Friday, 21 October 2011


We are back after spending six months with our children in Seattle and Newport. Our return trip on October 17, a Monday, from Seattle was also via London – a British Airways flight with a one hour stop. One hour to make the connecting flight to Chennai! When I realised that, panic master that I am, I started worrying about it – will we make the connection or not? What would happen if we did not? Innumerable other questions and unlikely scenarios passed through my mind, which I freely shared with everyone. ( I am sure they were fed up with me!). I am quite a Cassandra when it comes to air travel, always sure that something will go wrong.

We decided to ask for a wheelchair at London so I would not have to walk the distance (I sometimes have a problem walking fast) from the landing gate to the connecting gate - sometimes these gates are quite far apart. And we had seen how quickly wheelchair transported people are helped to get on flights. We were also reassured that since the two flights were the same airline, there would be some sort of communication between the flights, and that we would be able to board the connecting flight without any problems.

At Seattle airport while checking in, my son Sankar was told when he enquired that there would be no problems at all, that we would make the connection without any trouble, as one hour would be plenty of time. So that was good.

I was armed with a cell phone which had been successfully recharged just prior to our departure day, so that we could contact Sankar and tell him when we boarded at London. 

The flight took off a few minutes late, but made up easily. However landing at Heathrow was delayed because of it being a busy time - noon. We got off first from the aircraft, thanks to a very nice and considerate stewardess who sympathised with us and led us out – and deposited me on the wheelchair which was ready. We  were already 15 minutes late. Flight was at one pm, and boarding closed at 12.40. We had about 20 minutes to reach the gate – after security.

I decided to write a letter to our agent who had arranged the wheelchair for us, purportedly from my husband, about our interesting experience.

Dear Sir

Thank you.  The wheelchair was waiting. Very nice of you to have arranged it.

But we made the connection with great difficulty, as there is only one hour to do it. The plane from London was late, the emplaning gate was very far off.  The air hostess very graciously allowed us to disembark first, even before the first class passengers. Apart from my wife there were four other people who had asked for wheelchairs. The wheelchair persons were transferred to a motorised cart (for five people) to be transported to the departure gate. The cart driver had to wait for the fifth person, but that person did not turn up – he must have got off. So the driver left a little late, as he had to make sure that person wasn't waiting. All these delays added up to quite a few minutes. By the time my wife got to security, boarding was closed because of all the delay.

In the meantime, I along with others had to wait for a train to take us to the gate. Fortunately, a staff member was with us to guide us. The train did not come in time, and so we walked and ran all the way (almost half a mile) to security for the gate to fly from.  But I made it.

And my wife did not.  When the lady at the entrance to security checked on her computer, she found that boarding had closed. My wife was told that she could not board.  My wife pointed out that she was travelling with me, and they checked on the computer and found that I had boarded. My wife told them she had to travel with me, and so asked that I  should be offloaded.   

I had got into the plane thinking since she had gone in the car, she would be in the plane before me. I was shocked to see she was not. I also asked to be offloaded, as we had to travel together .
In the meantime, the person at security got on the phone and managed to persuade the flight people to take us. Since there was no crowd at security and we could be cleared quickly, she requested them to wait for us five passengers, and they agreed, thankfully.
It was a mad and tense hour.

 Lessons learnt

1.  In future we should not take these one hour connection flights.

2. Wheelchair facilities do not ensure/guarantee boarding.

3. Ask for wheelchairs for both, or avoid it – at least you will be together, board or miss.

4. Flights will not be held up if you miss your connection – even if it is the airlines’ fault with late landings. They will re-route you. In our case the next flight to Chennai was after two days, on Friday.

5. Even your vegetarian meal will be off loaded if you don’t make it – we learnt that our special meal had been returned as we had not made it on time. Fortunately we had some other food – and it was good, too. Since the destination was Chennai, there was vegetarian food available.

6. Luggage will be offloaded if the passenger does not board. I was fully confident that at least two of our bags would not arrive. But hey! What a pleasant surprise. They were all there in Madras when we landed.

P.S.  I didn’t send the letter.