I am well aware that hard luck stories of jet-set travel do not go down too well on this blog. If you must waste the planets resources by flying to India for three days, then don't complain when it doesn't quite work out. Basically, it's 'the if God had wanted us to fly, he'd have given us wings' argument.
Some of you, I am sure, will read the following narrative as Beard's come-uppance. But I think you might also try it as a sad tale of the individual against the un-listening corporate bureaucracy. And there's a topical tale of Twitter abuse, sadly, to end the tale.
You'll have seen in the last post what an extraordinary occasion the Jaipur Literary Festival was. Equally extraordinary, in a less up-lifting way, was getting out of the place.
The deal was I was leaving yesterday morning from Jaipur, flying to Delhi, then -- with a 3 hours gap -- flying on to London. When I got up in Jaipur and checked the websites, it was clear that the flight to Delhi was already estimating at 2 hours late. That was perhaps enough to make the connecion, but would need luck I reckoned.
And that was the beginning of a long day in which luck never quite materialised.
Except that is for the pleasure my fellow unlucky travellers. At the airport, hoping to do exactly the same journey, were five other speakers from the Festival -- a motley crew or distinguished line up (depending on how you look at it) of historians, critics and writers, some old friends and interlocutors, some new found allies, with a range of expertise from Stalingrad to the Mani. It could have been fun, and in a way it was.
We all had good reasons for getting back to the UK by Weds evening, and all could see that a 2 hour delay could be the writing on the wall for that -- without some active intervention. So long as Air India knew the problem, so long as they managed to whisk us through the airport, we would just make.
So we contacted the festival organisers, who said they would get the message to Air India; we talked to the Air India desk at Jaipur; and we talked to the crew on the plane (who consulted the captain). They all said that we would indeed be whisked through the airport and to the waiting onward plane. It all seemed relatively in hand, and we felt a bit of safety in numbers.
But dream on. I should have known that when we were not hustled off the plane from Jaipur quickly, that nothing really had been done. And so it turned out. No-one was waiting for us at all. We did actually make the transfer desk when it was still saying 'final call'. But the decidedly unhelpful official refused to let us go on to the plane . . . it was all ready to go. We insisted that he rang the plane, which he eventually did. There was a moent of relenting when we were moved to passport control (the departure boards still said 'final call'). Then someone changed their minds, and back we were summoned. The plane did not actually leave its stand for another 15 minutes.
Two gripes. 1) we didn't just turn up late to the airport, we were on a damn late-running connecting flight of Air India.. and there was as it turned out plenty of time to get us on 2) .. and this is what really griped .. not a single member of staff of Air India did what they said they would or had ('we will ring through to Delhi', 'we have arranged for you to be met' etc; not bloody likely).
And so it went on. They put us in a hotel some 40 minutes away from the airport (airport hotel supposedly full.. really? this one cheaper I suspect) and promised they would phone to tell us whether or not they could get us on a BA flight in the early hours, some time before the next Air India flight. Did they? Of course not. By the time we had managed to get through to them, and found they had done next to nothing (to put it politely), it was past midnight. And two hours sleep was left before getting up to go again for the Air India plane.
There was throughout all this, I confess, some good 'stuck in the lift' style fun, and some bonding in adversity -- and a good deal of alcohol consumption by some of us. And I accept that we weren't dumped on the streets to fend for ourselves; there are a lot of worse disasters in life, I know. But the bad luck went on till we reached the airport. On the way there, one of the cars we were in blew a tyre (this was at 4.00 am) and we had to wait, stck at a traffic lights, for a replacement. Then I got a relatively low grade Twitter threat from someone who had heard me talk on Crimewatch about internet abuse ('your plane is gonna be blown up" it said) -- silly, stupid, but that's all you need coming through your iphone to tip you over the edge, just as you are finally going to get on the plane.