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Journey Across the Planet - Travelling to the USofA

Boarding Gate at IGI, New Delhi
It was finally time to have a paid vacation after all these years – the company was sending me on a training and client workshop visit to the United States. As soon as the news broke, frantic preparations for the trip began as there was limited time for all the work that was involved. Once the logistics were arranged, itinerary finalized – we started packing bags a couple of days in advance of the trip. As the stuff went into the bags, and we used all our force to wrap everything possible in those two bags, we finally breathed relief and prepared for the final kick start to the trip on 16th of April 2016. As the day dawned the excitement in me was just being curtailed by the thought of being away from everyone for over 3 weeks at a stretch. With a heavy heart and looking forward to a new adventure, both at the same time, I bid goodbyes at about 5 PM and proceeded to the airport for a 9 PM flight. The Uber maneuvered through the evening traffic and dropped me at the Terminal 3 of Indira Gandhi International Airport at about 6PM.

Once at the Airport, I headed straight to the Etihad Counters and checked into the flight. I already had my seats blocked so the process was mostly smooth, however, I did observe unprofessionalism to some extent. The communication skills of the staff were not up to the mark for a reputed international flight operator. The staff was a bit rusty in their stance and small requests like a “fragile sticker” were made big issues. With boarding passes in hand – they provided me with a boarding pass for entire journey until Seattle – I got my currency changed into smaller bills at the Thomas Cook counter, as I only had USDs in 100 dollar bills. Once this was done, I went to the immigration line and filled in the departure card while waiting for my turn. The process through customs was very smooth and the officers were highly courteous contrary to expectations of a government agency. They would ask questions that are relevant for their processing and would also chat a bit while the system is working through the records. I was lucky in terms of timing as there are very few international departures at this time – most international departures are post-midnight. So, the counters were empty and the waiting time was just enough to fill in the form. Once the customs was done and I technically was out of India, I decided to relax before the long journey and headed to the airport lounge area. I crossed the entire duty-free shopping arena and reached the Plaza Premium Lounge on the upper floor. Courtesy Visa Signature Card, I was escorted into the lounge complimentarily. It was a nice break and a good beginning to the trip – had a light dinner – biryani, fruits and snacks along with soda and wrapped it up with a good coffee. I left the lounge in time for the on-time departure at 9.

This was the first leg of the three-legged journey until Seattle. I was onboard the Etihad Airways flight from Delhi to Abu Dhabi. Boarding was smooth yet mechanical and lacked that human touch. A look inside the plane told that the plane was nice and the seating was OKish considering the long legs of the journey. It felt a bit cramped but that was the common feeling for those thrown at the back of the plane. The seats themselves were good – headrest had vertical adjustments along with a bracket for side support. They provided a headphone, blanket, and pillow – one with a nicely designed cut to allow it to serve an additional role of neck rest but with limited utility as such. The headphones were great with soft cushions and the in-flight entertainment had a lot of options with a brilliant user interface. However, still, the experience was being blotted by one thing – the staff. The attendants were curt and dismissive – e.g. it was okay that they had no earplugs, but why be rude about it? I assumed that the staff was overworked and tired and I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt. The pamphlets in the seat back pocket caught my attention. There were onboard wi-fi and mobile network which could be used once airborne and I made a mental note to try that option.

As I settled in my window seat towards the back of the plane, I made friends with this wonderful lady in the aisle seat, going to Oklahoma. She was on a work assignment too and had traveled the world exhaustively and was full of interesting stories. The four-hour flight was bearable but got boring after a point. Dinner was served around mid-flight and I got my vegetarian option – the food was airline standard: tasteless and pathetic. As scheduled, we landed at the Abu Dhabi airport at 10:55 PM local time, and I was one of the last to deplane.

Abu Dhabi International Airport
On the ground, we were taken on a bus – yes bus – to the terminal where after numerous escalators and turns we entered a special area within the airport – US Preclearance facility. This facility allows passengers traveling through Abu Dhabi to complete immigration formalities right at the Airport before embarking on their US-bound flights and arrive in the US as domestic passengers. It helps the passengers avoid long lines at the immigration counters in the US, especially after 15-20 hour flights. I did find this facility a lot helpful and probably this could become a competitive advantage for Etihad if publicized adequately – given that they improve their staff’s service standards. Just before entering the customs and immigration zone, I took a break and had the Biryani specially made and packed for me by wifey. The home food was already tasting so good and I still had to go another month without it. The solace was loads of eatables – pooris, achars, sweets that mom had packed for me to sustain. Yeah, I am a food junkie!! Meanwhile, I used the free wi-fi services of the airport to Skype-call back home and inform everyone that the journey was proceeding smoothly. Once done with replenishments for the body, I entered into the Pre-Clearance facility.

