By the time all the formalities were complete, it was time to board the flight Image Credit: Bloomberg

I recently engaged in amiable conversation with the taxi driver in India as he steered towards the international airport. He thanked me for teaching him a new word ‘taxi fare’ and the unexpected tip at the end of the ride made his smile sunnier.

I pranced into the airport swinging a light cabin bag with the wishful hope of whizzing through the formalities and then settling down to enjoy my newly purchased book on dealing with 21st century teenagers. I was, however, hardly prepared to deal with another equally tenacious and challenging experience of our times.

After a 40-minute wait to the check-in counter, I was pleasantly informed that I first needed to head outside the airport to be administered the Rapid PCR test. This came as a surprise to me as I had recently travelled from two separate airports and the testing was all conducted within the airport.

As instructed, I reached Gate 9 only to be told that I could not exit without the presence of an airline staff. As lady luck shone bright and sparkly, the staff was conspicuous by their absence. I strode towards the check-in counter for further assistance. This time I was directed to the reservation counter that already had eight passengers in queue brimming with travel-related queries. Fortunately, I spotted an airline staffer and requested her to escort me out of the airport.

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I darted towards the kiosk only to realise that I might as well have taken a long leisure walk. Over 15 passengers had already beaten me to this race. Impatience was soon getting the better of me as I realized that my mobile phone decided to let me down. I did not have adequate mobile data to complete the prescribed online form. I flashed a charming smile to seek the much-needed assistance from a staffer and then began my wait.

The following hour was idyllically spent outside the airport watching (I prefer to use the word ‘observing’ to sound more erudite) passersby as they conducted themselves. No one was spared - from the youngsters manning the covid testing centre, to the middle-aged man slurping filter coffee and the overly dressed rotund woman who sat guarding her luggage with the ferocity of a wild cat protecting her young ones. I would have continued gawking shamelessly and missed my flight if not for a call from my husband enquiring if all was okay.

Scanning the negative word

I scuttled to the counter to obtain my test report and with a look of relief on scanning the negative word on it, I finally re-entered the hallowed gates of the airport. All those who had just completed their tests were once again ahead of me. However, the long-winding queue did not offer me the luxury of drifting away with my thoughts. Officials were present at regular intervals repeatedly requesting for the same set of documents.

By the time all the formalities were complete, it was time to board the flight. I had just spent the past three hours waiting in snail-paced queues, shuffling from one counter to the other or presenting documents to airline staff umpteen number of times.

Rather than be seated, I chose to stand close to the boarding gate waiting for the process to be initiated. I was however quick to notice how alternate seats were left vacant to maintain safe distancing. I smiled to myself at the discipline that a virus had enforced on us.

I attempted to overhear the conversation between two co-passengers in a bid to while away my time. However, thanks to the double masks that they had securely adorned, I was only able to comprehend bits of their chat that did not make any sense when strung together.

Suddenly, I was swept off my feet by overly enthusiastic passengers who jostled to get ahead in the line. All precautionary measures to socially distance was conveniently thrown to the wind as the impatience to be the first to board the flight grew more prominent and urgent.

Once again, I found myself trailing far behind the others. But this time I drew comfort from the fact that UAE was just a few hours away.

Seema Nambiar is a freelance writer