Original Itinerary: ORD-AMM-DEL
Actual Itinerary: ORD-ADJ-AMM-DEL
I wanted a cheap and hassle free way of getting to India in the December peak season. I looked up flights on Orbitz and noticed that Royal Jordanian had a very cheap fare for the 15th of December. I didn't want to transit through LHR or any of the major European hubs this time of the year, so I decided to go with RJ. Incidentally, the same A342 that brings us into AMM continues onward to DEL. This proved to be a curse for us.
Air India also had a lucrative option, but I decided to go with RJ given AI's famous reputation. Bad Decision.
Scheduled Departure time: 9:10pm
Actual Departure time : 6:55am+1
Aircraft : A342
Flight time : 11hr,40min
Departure : O'Hare gate 11
Arrival : Marka Airport, Amman
Before the Flight
I got up at 9am on the 15th. My friend was to drive me from my apartment to O'Hare, a 2 hour drive. I looked out the window and it was snowing heavily. Bad sign. I quickly checked the weather report and it seems a huge snow storm was heading our way. We decided to leave early to try and avoid any problems on I-65. We got to the airport by 2pm, I did a quick peak inside and noticed there was nobody at the RJ check-in desks. So, we decided to head back to the city and came back around 7pm.
At the Airport
There was already a line at the RJ check-in counter now, with no staff anywhere in sight. I joined the line and waited as the line got bigger and bigger. Finally, the staff appeared at the check-in counter and the line moved ahead slowly. Soon enough, passengers in the front started yelling and seemed angry, not good. When I got to the check-in desk, staff told me the flight had not arrived from Amman yet, that my pre-assigned seats were given to somebody else, despite me having called them twice the previous day to confirm my seat assignments and special meal. I didn't really complain at that point as I was satisfied I got an isle. He also gave me a food coupon worth $10.
---Security & Duty Free---
I decided to hang around the food court since the flight was late. I got a bite to eat and looked around the duty free at O'Hare, which I must say, is rather pathetic.
RJ staff told us that the flight would board at 3am. At 2am, I joined the security line and proceeded to gate 11.
The aircraft came docked at the gate at 2:30am. By this time the snow storm had arrived at Chicago and the RJ aircraft looked ghostly in the snowy night. Let me also clarify that the snow storm was not responsible for the delays at O'Hare today as other aircraft were landing and departing on their scheduled times. The storm didn't affect departures until the next day.
Boarding started at 3:45am with announcements being made in Arabic first and then English. There was no proper boarding procedure vis-a-vis Lufthansa, and everybody made a dash for the gate. I was one of the last to board, inside and at my seat by 4:15 am. The captain apologized for the delay and told us that we would push back and de-ice in 15 minutes. Wrong. We pushed back at 5:00am. De-iced started 6:05am and we commenced taxi at 6:55am.
Meal service started about an hour after takeoff. Despite of confirming my AVML twice, I receive a 'vegan' meal. It was really pitiful, boiled vegetables in soy sauce and too much salt served with rice. Fruits and stale bread on the side. This is when I really started to regret not having flown AI. They left on time, which is quite a surprise, and no matter what, they always give you a decent meal.
I asked for some red wine, which tasted like the disinfectant that they use at Indian Airports. I fell asleep quickly and woke up around half way into the flight. They have those old over head TV screens only in the center section. People seated on either sides could forget about 'in-flight entertainment' not that the rest of us had anything to look forward to either.
They were showing 'The last Legion' dubbed in French with Arabic subtitles. The Palestinian man sitting next to me, who hardly seemed to get any sleep at all was watching the movie with intense concentration. After the movie, he told me he didn't understand why they showed a 'Spanish' movie on RJ.
Interestingly, he told me that he was heading to Jerusalem, and wasn't allowed to fly into Tel Aviv. He always flew RJ into Amman and drove from there to Jerusalem. I asked him why, and he said that the Israelites required the Palestinians to enter Jerusalem by land and not air. Weird.
I fell asleep again and woke up around 2 hours before arrival. My meal was already on my tray table. Boiled Mushrooms and carrots, with two potato patties. Similar sides as before. I ate it simply because I didn't want to starve to death before I reached India.
During meal service, this dude sitting two seats from me, got into an argument with a female F/A. The F/A seemed very pissed off at him and was constantly yelling at him in Arabic. The passenger seemed more calm. People got up from their seats curious to find out what was going on. This went on for 10 minutes before another F/A tried to calm her down. I have absolutely no idea what the argument was about, but boy was she pissed.
Toilets were worse than anything I have ever seen in Indian Airlines. Urine was everywhere and paper towels soaked in urine/water where on the floor. I only used the toilets to wash my hands. This reminded me of how bad the passengers would have had it on IC814 when it was hijacked and kept at Kandahar for 4 days.
