Tuesday, November 8, 2011

stupid red tape

I'm at the Calcutta International Airport.  It looks kind of like a small regional airport in a town you've never heard of.  I'm going to the Andaman Islands, so I have to fly, and I admit I'd begun looking forward to my flight as an isolated incident of luxury travel against a sea of more or less inconvenient train rides.

I will never, ever let my expectations run away with me like that again.

My flight leaves at 8:30am.  I'm paranoid, so I arrived at the airport at around 5:45am (it's no coincidence that I'm cranky - third day in a row that I've had to get up early for the sake of onward travel).  Indians seem to be even more afraid of terrorism than Americans, probably because they have more incidents than we do, and like Americans they've responded with a whole lot of mostly ridiculous red tape.

Example number one: I have a multiple-entry visa but I can't leave the country.  If I cross the border into any other country (I'd hoped to visit Nepal), I have to wait two months before I re-enter India.  No thanks.

Example number two: I showed up at the airport to check-in only to be told by a gun-toting soldier at the sliding glass entry doors that I couldn't enter the airport without a printed ticket.  The GoAir ticket counter sits inside these glass doors, thus, I couldn't go check-in to get a printout or ticket.  I booted up my computer and used my USB dongle to call up the e-ticket I'd been sent via email but the soldiers all said no, no, that didn't count.  Upon further questioning it became clear that if I could print out the screen I was showing them, it would count.  But just looking at my email wouldn't suffice.

So I asked around more and discovered that the domestic terminal of the airport has an internet cafe, where I could call up my ticket and print it out.  I hike all the way to the domestic terminal, where I find out that the same security measures that kept me out of the international terminal remain in place: I can't get in without a printed ticket.  However, says the new gun-toting soldier, I could go buy a visitor's pass, and that would let me in.

So I find the "airport manager's" office, where I pay 30 rupees (about $0.75) for a visitor's pass.  This is not striking me as fancy security but I don't care, I just want to get a printout of my ticket before my plane takes off.

I roll my luggage back to the main entry and show the soldier my pass.  He nods but then tells me that I can't bring my luggage inside the airport.  This is annoying but, at this point, more logical than any of the other hassles I've had to deal with.  I start to chain my luggage to a guard rail when a pair of soldiers approach and tell me that I can't leave my luggage outside.  I have to give it to someone.  I point out that I'm alone and have nobody to give my luggage to and they shrug.

I go back to the airport manager's office and talk to the woman who sold me the visitor's pass.  I look, at that point, like I'm about to panic and the woman is very kind.  She gets up, goes to the main entryway, and convinces the soldiers to let me inside with my luggage.  I feel equal amounts of gratitude and frustration: I am pleased for myself and the increased likelihood of catching my flight; I am displeased by the fact that their security measures are so flimsy.  If there's one thing worse than inconveniencing lots of people for a good reason, it would be inconveniencing lots of people for no reason.

I print out my ticket.  The exact same page that I showed the first gun-toting soldier.  I wheel my way out of the domestic terminal back to the international terminal.  I show the gun-toting soldier my printout.  He waves me through (he does not, by the way, have to collect the printouts).  I check in.

I haven't even gotten on the plane yet, people.  I still have to get to the Andaman Islands, get some sort of a permit on arrival (it's a restricted territory), and then find and take a government ferry to Havelock Island.  I am not looking forward to the rest of the day.

A quick coda: After checking in, I had plenty of time to spare (that's the upside of being paranoid) and I wanted to grab a coffee.  There's one chain of stores here called "Cafe Coffee Day" that brews a decent espresso and I saw one in front of the domestic terminal.  But when I try to leave the airport, I can't.  The gun-toting soldiers won't let me.  No going in and out.

I say I just want to go grab a coffee and come back, and they reply that I should try the coffee shop deeper in the international section of the airport, past immigration.  I say, "Oh, ok," and get in line, only to remember my first example of stupid red tape: if I leave the country, I can't get back in.  Given everything I know of India, walking upstairs to get a cup of coffee would count as leaving the country and I'd be stuck, my trip brought to a premature end.  I decided I didn't need breakfast that badly.

1 comment:

Melinda said...

well, points to you for getting there so early. sounds absurd. hope you're relaxing now!