Friendly Airport – Circa 1978
My introduction to USA started with several business trips to Tulsa during late 1970s, often with office colleagues. Our American colleague Steve and his family became very good friends in course of time. One thing that strikes a visitor to USA is the helpful and friendly disposition of the people. They greet you easily in a polite and a cheerful voice. But beyond that, inhibitions and social practice keeps them from breaking barriers with people easily.
In one of my business trips to Tulsa in the month of December in the late seventies, the winter was very severe, breaking the record of previous years. It was a longish stay at Sheraton Inn, which was our favorite hotel. I had to catch a flight back to India the next morning. It was a flight from Tulsa to New York by American Airlines followed by NY-Delhi flight by Air India. I went to sleep peacefully, looking forward to returning home the next day.
The flight from Tulsa to NY was at 9.30 a.m. I had booked one of those shared limousines to pick me up from the hotel at 8 a.m. The airport was 15 minutes’ drive from the hotel. I got my wake-up call from the reception at 7 a.m. As I opened the window curtain, I saw it was snowing heavily and a thick layer of white snow was there all around. I ordered breakfast and watched the weather channel on the TV. The temperature was -5 0C (20 0F) and was dropping continuously. By 8 a.m. the snowfall increased in intensity and temperature dropped further. I came out to the lobby with my suitcase, waiting for my pick-up.
I kept on looking at my watch. Time was ticking away 8.05… 8.10… 8.20, but no sign of my pick-up! A guy at the reception called the agency. He gave me the shocking news that some of the roads were blocked by thick layers of snow and my pick-up vehicle was stuck somewhere, trying to take another route to the hotel. I kept waiting anxiously. At 8.40 I got a call that the vehicle would not be able to come to pick me up. I explained to the receptionist that I had to catch a connecting flight to India from New York and missing the flight would cause immense difficulties for me. He immediately spoke to the manager and told me that he would drop me at the airport by his own car. We hurriedly got into the car. It was still snowing and he had to drive slowly.
At 9.15 we reached the airport, 15 minutes ahead of departure time! I thanked him and hurriedly rushed to the check-in counter. I explained my problem to the friendly girl at the counter who had welcomed me with a smiling pleasant expression. She immediately picked up her phone and spoke to the pilot.
I heard her speaking, “A gentleman from India is waiting here. He was stuck due to snow. He has to catch a connecting flight from New York. Will you take him in?” The pilot spoke something. She immediately gave me a boarding pass and said, “The pilot was about to close the door. But he agreed to wait five more minutes for you. Just take the boarding
pass and run to Gate-5 with your suitcase.” I rushed with my suitcase and a bag.
As I crossed the aerobridge, I saw the cabin attendants waiting for me at the door of the plane to receive me, as if I was a VIP. A cabin attendant picked up the luggage from my hand and asked me to be seated. I took my seat. The doors closed and the plane immediately taxied for take-off.
No security check – nothing. Those were friendly flying days of the seventies and the US airports were at their friendliest best. They made sure that I would not miss my connecting flight.