I wrote this post while waiting at Boston’s Logan International Airport, almost 50 hours after I left Pakistan for the US.
Update 2: Got to Pittsburgh after 55 hours of travel. Wohoo!!!
Well this has been an experience indeed. I flew out from Lahore’s Quaid-e-Azam International Airport on the 10th of August for a transit riddled itinerary, Lahore – Abu Dhabi – London – Boston – Pittsburgh.
It was a day of lots of ‘firsts’. I was flying for the first time. I was going out of Pakistan for the first time. I was going to be away from my family for an extended period for the first time.
The buildup to this day was uncharacteristically full of uncertainty. This year the USEFP managed to delay visa’s for a lot of people. Even as I write this, there are a lot of Fulbright Grantee’s from Pakistan anxiously waiting for visas, while their classes have already started. I hope and pray that they get their visas soon, and know when they’ll be flying off to their schools.
I got my visa less than a week before my reporting date. At that time, like most other grantees, my mind set had changed from packing to thinking about finding a job as I was expecting something along the lines of a deferral. After that, me and my wife shifted my packing into overdrive (it was mostly my wife, me being the spoilt lazy bum I am). Here’s a view of our room at the height of packing mania.
So after getting a haircut which my barber claimed would not require a trim for the next 4-5 months (I’m not used to dishing out 20 times the cash for a haircut :p), I was all set.
The Etihad flight in Lahore was delayed for a little more than an hour, so I spent about 4 hours in the terminal. The flight was awesome, Etihad has really nice Airbus A330’s. We landed in Abu Dhabi just in time to catch the next flight to Heathrow. I just rushed through transit to catch the next flight. The British Airways flight was really long, and not as comfortable as the flight before.
I had 4-5 hours to burn at Heathrow. I hooked up with other grantees there as well (Maliha, Salman, Ayesha and another lady). All of them were off to New York though, and my flight to Boston left a little earlier than theirs.
Heathrow is HUGE. We spent a lot of time roaming around. Our first priority was to call home, and we got that done relatively easily by getting our dollars converted into UK coins and using the many payphones there. It’s always good to have a credit card though, because then you can call and use the Wifi at airports more easily.
The flight from Heathrow to Boston was operated by American Airlines. The Boeing 777 was awesome, the in flight service was awesome and the food was surprisingly very good. I got a seat next to the emergency exit so I had lots and lots of leg space. I also had a pleasant 61 year old American lady sitting next to me, who was very interested in knowing more about me and introducing America to me once she found out that I was a Fulbright Grantee flying into the U.S. for the first time. She was returning from Ireland from her daughter’s wedding, and I ended up showing her my recent wedding pictures. She was really delighted to see our elaborate decorations and dresses.
We landed in Boston on time. And then lady luck decided to take a day off. I was to catch a local flight to Pittsburgh operated by U.S. Airways. I was greeted by an insanely long line at the ticketing terminal where I was supposed to get my boarding pass. There were people who had been missing their flights for a couple of days now, and were having to come to the U.S Airways terminal everyday to catch a flight. Everyone was really pissed off.
After waiting 6 hours in line, I was told I couldn’t be given a boarding pass. There was a problem in their system which prevented them from bringing up my record. They were able to get my data after about 45 minutes, and by that time I was told that it was too late to give me a boarding pass, and that I would be put on a standby list for this flight. The flight was already delayed from 5pm to 11pm, with a possibility of getting canceled.
I didn’t want to wait that long in the airport, ultimately get stranded at midnight, also leaving my family in limbo as to where I was (I tried for 30 or so minutes to make an international call, but the pay phones refused to cooperate).
So I got a boarding pass for the next day’s flight to Pitt, got a reservation in a nice hotel and stayed the night there. I was easily able to hook up with family back home using the free Wifi in my room (BrainTel’s IP phone is a really nice and cheap way to stay in touch with family back home, especially for times when power shortages prevent them from using Skype, MSN etc.).
A hot shower and a breakfast on land after 2 days later, I was back in the airport. I wanted to verify where my luggage was. They’ve assured me that its booked to my final destination, and I should find it in Pittsburgh International. But the service was equally bad today, with people waiting in long lines at U.S. Airways terminals. I’d recommend all grantees flying in the near future to stay away from U.S. Airways, and request a different operator if USEFP hands you an itinerary with flights operated by them.
Whew, that was a long rant. Now I’m going to get something to eat, and then call CMU and tell them that I’ve missed the first day of orientation (they’ve probably noticed that by now :p).