Nearly anyone who has traveled has had one of ‘those’ experiences where they found themselves asking ‘what the actual hell is happening right now? I’ve had many experiences where I’ve just had to laugh things off and keep it moving; it’s really part of the fun and experience of travel. But, sometimes, things are just messy for no reason. Enter my journey connecting through Sri Lanka and my short, awkward stay in the airport terminal.
True to my typical habit of one-way flight booking, I booked a ticket on Sri Lankan Air from Bangkok to London and another flight on my fave, British Airways back to Boston. I have to admit, I was suspicious of Sri Lankan Air from the beginning after trying to interface with their sketchy online booking and reading up a bit on their airport. Nonetheless, it was really one of the only flights that matched up with my travel itinerary. I bit the bullet and booked.
After navigating the rat-race that is BKK, I boarded the plane for the quick two-hour flight thinking I’d have a four-hour layover before strapping in for the long-haul flight to London (have I mentioned how much I hate long flights?). When boarding the plane, the first thing I notice is that I was on the absolute first plane that was every built. Like the Wright Brothers put this thing together… The interior was fresh out of the 1970’s complete with the armrest ashtrays. TVs were about the same size as my cellphone and the stench of…something was in the air. Awesome.
The flight crew wore saris, full-on exposed stomachs and all and had attitudes that stank more than the plane. It only got better from there. In my usual bulkhead seat, I was the first to be served during the in-flight beverage service. So, when I asked for wine, I was a little perplexed about why the bottle was half full. When the flight attendant starting pouring, I heard a huge ‘plop’ in the cup and saw an alarmed look on the her face. The wine was red so who knows that the hell plopped in the cup and I was not about to find out. I promptly changed my order to beer and let my mind explore all the possibilities of what the hell was in that bottle, that the attendant had now discretely tucked away on the cart.
The plane shook as we took off. I sat gripping the ashtray armrest and just hoped for the best. My seat didn’t recline. My tray table did not pop out of the armrest like it was supposed to. I gave up. But when the flights attendants brought around Tikka Masala-flavored crackers, things started to look up…until the guy sitting next to be started systematically releasing an arsenal of SBD farts that made me see the bright light of heaven. As I looked upon the face of Jesus reaching his arm out to me, I finally called out, ‘My God!.’ The irony of my outburst was not lost on me and I knew I had to get up and out of there quickly. I hopped up and made a b-line for the bathroom. His toxic gas must have followed me to the back of the plane and I think I might have lost consciousness since I stayed in the bathroom so long hiding.
When I finally returned to my seat, I shot Mr. Stinky a look and tried to find a movie to watch. As we got close to landing, I hear the pilot mumbling something along the lines of “blah blah, blah, inaudible…..cover your eyes and mouth.” Um. what? Just as he finished mumbling, a flight attendant walked by.
‘Did he just say cover your eyes and mouth?’, I asked.
‘Yeah,’ she answered in a tone that could not have been more annoyed.
‘And, why are we doing this?’
‘Because we are about to spray’ she snapped back.
‘Pesticide’ she said casually.
I laughed because I thought she was just being a smart ass and then I realized she was serious. Then, Mr. Stinky chimed in. ‘They do this on every flight. No big deal.’
This was my 8th flight is as many weeks and I’ve flown quite a bit internationally and NEVER had a pilot come on and said ‘cover your eyes and mouth because we are about the spray pesticides in a pressurized cabin full of people’ until now. Before I could even finish processing what was about to happen, flight attendants emerged on both sides of the aisle with hospital masks on, both arms outstretched, holding what looked like roach bombs, spraying them directly into the air vents. I can’t even describe the sheer feeling of WTF-ness I was overcome with but when I noticed no one else on the plane looked even remotely phased, I tried to fix my non-poker face. I could not wait to get off the plane.
When we finally got to Colombo, I was off the plane in a solid 8 secs flat. As we all poured into the airport, I headed to find a place to hang out for my layover. I was really surprised to see so many things open since the airport was super small and it was after midnight when we arrived. Once I found a seat, a security officer came over to me and asked if I had been through customs. Since I wasn’t leaving the airport and had read up on whether or not I needed to go through customs, I told him I had not because I do not need to. He told me I did so I grabbed all my stuff and sadly walked away from my good spot in the airport.
In the customs line, already frustrated and subconsciously convincing myself that I was dying from pesticide poison, my agitation only intensified when customs guy 1 told me to get in the other line. When I made it to the front the other line, customs guy 2 looked at me like I was stupid and was like, why are you even in line. Ahhhhhhh! I walked away and saw a ruckus happening at the information desk that seemed to include all the other foreigners on the plane I’d just gotten off so I went to investigate (read: be nosy). After some eavesdropping, I realized they were all upset because our departure to London had been delayed for five hours because ‘the plane was undergoing bi-weekly maintenance.’ I had the same question as everyone else, ‘you don’t plan for this? Why do you schedule a flight that you know is going to be delayed every two weeks?’ It seemed like the first time they’d every heard any of these questions.
Once everyone calmed down, we settled in for the long wait. People laid out on the floor, which was mopped every ten minutes or so, so that got awkward after a while. I found another corner hoping to just wait things out. That’s when I learned that I was some sort of unicorn in the Sri Lankan airport.
I was watching Nashville on my tablet and could not help but notice that everyone was staring at me. Not quick glances when they thought I was not looking, but the long stare, the I am walking away but still totally staring at you kind of stare. Few moments have made me so uncomfortable in my entire life. Men, women, children, airport security…I was the subject of all their piercing stares. I was dressed conservatively, sitting with my feet not facing any of the many Buddhas in the airport, headphones on, not making eye contact with anyone, yet, everyone was staring. To make things worse, every now and then, the security officer would walk over and ask when my plane was leaving.
After what seemed like the longest layover of my life, it was finally time to leave Sri Lanka. As I approached the security checkpoint that was right at the gate of the plane, I noticed all the officers looking at me and whispering. Shocking. When I approached and handed him my passport he flipped through it intently before looking up and asking where my Israeli passport stamp was. Annoyed and completely unsure where his very odd question was coming from, I snapped back that one would need to go to Israel in order to get a stamp and that I’d never been. He looked at me suspiciously and asked if I planned to return again to which I promptly answered absolutely not. He asked why and I simply told him the welcome had been quite poor. He look at me, said ‘Good’ and waived me through the line. It seemed like the feeling was mutual.
Needless to say, the long flight to London was atrocious and I was served up quite possibly the most disgusting food I have ever seen in my life..and another round of pesticide spraying. Despite the delay, I did not miss my flight, but I was nearly moved to tears when I boarded by British Airways flight to find it was only 45% booked. After being in transit for over 24 hours, having an entire row of seats to myself and one of the sweetest flight crews, and no pesticide sprays during landing, I was happy to be on my way home and pretty damn sure I’d never fly Sri Lankan air again.