17 -18 Jan 2023 – the 12 hours spent in Terminal 2 Mumbai – will remain etched in my memory. 28 ABGites were set to fly to Colombo for annual Planning and Budgeting meeting. Weeks of thinking, brainstorming, and planning were about to culminate into even richer conversations and final plans for FY’24. The excitement was palpable as we were travelling together as a team for the first time post COVID.
We were flying by Sri Lankan Airlines, a red eye flight at 3:10 am. Few early birds had reached the airport by 11:30 pm, others followed within an hour. We were thrilled at the speedy check-in; security and immigration were a breeze. With enough time on hands, many of us bought chocolates and perfumes, while few pre-booked their favorite whiskeys, vodkas, and wines.
Like a river branching and merging with tributaries as it gently flows towards the sea, we split into smaller groups, then converged into larger groups and then got into pairs and trios… slowly moving towards our destination, Gate 74!
Around 1 am, a message floated: “flight is delayed by 2 hours”. Despite few murmurs of disappointment, the spirits were high. Those trying to avoid calories gave into temptation, a hunt began for coffee, muffins and Mac D! And dosas and filter coffee in Annapurna next to Mac D. By 4 am the incoming flight had still not arrived! Someone checked the flight status online, to our utter disbelief, the flight was rescheduled to 4 pm, just about 13 hours delay….
Through this entire period, there was an ominous silence from the airlines! We suddenly became a turbulent river, gushing towards Gate 74, by now crowded with angry passengers. We finally got to know that the aircraft had a technical snag, hence the inordinate delay. We had two options:
- To check into Niraanta, the transit hotel and take the flight in the evening
- Or cancel our trip, exit the airport
Second option was chosen, and that’s when our real adventure began….. Even the frequent travelers amongst us had never experienced a situation like this. It was a first time for all, guess even for the airlines staff!!
Imagine being asked to run backwards…. the steady smooth jog would suddenly become a slow, uncertain hobble. Each step that was a breeze just few hours back had to be slowly reversed – removing names from passenger list, cancel immigration, return all the duty-free items purchased, reverse security check, baggage clearance through security and customs.
We knew it will take time; yet were optimistically hoping to relax in our cozy beds in couple of hours. We were in for a surprise. We reached the departures baggage area in couple of hours, guess around 8:30 am. Post that started our wait for baggage: 1 hour became 2 and then 3… By 12 pm the luggage started coming in batches… to relief of few and disappointment of others…everyone got their luggage by 1 pm Over 12 hours spent in Terminal 2 of Mumbai Airport!
Those 12 hours were tough, yet I remember them with fondness. Few things that stood out for me:
- Team bonding and building happens naturally in times like this, guess we bonded better in those 12 hours than what we would have in Colombo. We were sharing, supporting, motivating each other – be it taking a heavy bag and putting on the trolley or sharing a funny anecdote to lighten the mood
- We stuck to together, genuinely looking out for each other. As hunger pangs attacked, someone took out theplas and khakras from hand baggage, few scouted bun maskas and chai from nearby food stall. While few others made sure everyone was laughing at small things, thus keeping both physical and emotional energy high.
- We witnessed the oft quoted V formation of geese in action. Few people took the lead, as they started showing signs of tiredness, others naturally glided in and took charge. And this handover-takeover of leadership happened seamlessly multiple times
Couple of other learnings from the anxiety, frustration and confusion of the ground staff:
- Clearly outline SOPs for the events that are most unlikely to happen; these are the times when the employees are clueless and need maximum help to do justice to their job.
- Make the SOPs easily accessible and retrievable, as the person who knows about their existence may not be present that day!
- Equip employees on the ground, facing the customers, with accurate information
All learnings aside, today and for years to come, I wouldn’t remember the body aches from sitting on hard airport seats or the foggy brain from lack of sleep. All I remember is the warmth and togetherness of the team! Indeed there’s nothing better than a crisis to bring a team together