Waiting in England

August 14, 2006 at 4:00 pm (Personal)

Although the flight is said to be non-stop from The United States to Karachi, the flight does, in fact, make at least two stops before reaching Karachi. One is in England, were we are let out for a short while, and the second is at Islamabad or Lahore, where we stay on the plane and the wait is not very long.

When we usually reach England, we disembark and reembark using a gate’s tunnel. This time, on our way to Karachi, they parked the plane some distance from the airport and bused to us to and from the airport. On our way to The United States, our stay in England was markedly and significantly different.

Our flight left about half an hour late from Karachi. There was extra security, to be sure. There were strict limits placed on carry-ons. I was allowed to take my bag (a black man-bag by Tumi) because it contained medical supplies. After confirming with a number of people, my father decided to take his computer, which was loaded with its accessories into a plastic bag (which was not clear). Others on the flight also carried plastic bags. Despite how full or large a plastic bag may have been stuffed, none equalled the usual carry-on bags that Pakistani passengers are wont to take (and often a person does not take only one carry-on bag). A startling measure was right before one stepped onto the plane. Everyone’s bag was thoroughly hand-searched.

As we were waiting to take off, the pilot informed us that some passengers were trying to make they way to the airplane but were being delayed by the variety of security checks in place.

We reached England in good time. We taxied and taxied – I had assumed we may not dock with the airport as was usual. We taxied to where a few other airplanes were already standing. One was a Delta aircraft. (I also saw a few United Airlines aircraft docked with the airport, but perhaps they were not going to The United States.) All of the aircrafts were just standing there. When we landed, I assume those passengers whose final destination was England were let off and bused to the airport. We were asked – a number of times – to remain seated. The usual security and cleaning crew boarded the plane. There was one major difference this time, though: usually the security and cleaning crew is about 75% desi (that is, from South Asia). This time, about 90% of those who boarded were white. The coordinator was desi, though.

We were later informed that we would not disembark. My father and I had been saying that we would be taken off so that we could go through the security screening. Usually, we go through a room with bag-screening conveyor belts and physical pat-downs. My father said this would be more important now, to make sure no one was carrying anything forbidden. But, no. We would not be let off.

We were supposed to leave two hours and a half after we landed. Around that time, the new crew boarded the plane. The old crew, which accompanied us from Karachi, is replaced in England. (When the plane returns from The United States, the crew will change at England again.) We were then informed of what was going on. The crew took a long time getting onto the plane. They were having difficulty going through security. Every crewmember carried a clear plastic bag – this when they usually have a carry-on with them on board. So, evidently, the crewmembers had to check in their carry-ons and carry what they needed in a bag. In addition to that were the screening and security checks, which undoubtedly were quite thorough at this English airport. Security must really be heavy if a plane’s crew has trouble and takes a long time going through it.

But this was not all. Once the crew boarded the plane, the pilots had to forward a list of the crew and passengers to The Department of Homeland Security of The United States. Every flight from England to The United States had to have its crew and passenger list cleared before the plane would be given clearance to fly. That is, clearance to even move was in the hands of the Government of The United States. There was nothing the crew, pilots, airport authorities, or even English authorities could do. We were informed that this clearance would take hours and that no timetable or even idea could be given for how long this would take. Anecdotally, the last flight of this airline that took off from England for The United States had to wait six hours.

After five hours – the requisite two and a half that were scheduled, and the extra as we waited for clearance – the flight was given clearance. We took off shortly thereafter. I was midly pleased. I had been prepared for much worse – six or ten hours of waiting. Only three was quite nice.

As we waited, I felt very sorry for the crew. Members would routinely pass down the aisle asking if there was anything they could get for passengers. Members were constantly going up and down the aisles with drinks and snacks. After a few hours they rolled out the trolleys and served snacks and drinks to everyone. The passengers were cranky and unhappy, the crew was flustered. I admire their strength and perseverence.

We landed in due time, late of course. But we landed.

America looks gorgeous from above. I’m glad to be back home.

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1 Comment

  1. skinbad said,

    Glad you made it. Welcome back.

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