Bags packed. Shopping completed. Tickets double checked. Checkout done.
Flight boarded. Tired eyes dropping off in sleepy anticipation of reaching home.
I am ready to sleep my way through the 20 hours or so inflight so that I can reach home, refreshed and relaxed in time for my daughter’s first stage dance performance.
Or so I thought.
I sit up with a jolt. Is it just me, or does it seem that the plane is not moving? Why are the lights still on? Why is the plane still grounded?
And then I hear it. The dreaded announcement.
“There is engine trouble in the flight. The engineers are trying to rectify it. We apologize for the delay.”
Fake smiles. Hot towels, cold juices. Jitters and chatters. But still no movement. The nightmare has started.
All ears agog for the next announcement.
And then it comes again. “We apologize for the delay.” How long can the nightmare continue?
“This plane cannot take off today due to engine trouble. You will be provided accommodation in the hotel for the night and the plane will take off again at 12 noon tomorrow”.
The mayhem starts. Angry shouts. Confused voices. Tears of frustration.
“Hey man, it’s my marriage tomorrow. You mean to say I will be late for my own marriage?”
“I have a job I need to join. What is this nonsense?”
“I have a small child. She is sick. Please. I need to be home.”
My mind joins the confused chatter. Is there any way out? Will I miss my daughter’s first performance? When will this nightmare end?
The plush hotel room seems a prison for the night. Bleary eyes await another morning, another checkout till we are back again at the airport.
Day 2. New hope. Or is it?
“Engine trouble still not rectified. We are trying our best. Till then, please enjoy the free food.”
Free stay, free food. Some give in to the moment and relax and enjoy. Others wait, at the edge.
Is this real? Where are we? Are we lost in space with no way to reach home?
Frantic efforts to change airlines, board other flights, some at their own cost, some exploiting their companies. The ones that remain huddle together, the passengers and the airhostesses all awaiting news, anything, other than the wait.
If the flight does not take off, we will have to take a train from Boston to New York and board another flight from there. Will it be another endless night? Another useless wait?
But useless is it? Where else would one have met a feisty Irish grandmother, a middle-aged Indian executive, a guitar-strumming college student all laughing heartily over a shared joke? Where else would one see animated discussions on baseball, world politics and even Sharukh Khan over shared free food? Where else would one find strangers finding common ground far away from their home-ground?
Finally the air-hostess returns. She knows this is her moment under the Sun. Her face gives nothing away. Our faces give everything away. Till she makes the announcement. And then there are shouts. And there are claps. And there are hugs. Among strangers who are strangers no more.
4.30 p.m. Day 2
The nightmare is finally over. We are free to go home. Lost in space no more, no longer just up in the air. Poorer by a day, richer by new friends and experiences.