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Airport arrivals? They're a nightmare!

Author: John M. (More Trip Reviews by John M.)
Date of Trip: April 2007

Nothing is worse than arriving at a strange airport in a foreign country after a lengthy flight. I seem to always make a complete hash of it, and subsequently get off to a holiday start that is very much less than memorable.

My latest fiasco was in Kolkata, India, earlier this year.

Prior to leaving for India, I had booked all accommodation on the internet, and organized airport pick-ups, with the exception of Kolkata, where we were staying a 200-year-old hotel called The Fairlawn operated by an elderly English woman, Mrs Violet Smith, who sounded extremely eccentric during my emails with her. Previous guests had been Sting, and actors Julie Christie, Patrick Swayze and Felicity Kendal, as well as a number of noteworthy poets and writers.

When I emailed Violet and asked for an airport pick-up she replied with a brief four word email: “Get a prepaid taxi.”

So, after arriving at Kolkata’s Dum Dum Airport at 11.30 pm after an long flight from Adelaide and going through immigration and customs formalities, we found the prepaid taxi desk, and told the man behind the counter we needed a taxi to the Fairlawn Hotel.

We paid our money and he handed us a voucher, saying: “Give this to a yellow taxi out there.” He pointed lazily through the main doors.

With that, we wearily made our way out into the midnight heat with our luggage trolley and were immediately pounced on by about six young men, as I spluttered: “we need a yellow taxi.”

“Yes sir, yes sir, we have a yellow taxi,” they chorused excitedly, grabbing our bags and making off towards a darkened section of the airport car park about 100 metres away where I could vaguely make out a lonely yellow taxi.

“This is wrong, darling,” my wife said gently…”the real yellow ones are over there.” She pointed to a group of about a dozen yellow cabs clearly visible under flood lighting.

“No,” I said, pointing to the taxi we were heading for about 100 yards away. “See? That one is yellow.”

I was right, in a sense. It was indeed yellow but, sadly, I didn’t really realize the error of my ways until our luggage was in the boot and we were seated in the back of a very grimy and rundown hand-painted yellow heap of motorized junk.

When I handed the driver the taxi voucher, he stared blankly at me and said: “No! No good! Only take money!”

Thus begun a brief but ferociously heated argument that quickly ended when we were unceremoniously bundled out of the cab and our luggage was hurled to the ground as the group of young men swore at us in Hindi.

My wife simply glared at me and walked haughtily towards the bank of floodlit genuine yellow taxis muttering that I was a fool. I followed gloomily, and under my breath cursed my stupidity.

The prepaid cab was not much better, but at least the driver accepted the voucher and we arrived safely at the Fairlawn after a hair-raising drive at breakneck speed through the darkened back streets of Kolkata at 12.30 am.

The incident reminded me of when I had arrived at London’s Heathrow in 35 years earlier as a bright eyed and bushy tailed young Australian fresh from the safety and sanctuary of Adelaide.

No-one had told me about the green and red doors in the customs hall, and I blithely made the mistake of wandering through the red door.

I must have been the first idiot to deliberately or accidentally go through the red door for weeks, as I was leapt upon more than enthusiastically by an over zealous customs man.

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