After the meal service the Captain announced that we wouldn't be landing at Queen Alia international Airport today due to heavy fog, and we were diverted to Marka International. Passengers started moaning like irritated cows. That's what we felt like during this entire journey. Cattle. I'm sure the passengers in crown class felt no different.
Fun at Marka
We landed at Marka International Airport, Amman at 2:37am local time. The aircraft taxied to stand and as expected, passengers started getting up even before it stopped. We waited, and then we waited some more. Finally an F/A announced that we should sit down as they ground staff had to arrange for stairs.
I had a hard time believing anything that RJ told us. They first lied to us that we were delayed because of the weather at O'Hare, which wasn't true as the flight was late to depart from Amman in the first place. Now they are telling us ground staff has to arrange for stairs, conveniently avoiding to also tell us that there are 5 other aircraft ahead of us with passengers waiting to disembark, as we found out later.
We waited inside the airplane for 2 hours, with no food or water. Let me emphasize on the lack of concern on behalf of RJ. The only time we were given water was during the meal service. A large Arabic man sitting right behind me was furious by now and was yelling very loudly in Arabic. A male F/A rushed to were he was to try and reason with him.
I found it funny that the passenger kept referring to him as 'Habibi'.
Soon after this episode, we disembarked and took a bus to the tiny hole that they call a 'terminal'.
---Marka Arrival Terminal---
At this point, I gave in to the situation and decided that anything that could go wrong, would go wrong. Once I entered the terminal, there were two counters for immigration and one desk for 'Visa',a few seats to the side, nothing else. The entire room would be no bigger than 40ft X 50ft.
There were about 40 of us who were in transit, the rest were all lined up for immigration. We were given information only if we asked for it. Here's how it was to work out. We were to hand over our passports to the airport officials, after which we would collect our bags, be put on a bus and head off to Queen Alia, where we would check-in for our respective connecting flights.
There was one Indian family of 4 and 5 other people apart from me headed to Delhi and we grouped up and tried to understand the situation better. There was way too much speculation amongst the passengers about what would happen, which only lead to more confusion. I don't really blame them, the staff never made ANY announcements for transit passengers.
Apparently, a few people had already handed in their passports to the airport officials who in turn refused to give them back. I found this very weird and decided to stick to my passport. It was now around 6:00 am, still dark outside, when the immigration officers asked to form a line to get our passports stamped with a 'Transit Visa' so that we could go ahead and collect our bags.
I came to the baggage claim area which was only 4 feet beyond the 'arrival hole', and realized that the other passengers were still waiting for the bags. We waited until 7 am and the baggage carousel finally started moving. It was tiny, old and oddly routed. Ground staff were walking ON the carousel yelling loudly in Arabic. It was apparent that there were enough people to help, but not a single person smart enough to manage the situation. Bags started appearing and we read the labels on them.
People started yelling again.
Obviously, RJs bags weren't there yet. After about 30 more minutes of waiting at the carousel, the RJ staff asked the passengers to come out onto the tarmac and collect the bags from the luggage carts. I was so amused by all this. We went out side and saw three to four RJ cargo containers. There was absolutely no staff to help us. Jordanian army personnel were guarding the area. We grouped up and tried to organize as best as we could. We asked the women and children to stand aside and started to remove bags one by one and pass them down.
Some people had to wait longer as all the bags hadn't come yet from the aircraft.
At this point there was no security personnel at the area between the arrival terminal and the baggage claim area. People were moving back and forth between the immigration counters like it was nothing.
|Passegers waiting for Luggage Cart to arrive|
Turned out that my decision to stick to my passport was a good idea, I saw some passengers arguing with the airport staff about the necessity of taking their passports.
Off to Queen Alia !!
9:10 am Local Time.
By this time, I oddly began to enjoy the situation. I was going to see Jordan!!! How exciting ! Too bad I couldn't take any pictures. My phone died on me, not to mention cingular is going to charge me up my ass once I get back to the States.
We boarded a Royal Jordanian bus and headed off to Queen Alia. The weather was absolutely clear and it was a beautiful day to see the country. Too bad I could only see it through the window of a bus. Everything in Jordan is brown, and there were hardly any women on the streets. Traffic is bad, and the driving sense isn't all that different than that in India.
As soon as we entered the Queen Alia Airport area, thick fog came in from all sides. Very strange that the fog only covered the area of the airport and the rest of Amman city was pristine clear. The ride lasted 45 minutes.
