This happened on 7th of June, 2013.
I and my wife Nimika were travelling to India for a one week trip on June 7. Our flight (Indian Airlines, Dreamliner) was scheduled from Frankfurt at 21:30. I wasn’t aware that most of airlines offer a discounted ticket for a journey from Berlin to Frankfurt in case of an outbound journey from Frankfurt. We had hired a car to travel from Berlin to Frankfurt and considering two people travelling, the car came really cheap (55 € rental + fuel costs) as compared to train tickets which were 125€ per person.
What happened before this day:
Everything for this trip happened at sudden blink. Almost!
During the first week of June, it so happened that we had to travel suddenly. Maa and Papa were in New Delhi for a 30 year celebration of their marriage anniversary with Bua and Phupha. In a blink, we suddenly decided that we had to also visit Vaishno Devi during this trip. In another blink, I took a week off from work.
And then, getting tickets to India for both of us, took hours.
First of all, I had to take separate tickets for me and Nimika since we both had different return dates. So, I purchased my tickets first from Air India’s website. Next, when I started to purchase Nimika’s ticket from the same credit card, the transaction was reported to be successful but still the ticket was not reserved (and I was advised to call their call-centre with a reference number). Considering a glitch, I tried it 2 more times, only to get a message: “this credit card has been used for 3 failed attempts recently and hence, we have blocked it”.
WTF!! I called Deutsche bank immediately and they found the problem being “insufficient credit limit” on my card. Considering that I was having my much needed and urgent holiday, they raised my credit limit by huge 400%.
I tried purchasing tickets, again. No luck. So, I decided to call Air India’s call centre with the reference number provided. To my amusement, the guy who picked up the phone, did not know anything about the reference number system. He kept on insisting that the ticket PNR are not generated like the number I gave them. A****e!
I was getting on my nerves since the website showed: “Only one seat left”. I had already booked my tickets to India, our (me, nimi, maa, papa) tickets from New Delhi to Jammu. But wasn’t sure if Nimika would be able to join us!
After a two hour ordeal on most of the travel websites, I gave a try to “travelstart.fi” for Air India tickets for Nimika and was finally successful.
Finally, the day:
My initial calculations were:
- Berlin to Frankfurt ~ 550 KMs
- Average speed limit on the way ~ 130 kmph (+ travelling on autobahn)
- With two stops in between, total driving time should be MAX 5 hours
- I should leave Berlin by 1PM.
- I will reach Frankfurt by MAX 7PM, with 2.5 hours in hand.
I left office at 12:00 to pick the car from Tegel Airport. It was a Peugeot (with French number plate). I started driving to my apartment when I suddenly noticed that one of the side mirrors was not working properly (some loose screws). Considering a long journey, I decided to change the car. I was still calm. Went back to airport and asked them to change the car. It took some time, but then, they changed it to Opel Astra.
It was 1pm already now. Quick calculations said that a 30 minute delay would cause the whole journey to delay by max 30 minutes. Moreover, its autobahn! I reached home by 1.30pm, had lunch and then, we left for Frankfurt.
Damn the city traffic, we were still at Messe Nord (ICC) in Berlin at 15:30. Now were getting nervous. My navigator said that expected time of arrival would be 20.45. We had already lost 2 hours of our travel time and we were still not even 20KMs away from our start point.
Waiting on the red light near ICC, I just prayed, if Vaishno Devi mata has called, we will reach for sure. The road ahead looked empty. As soon as the traffic light was green, I gave a full throttle driving at the max speed of 130kmph and in sometime, we were crossing Potsdam.
Navigator: expected time of arrival – 20:30 hrs.
And then, the maximum speed limit was over. We were on autobahn. Full throttle, close to 170kmph, I hoped that there would be no more delay delays.
Navigator: expected time of arrival – 20:15 hrs
We were about to reach Leipzig when the 2 lanes were cut to 1 lane. I started to notice some cars, driving slow ahead of me. And suddenly, I noticed a trail of cars at least a kilometre long ahead of me. Shit! Not again!!
Navigator: the route is being re-calculated because of a traffic information update!
I immediately took an exit that the navigator pointed me to, only to be greeted by army personnel that you are not allowed to take this road. I told them that needed to reach Frankfurt by 20:00 and possibly this is the only fastest way. They smiled and said that going back was the only way, unless I wanted to swim across. It was the floods. I called up my parents, told them that there are traffic jams and we were not sure if we would be able to make it to Frankfurt. We then called up the Air India help line again. This time, they seemed a little friendly.
Air India guy: This is the number of the check-in desk please inform them.
Check-in desk lady: If you reach here by 20:30, we will take you onboard. We cant wait for more.
At this moment, I decided that in the some case, I will try to delay the flight myself. HOW? I will call up Phupha ji and ask him if he could help get this plane remain grounded until we reached Frankfurt.
Navigator: expected time of arrival 21:25
Travelling at a speed lower than 20kmph, all hopes shattered. We are not going to make it. After about 30 minutes of ordeal, the traffic started to move a bit faster and then, we started driving down a hill. Cars ahead of us started to disappear faster. I gave the same taste to the car behind us. We were approaching Jena now. About 300 KMs more to go and it was already 17:45.
Speeding up to around 190kmph, I gave it one last try. Much thanks to god, we did not face any obstacle until I noticed the fuel meter showing that I could drive about 150 km more, with 250 more to go still for the airport. I just kept pushing the accelerator as much I could, also looking for any possibly empty gas stations. Time was a legacy, we did not have.
Navigator: expected time of arrival 20:45
Near to Fulda, we stopped at a gas station. Thankfully, there were no queues. Filled the gas tank and pushed the gas peddle as hard as I could. When the airport was about 50Kms away, traffic kept increasing. We saw a lane which was closed from both the sides and had almost no traffic. We could take this for airport too and so, we just took over that lane. The lane had no exit to what ever end we saw.
Navigator: expected time of arrival 20:20
Now I feared, what if this lane had no exit. But thankfully, we easily entered the airport area from this lane. We now had to find the car return place. We entered the wrong parking area. Asked one of the guards where was the return place and he said, GO OUT and take a 1 KM detour and then you will find the right place.
Getting out was another ordeal. We reached the exit point and the door of parking would not open now. It was like water – water everywhere, not a single drop to drink. We pressed the help line of the door and the guy only spoke German. Thankfully, he opened the door for us. We found the return place right there. The car-guy was kind of like waiting for us to leave the car to him. We took all our luggage out and started the home run.
Current status: 20:25, reached airport. Finding check-in counter.
All counters were empty. We kept running from one place to another trying to find the Air India counter. A typical movie like scenario. We ran to the info desk and asked them to call the Air India service desk. Instead of calling, they pointed us to where it was. We ran again. There was a lady closing the counter. We explained the the situation and that we had given a phone call earlier.
Our boarding passes were ready and she allowed boarding. We had to almost run for the immigration counter. Once we boarded the flight, we called home.
(I could not take more than a week off from work because of some deliverables planned in the coming two weeks, but I think that for a trip like this, it was completely worth it.)