Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Unusual Friends - Airline and Airport workers

Continued series about unusual friends #11 - Airline and Airport workers

Over the years I have flown a fair deal, and one could tell many stories over a long time, but a few relate to being treated well and smiling airline or airport workers. When we used to fly to Delhi in the eighties and the nineties, there was always special treatment because my Uncle had connections (He was the Engineering director for the new IG Airport). There would usually be someone waiting at the exit from the plane with our names and we would be ushered through VIP lanes. On departure too they would let us use the Airport Manager's spacious offices and other facilities.
In the sixties when we lived in Ghana, where again my Uncle was an authority at the airport, we could access the airport and flights without too much fuss. Once HM the Queen (of England, no less) arrived for a state visit (I think 1961). My Uncle put all of us in his car and drove us through tight security and a million people, almost to the foot of the stairs where HM alighted. I have a fantasy where in a Netflix movie the Queen arrives in Accra and at the top of the stairs asks the Duke, 'What are those Indians doing at the foot of the stairs? Are we in the right country?'
See that line of airport people in the back? I think we were there!

There was a time around 2008 when I had been going to visit my team in Pennsylvania so many times that Virgin Atlantic staff at the check in and their VIP lounge began to remember me. There were two or three of us from my office, that had many facilities to make the flights from London to Newark as painless as possible. The Virgin gold frequent traveller card allowed us to go through security in a private queue, straight through to their VIP lounge where restaurants, bars, entertainment, massage, and jacuzzis awaited. I would often go to the airport an hour or two early. Once my flight was delayed which brought a smile to my face. If it was an upper class flight, sometimes when I had to fly long haul, for example Shanghai, they even sent out a limousine to pick me up at home. It was a hard life!
Virgin at Heathrow - A second home
On many occasions when I sat in economy a hostess or steward would show up with a glass of champaign and 'Arvinder, compliments of the airline'. Fast exits through security at US immigration were a special treat. You walked through a machine which recognised your hand print and let you through, no queue or anything. Then you walked out to your rental car and drove off to your destination. 
There came a time that I had accumulated enough air miles to buy business class flights for my parents from Delhi to Newark via London. It took ages for my Dad to come around to accepting this gift, and then to arrange visas and to fix a date. We kept postponing the travel dates until about a year after initiating proceedings the trip happened. 
Now, I had read somewhere that there was a time limit to how long you had between the time of reservation and the date of travel if you paid with air miles, and it was pretty close to the limit when my parents started their trip. By the time of their return they were definitely past this limit, and I suspected that they might face some hassles on the return flights. So I decided to coincide one of my own trips to coincide with their return from Newark to London on their way to India. 
As a precaution I called the Virgin reservation and explained that my senior citizen parents were travelling and could they check out their reservations and if all was well for their return flight. As an extra precaution I asked the agent for her name (Sally, if my memory serves) and direct phone number in case we had any problems at check in at Newark.
We all met up at my sister's (who lives near the Newark airport) and got to the airport together. At the check in, sure enough, the Virgin check in system would not accept my parents' tickets. The agents took ages but could not tell what the problem was. I suspected I knew the problem but did not say, except that I had been assured that all was well. By the time the flight was almost on the point of departure and my parents resigned to having to dish out a large sum to replace their free tickets, when I asked the agent to call his colleague (Sally) in London.
From that moment it took five minutes and we were checked in. I asked what had happened, and they had been instructed to bypass the checkin and let us on the plane because our reservations had already been accepted by the London staff! 
They even upgraded me so that I could sit with my parents.

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