Scheduled Departure time: 11:40pm (16th Dec)
Actual Departure time : 4:55pm+1
Aircraft : A342
Flight time : 6hrs,30min
Departure : Queen Alia South Terminal-Gate 4
Arrival : Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi
Airport security at Queen Alia Intl' escorted us into the terminal. There was a security check inside the terminal before you could enter the designated area to check-in for your flight. The airport official escorted us into the area without having to go through security and we proceeded to stand in lines for check-in. We were standing in a line specially for transit passengers.
All announcements were made ONLY in Arabic. I was farther ahead than the rest of the passengers heading to Delhi. I asked one of them to come up to the check-in counter with me when my turn came so we could find out what on earth was going on. When I was 4th in line, I overheard the Check-In agent argue with one of the passengers. Apparently, the check-in agent had attended to a few other passengers who were not in the line, as their flight was about to depart soon.
The check-in agent made an announcement in Arabic and I caught a few words. "Musafir...Basra...Dilli".
I heard Dilli, which I correctly assumed meant "Delhi". I then yelled " English !!!, English please !!! "
He signaled me to come up to the counter and informed me that he was closing the Delhi flight and wanted all passengers heading to Delhi to Check-In immediately. I signaled the other passenger heading to Delhi to come up and we checked-in for the flight which we were told would depart at 12:00pm sharp. Yeah sure.
I got my boarding pass and I proceeded to the immigration desk. I informed the officer that we were transit passengers from Marka International and he let us through after stamping our passports. It was around 10:30am now and boarding for RJ 192 would soon commence.
At Queen Alia international, you cannot return to the main terminal once you've cleared security and entered the boarding area. Passengers for RJ 192 had been waiting at the boarding area since the previous day. They were given hope that the flight would depart in the wee hours of the morning. What a outright lie, RJ new that our A342 wouldn't arrive from Chicago until 2:30 am local time, and they also knew that there was a possibility that the flight would need to be diverted to Marka. Despite of this, they let the passengers enter the boarding area, where they'd been waiting for 12+ hours, without food, without water.
Boarding commenced at 12:15pm, but I was just glad we would be on our way to Delhi. We waited in the airplane for 2 hours and now everyone was just up in flames. The demographics of the passengers was very interesting. There were Portuguese, Spanish, French, American, Indian, Nepalese, Iraqi and Greek people onboard. Never before on a flight to India have I seen such diversity.
I started a conversation with an Iraqi man sitting next to me who was traveling with his family to India for the first time. They were visiting India for medical services that their daughter required. More and more people from the middle east come to India these days for medical services that are of superior quality and affordable prices compared to the west. I felt bad that they had to endure this crap.
A Greek man was passing around a letter addressed to the Civil Aviation Ministry of India about the treatment we were receiving from RJ. I looked at it and asked him why it was not addressed to the CEO of RJ, he looked at me and said,
" You know, I didn't really read the letter", and we both started laughing.
I re-addressed the letter, signed it, and passed it on.
Only seconds after I signed the letter, I noticed that the crew began to de-board. Then an announcement was made that the crew had refused to operate the flight because they were too tired as they had been waiting since the previous day. Understandable, but why on earth did they board the flight in the first place, and why didn't management arrange for a replacement crew before hand in light of the situation? VERY VERY bad management by RJ.
We de-boarded at 2:30 pm and returned to the much dreaded Boarding Area of Gate 4. Passengers had gone berserk, and were trying to push through security to go back into the main terminal area for food and water. I was just amazed. All this could have been averted from the get go.
Stale sandwiches which tasted like rat poop along with OJ were handed out and the passengers seemed to calm down. Within an hour the replacement crew arrived and boarded the airplane. At 4:15 pm passengers boarded the flight for the second time.
---Off to New Delhi---
The replacement crew was fast. Seat belt signs were turned on, captain ordered doors to be closed and armed. Push back started immediately, quick taxi to runaway, we overtook a Gulf air aircraft. Engines powered up, and within seconds, rotation. The passengers were applauding.
I slept for most of the flight, I didn't dare try their food again. I wasn't that hungry anyway as I grabbed something to eat at Queen Alia International.
We flew over the Persian Gulf, then the Arabian sea, onto Pakistani Airspace, crossed into India. I saw the famous brightly lit India-Pakistan border. It's amazing how clear it is. We entered the NCR from the south-west passed IGI Airport, made a 180 and lined up for a smooth RW27 arrival at 2:20 am.
People started whistling and clapping loudly and it went on for 5 minutes. I've never seen people this happy at the end of a flight.
---Indira Gandhi International Airport---
Much, much better !! Very quick immigration, although passengers were dying to get ahead of each other. There were some new duty free shops. Bags came almost immediately on the wide spacious carousels, a very welcoming change from the dump that was Marka. I took my bags and went through the green channel and out into dusty smog infested Delhi.
I was glad that this Journey in Royalty was finally over!