Sunday, December 6, 2009

FLIGHT OF TEARS PART 2: The Mumbai Conspiracy

Marines openly flirted with stewardess as our flight path took us into Indian air space. Theories vary about what actually took place at this point but what I think happened is our brilliant pilot used the wrong call sign talking to the Mumbai tower then tried to use a new one. They caught him in the act. Somehow they found out there were 200 U.S. Marines on board and all hell broke loose. The mental image of a tower full of Indian air traffic controllers losing their minds as 200 storm troopers enter their airspace is comical. Sovereign nations being what they are (petulant children), instead of letting us go home we had to land in Mumbai because now big bad ugly America was violating their air space. Sad part is they were right. It was their air space and they get to do with it as they please. I blame our pilot for the mix up but the joy of the Mumbai experience I lay firmly at the feet of our "allies" in India.

Our Captain let us in on the bad news beginning with how we were too heavy with fuel to land so we were in a holding pattern around Mumbai before we could touch down safely. For the next two hours we cut grid squares in the sky as our pilot explained the UAE really didn't want us back and any other alternative nations didn't want us to overflight either. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs considered this a violation of their airspace and wanted us to land to get all this worked out. This was merely the first of many, many Ministries constituting the labyrinth of India's governing body. It's a wonder anything gets done there really.

Having left Iraq the night before around 8PM we finally landed in Mumbai around 0730 the next morning. We taxied to the far corner of the runway reserved for lepers and other pariah. A shanty town of corrugated shacks were built right up to the wall surrounding the runway area. You could probably leap off the roof of one right on to the runway if you wanted to.

In the meantime we were introduced to Indian flavored bureaucracy as various representatives came on and off the plane asking questions and getting nothing accomplished. At least a dozen times we were asked if we had ammunition on board. Around the thirteenth time I was wishing we did.

The joy of contracting flights to the military is we of course always go with the lowest bidder. This means our veterans get to ride home in planes with no AC and are pretty much held together with duct tape and bubble gum. Even in October Mumbai is HOT. Plus we were on the runway so we estimate it was probably over 110 degrees on the tarmac. With no AC this was a recipe for misery of rather high proportions. Imagine being strapped to a chair that has been bolted to the inside of a dragon's raw throat. Then imagine 199 other guys who haven't bathed in over a day and a half. Ambrosia.

With nothing better to do some of our Marines broke out their cell phones and began to surf the internet. At one point someone let me know we had made the news as "200 Marine Commandos were forced to land in Mumbai after violating Indian air space." It was kind of cool but mostly laughable. Indian news reported 200 commandos were on vacation going to Thailand. Of course the news media is NEVER wrong. I had a plane full of logisticians, truck drivers, clerks, analysts, radio operators, but really, we're commandos. It sounds more newsworthy doesn't it? Shhhhhhh, we've got ninjas!

"I'm going commando; does that count?"

Commandos lounge in overheated economy seats! Lethal I tell you.
At some point representatives from the American Consulate arrived and let us know a good Indian wouldn't be caught dead without a day liberally spiced with healthy doses of bureaucracy. I believe the term they used was IFI: It's Freakin' India. Our pilot must have resubmitted his flight plans a bazillion times to the Ministry of Flight Plans. Fuel had to be appropriated through the Ministry of Bulk Fuels. Heat was free. More and more Indians showed up which resulted in less and less actually being accomplished.

Some 14 or so hours later the brilliant plan to get us to a hotel for the night was finally executed. The Ministry of Buses was contacted and the Ministry of Hotels and Lodging was more than happy to accommodate us. The Ministry of Punching People In Their Face was unable to be reached.

"My wife is going to punch India in the junk."

Some time after dark buses arrived to transfer us to the Hyatt. This was a fine hotel and the staff treated us great. We were served a bounteous feast of local cuisine. Of course, when you pay for 200 or so people to eat and stay the night you're bound to be taken care of. 
 For at least an hour and a half more I dealt with assigning Marines to rooms and explaining this wasn't a liberty port and the government of India really didn't want us here. The Marines stayed in their rooms and were not to wander the city or other nonsense. Our story was also big news locally and the press had been milling around the front of the hotel.

The room was great. The shower was big enough to not require a curtain and you had to take two steps down into it. There was also a knob in the bathroom controlled the TV volume so you could shower and watch the local news at the same time. The top story involved 200 Marine commandos storming the Mumbai Airport. Apparently they were on a holiday to Thailand. Just goes to show the news media never gets the story right.
 Luckily, I had decided to stay up all night and milk all the hospitality I could out of the situation because around 0100 in the morning I was called down to the front desk since the Ministry of Counting People felt there was a discrepancy between numbers of Marines we were claiming got off the plane and how many were in the hotel. So I went room by room and name by name to prove we had who we said we did. Yes, 200 odd Marines landed, but only 192 were in the hotel. Why? We left some on the plane as a watch because it's what we do. What I didn't mention was the crew was also in the hotel because while the Marines were allowed off the plane the crew were not granted visas to stay overnight. Of course, without eight hours of rest the crew couldn't fly. The Ministry of Let's See How Difficult We Can Make This was definitely on their game.

Finally I got to relax in the luxury of my room and watch Rambo on Star Movies, drink some complimentary coffee, and knock out 100 burpees or so.



CI-Roller Dude said...

That's why they are called: "Third World Countries"
Stopping at Ireland was better.

Coffeypot said...

It seems that in India you have a choice of working in customer support for American companies or working in the government. And they don’t eat beef…that’s just not right.

levant326 said...

You didn't meet some "Langoliers" on your trip because the "India-style hospitality" has been their vacation-replacement.


You guys should be awarded the
"Medal of surviving contractor transportation / foreign bureaucracy".

Best wishes from Germany.

Akelamalu said...

Well the room looks nice! :)

Kanani said...

Ha ha ha! Oh, my, I believe I've met the Minister of Counting People. I've also had personal time with the Minister of broken down putt-putts!

Though I've had a ginful time in India --love it, actually, this sounds like absolute hell. Glad you at least (finally) got into the Hyatt. So fortunate they did not send you to the Hostel From Hell.

America's 1st Sgt. said...

CI Roller, you won't get any argument out of me on that one. Just another adventure in the the Third Marine Dimension.

Coffee, you just may have stumbled on the crux of the whole matter right there.

Levant, passenger's bill of rights? Bah! Who needs that?

Akelamalu, as nice as the room was I would rather have just went home. Of course we had nice rooms since someone else was paying for them.

Kanani, I'm not sure what kind of diplomatic concessions were handed over by the consulate but we were finally allowed to enjoy humane conditions like food and rest.

Marpats said...

Africa last year had that definite potential...luckily it all worked according to plan...18 hours sitting around on the flight line to get out....mere rubbish hours on comparison...