. Moreover, it would be almost like searching for a needle in a haystack, they said. There were far too many pieces in the baggage hold. The flight was full.
I tried in vain to see if some co-passenger might have surplus diabetes medicines. But I should take only the medication prescribed by my doctor. One person’s medicine could be another’s poison! Another option was to buy them. But the airport had no medical shop; can you imagine? It was very cold outside, and the only sweater I had was sweating inside my suitcase in the belly of the plane! Even if I manage to go out to some medical store, they may refuse to give me the medicines without a doctor’s prescription. And they might not accept the prescription given by my doctor in India, and insist on one by a US doctor. In any case, even my medical file containing the prescriptions was in the suitcase. One never stops learning from life’s experiences! The lesson I learnt, hopefully never to forget, is that keeping one’s medicines during one’s travels is as important as keeping other essential items, such as the ticket, money and travel documents. All other things can be bought with the money one carries. (My next travel experience may well enlarge this list of essentials!)
In desperation, I again approached the airline staff, pleading for understanding and mercy. Was it King Canute who exclaimed, “My kingdom for a horse”? I felt like him in my predicament. This time they realised the gravity of the situation. If something happened to me during the long flight, it would create problems for them as well! There was enough time for operation ‘suitcase extraction’, as the plane was still undergoing repairs. They said they could take out my bags, but the items once taken out would not go back into the baggage hold – for reasons of security! They said the baggage could follow me to Mumbai by the next day’s flight. I agreed to all their terms – I was desperate to get hold of my medicines. They wanted not only the baggage tag numbers, which was easy to provide, but also a description of the items, including the colour of the two pieces of baggage. That was a difficult proposition. I have an extremely poor memory for colours. I had no idea what the colour of my suitcase was! The shoulder bag, I was reasonably certain, was blue in colour and I gave that information. The suitcase, I told them, was dark blue in colour. It turned out to be black. I would have got 50% marks had that been a memory test!
To keep a long story short, they managed to take out both my bags, like Hanuman who brought the whole mountain from Himalayas to Sri Lanka instead of a single medicinal herb to revive Lakshman! (They would have taken out only the carry bag, if I could have given them the tag number of that piece. But, my experience has been that, given two choices, one right and the other wrong, I would have first made the wrong choice!) As later events showed, it was fortunate they gave me both pieces. Otherwise, one of them would have preceded me to Mumbai, and I would have been worried about its fate sitting in New York.
I felt immense relief when I took out my medicines from the bag. I tried again to board the flight which was yet to depart. But my request fell on deaf ears. The regulations required me to check in again, but the counters were already closed. I had to spend a day in New York. I had no acquaintance in that city. Where would I go? The airlines staff took pity on me again, and provided me hotel accommodation for one night. I informed my son in Atlanta about the forced stay in NY and asked him to inform his mother in Mumbai.
The next morning I was pleasantly surprised to hear her voice on the phone. My younger son in Mumbai had managed to get the phone number of the hotel from the internet. What a blessing the internet is!
The rest of the journey was uneventful, except for the 15-hour non-stop flight to Mumbai. I finally reached home, after a delay of 24 hours, a ‘sadder and wiser man’ like the Ancient Mariner!