Sunday, August 12, 2007

Tom Bradley International Airport – A Nightmare!

Last Wednesday (08/08/07) I was sitting in the departure lounge of the Indira Gandhi International (IGI) airport in New Delhi, patiently waiting for my plane to arrive from Shanghai (Chine Eastern Airlines). Earlier at the ticket counter, I was told by the agent that my flight had been delayed by an hour, which meant that it would depart IGI airport at five in the morning instead of four. But obviously my connecting flight from Shanghai to Los Angeles would leave at its scheduled departure time. I did a quick calculation in my head and realized that I only had an hour and a half to get to the transit terminal in Shanghai. I was mortified. And sure enough as the China Eastern airplane landed at Shanghai-Pudong airport I found myself rushing past everyone to get to my transit terminal. I finally got there with only forty-five minutes to spare. This gave me enough time to grab a quick bite and check my e-mail. It was nice of the Chinese government to provide free Internet access at their airport for travelers. Now that’s something that LAX airport can do. Why they have not done it yet, beats me. Perhaps it is a “security” issue.

The flight from New Delhi to Shanghai had lasted six and a half hours and here I was boarding another airplane to Los Angeles, only this time the flight would last eleven and a half hours! I was not looking forward to this. I will spare you the gory details of what happened in the airplane and just skip to the part where the captain announced that we were approaching LAX, though he need not have announced it as a massive concrete jungle underneath a canopy of brown smog at eleven in the morning was clearly invisible below. The airplane made a soft landing and the passengers were shuttled by three buses towards immigration and baggage claim. Now for those of you who have not recently traveled outside of the United States, let me tell you that the immigration situation at Tom Bradley International was scary. There were many officers on duty but no matter what, the lines were huge. Airport security officers kept shouting at foreigners to get in line, to move this way and that way. It was quite a mess. We had been told in the airplane that our baggage would be delivered at carousel number seven. But since the wait to the immigration line was so long, there were three other flights after China Eastern whose baggage was also dumped on carousel seven.

My back was hurting, I was dehydrated and on top of all this there was an officer who kept shoving a white form in my face and asking me to fill it out at certain places where there was no need for me write anything. How do I know better than an officer in charge? For starters I have gone back and forth between Los Angeles and India enough times that I remember this form forwards and backwards. I have been through enough immigration officers to know what they look for in these forms. She even had the gall to say that if I did not fill in a certain line, this would create a problem and that I might even be sent back. I did not have the energy or the patience at the time to tell her otherwise and so I simply ignored her. I guess she was just trying to do her job of annoying the heck out of me. By the way, my line was moving the slowest. Of all the gazillion lines there, I had to choose the one that was moving the slowest. All the other line and two to three immigration officers while ours had only one! ONE! I felt like changing lanes and maneuvering into a faster line, but since I have never even done that on the freeways here, why try now when you were trying to get into the country.

As I looked past the immigration booth, carousel seven was starting to look like a mess. Luggage was thrown across everywhere. There was a very tiny lane where throngs of people were trying to maneuver their carts in the hopes of finding their luggage and hauling it out of the airport safe and undamaged. You know how on the freeways you think that the lane opposite to you is moving just a tad bit faster, especially when you are stuck in traffic, when the moment you change into the “faster” lane it slows down again. Well nothing like that was happening here. The line next to me was moving faster because there was an immigration officer who just kept letting the folks into the United States. She was processing their papers faster than a well oiled machine. She might have been of German descent.

Finally I was summoned at the immigration gates. The officer looked at my papers and that white form, and of course he did not look at the place where the lady officer had been bugging me earlier to write stupid, useless information. Thwack, thwack and I got my stamps on my passport and my departure ticket stapled. I collected my papers and headed straight for where the carts were stacked. I was praying to higher powers that I find my luggage fast and sure enough I found my two bags in five minutes. I safely made my way through the green channel and gracefully made my way to the shuttle area. It was good to be back in Los Angeles, safe and sound. It was good to bask in smog and sun yet again.

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