Entry to the Pre-Clearance area needed its own security checkup and we had to do away with our water bottles and Pepsi cans – they did allow empty water bottles as is normal with international standards. Once cleared I was in line for immigration – for a formal entry into the United States of America. It was a relatively manageable line and soon I was standing in front of the US Customs Officer and as luck would have it the systems went offline the moment I stepped up to him. It was a good 10 minutes wait before they shifted operations to the backup systems. In the meanwhile, the officer and I had a good chat about usual things, my visit and how fun was the wait. I had plenty of time before my flight and so I wasn’t stressing. We had good fun until when the supervisor announced that back up protocols are in place and that was when the stress started. The officer could not locate my name on the system – tried my first name, then my second name and then I mentioned him about the glitch that my passport carried because of which my first name for US records remain FNU – First Name Unknown. That was when he got to the list and pulled up my records. Once the record was out, things were smooth. There were quick questions - if I played golf and did I go to the ranch. The officer was planning to do that next day. Yeah, he also asked me about my destination in US and purpose of the visit. He took my fingerprints to verify records and took a photograph – well I smiled the best I could at 12 in the night. They showed me pictures of my bags to verify ownership. The entire process was smooth, courteous and jovial. The dreaded US Customs Interview was behind me and I crossed those lines which officially made me enter the USofA. After clearing customs, there is a standard gate area where we waited for our flight’s boarding sequence. One can notice the abundance of Indians in the airport staff rosters and Hindi can be heard as easily as other languages.

A look at Chicago
The flight took off on time for the next leg of the journey – a long haul trans-Atlantic journey from Abu Dhabi to Chicago. The crew was better and courteous – fresh and helpful – but the apathy continued. Once in the air, we were served light breakfast in which the mains were same as the previous flight. Post-meal, we got a few hours of sleep after the captain dimmed the lights. Sometime later, they served cut apple slices as refreshments. After a couple of hours, we were served sandwiches and juice – the sandwich was a cheese and tomato slice on bread and wasn’t worth a try. I reminisced how much better the food in my Cathay Pacific flight was. Meanwhile, I took an attempt at the onboard mobile network. They had an Aeroflot based network coverage onboard which kicks in after the aircraft crosses and 20,000 feet level. There was no special fee for the service and I had to pay standard international roaming rates. There was an option for paid wi-fi service too. I used the mobile network to drop a note back home that more than half of this leg is over and the flight has been good till then. Three hours left on the flight and the staff still fails to impress. It was not as if they were rude but lacked the finesse that you would expect on a long-haul flight. The attendant would act so that you would not dare to ask something until you absolutely need it. This plane even showed signs of age or lack of maintenance and there were broken buttons to be seen. Later, the crunchies served formality at best – non-filling and tasteless. Even for the collection of trash, there was no concept of gloves and bare hands were used to collect all stuff. Lunch was served a couple of hours before landing, this time, it was a bit better with bread added to the meal. The tension among the crew was visible and internal interactions were heated. The crew ended the service with a coffee – Hot Coffee by Cold Staff was the ending line of the flight experience. Met a nice lady from Karachi going to attend daughter’s graduation ceremony. She was kind, nice and accommodating. We landed on time in Chicago and moved to the American Airline’s domestic terminal for the next boarding. 

There was a train which took us from terminal 5 where we landed at terminal 3 where American Airlines docked. Since the terminal change was involved, we had to experience the US security checkpoint. The TSA officers are prompt and professional – follow the guidelines and entire thing took less than 20 minutes. TSA personnel are available to direct you to right places. We had to take off shoes and jacket before the screening by the X-Ray machine. Finally took off on the American Airlines plane – right on time. This was a good narrow body but a comfortable plane. The attendants were old but soft-spoken and friendly. The complimentary beverage was served onboard and choices include various soft drinks and juices. There were common screens on which a movie was played - we could use your own earphones or buy one onboard. Within 3 hours, we landed in my first stay over – Seattle – and proceeded to islands maintained for courtesy pickup.

Aerial View of Mount Reinier 
First Look at Seattle
This was the city I would be staying overnight before my next flight. I had to be in the city for a meeting before I head for a training cum tourist visit to the down south of the country. I was to stay at the Hotel Sea Way Inn for the day. I checked into the hotel on the afternoon of 17th April and found the place to be decent for a short stay. It was a good place for an overnight sleep, located right by the Airport – just a 7-10 minutes’ drive. The facility provided a complimentary airport pickup and drop round the clock. There is an 1800 number which can be dialed from the airport – free of charge from public phones, to ask for pickup – the response is prompt. The rooms are good – clean, small yet functional with microwave, fridge, AC/heating, and hot water. I attended my meeting and spent whatever time was left sleeping to get out of the tiredness picked on the long journey across the earth. From this layover to my return back to the city for the more touristic endeavor, I would be in Texas, down south. The experience from there would soon be available on this very blog – Expressions by KT.


  1. Every mundane activity has been faithfully reported. You should make an account at medium.com and write these blogs there - am sure your twitter and fb followers would be delighted.

  2. I thought about medium but I wasn't sure of the whole need of shifting this entire thing there. Having two mediums simultaneously didn't make much sense either. I would love to explore the new mediums though and in case you have some inputs, we can definitely touch base some time. Would appreciate any insights you could offer! :)


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