Journey Across the Planet - Travelling to the USofA
|Boarding Gate at IGI, New Delhi|
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 from 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.
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|
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|
|Aerial View of Mount Reinier|
|First Look at Seattle|