My Baby’s Gone: Ross Departs for Woodstock

Ross and I had an eventful few days in the UK, including a get-together with Woodstock alumni in London (Ross didn’t want to hear any more about Woodstock right at that moment, but she did get some valuable tips),massages, a wildly overpriced wash and curl (results above), tapas, andAvenue Q (fantastically funny).

We spent a lot of Wednesday at Heathrow, where we had hassles galore to keep my mind off Ross’ departure. Turns out that Air India only allows 20 kg of baggage for passengers flying from London, instead of the two bags of 23 kg each that we had been told she was entitled to and had so carefully packed for (with a great deal of dispute over what was to go in – you try limiting a fashion-conscious teenage girl on what she can pack for a year away from home!).

I don’t know why Air India has this ridiculous limit; I have never run into it on any of my flights from Italy to India on various other airlines. Furthermore, they charge £24 (about $50) PER KILO for excess baggage – my initial estimate was close to $1000 in baggage fees on top of a not-terribly-cheap ticket.

If I had known in advance about this limitation, I would have found a way to ship a bag separately. Hell, for that much money I could have accompanied her and brought it myself! The alternative suggested by Air India – a third party baggage company – didn’t look certain enough; I wasn’t sure I could trust them to get a bag all the way to Mussoorie, and Ross was near-hysterical at the thought of being separated from half of her so-carefully-considered luggage.

In the end, I took out a few kilos’ worth of stuff, we were granted a 10 kg reduction by the supervisor and, on the sly, another 10 kg was deducted by the lady at the counter, who had felt sorry when Ross collapsed sobbing over her bags (I’m not sure how much of that was calculated theatrics on Ross’ part – a young male employee of Air India seems to have been instrumental in obtaining the reduction). I am very grateful for the kindness of the AI staff but, with that absurd baggage limitation, I won’t be flying them. I still paid £96 in excess.

My stepmother Ruth and I had just seen Ross off through security when we got a call from the father of Anja, a girl who was supposed to be joining the group from Amsterdam. For reasons unclear (either the airline screwed up or the travel agent who booked the tickets did), she couldn’t check her bags all the way through: she had to pick them up at Heathrow and re-check them for the Delhi leg. Because she had to change terminals as well, her two and a half hour transit time was never going to be enough (though the person who checked her in at Amsterdam claimed it would).

We went back to the now-familiar Air India customer service desk and explained the situation. The man there was able to tell us that she hadn’t checked in for the Delhi flight, but we didn’t know where in Heathrow to find her (she didn’t have a cellphone). As I was casting about for a way to locate her, she turned up there at the desk. By this time the Delhi flight was closed and there was no way they would let her on it. (Although Ross, in touch by cellphone from the gate, insisted that “if she runs she can make it!”)

We got Anja rebooked for a flight to Mumbai and then a connection to Delhi, which would arrive just eight hours after the rest of the group. Then we dealt with the baggage problem again. Anja and her father had had the same rude baggage surprise we had, but because they learned about it when she checked in at Amsterdam, her father had given her his credit card. Unfortunately, the nice lady who had checked Ross in had gone off duty in the meantime, so the only concession we were able to obtain was the 10 kg discount from the supervisor. Stuffing more into Anja’s carry-on was not an option – it was already full, and they weigh that, too! Poor Anja (or rather, her father) ended up paying close to £300.

I talked to Ross briefly before the plane doors closed and she departed along with the rest of the SAGE group for Delhi. It was probably just as well that I was so agitated about everything else that I didn’t have time to think about her leaving.

Ruth and I had been up since 5 am, Anja at least that long (and she was jet-lagged, having just returned from a family visit to the US). We found some comfy chairs in an airport cafe and collapsed until it was time for Anja to go through security. Then Ruth and I waited another hour until the flight actually took off, just in case anything else might happen.

I spent some of the time making phone calls all over the place. Anja’s father had called the school to let them know she’d be arriving on a different flight, and I was able to track down the staff member who would be meeting them at the hotel in Delhi, though by the time I reached him he had already heard from the school. Somewhere in there I even remembered to call Enrico and let him know Ross had taken off. I was pleasantly surprised at the impact on my cellphone balance – I had expected all those calls in international roaming (from Italy) to be a lot more expensive than they turned out to be.

I also tried to reach my classmate Sanjay. Part of his business is airline catering, so I thought he might be able to help with Anja’s transit through Mumbai. I knew he was in Mussoorie, but couldn’t reach his cellphone – got a different error message each time I tried. I reached my classmate Yuti in Mumbai instead, and she was able to get through to him and relay back that he would have someone meet Anja inside the terminal and accompany her to her Delhi flight – which in fact happened. This was the best possible solution, and I was much relieved to know that Sanjay was on the case. Anja’s father complimented me on my network, but it’s not me in particular: that’s Woodstock. We look out for each other, and we are everywhere.

Ruth and I finally got home to Milton Keynes around 1:30 pm. She took a nap, I couldn’t sleep – still too much adrenaline in my system. In the evening Ross called to let us know the group had reached Delhi and were on the way to their hotel, and I relayed that information to the other parents via our group on Facebook.

I spent Thursday more or less in a daze.

Friday I headed back to Heathrow for my own flight, to the US. It was three hours late.

Now I’m in Boulder with my classmate Tin Tin again. Haven’t heard much from Ross, and I am resisting the temptation to try to relive through her my own first days at Woodstock. I suspect she is deliberately maintaining radio silence because she wants this to be her experience, not mine. I know she’s enjoying it and I know she’s in good hands. And that’s what matters.

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