Sunday, October 08, 2006

Flying from Bangalore to New Jersey

Before you begin... this post is just a description or rather instructions on airport and travel formalities and will be useful for those who are traveling to US for the first time. This explains my trip from Bangalore to New Jersey by Indian Airlines involving a change over at Mumbai and a stop at Paris.

Though the flight is at 03:30 in the night, it is better to reach Bangalore Airport by 12:30 in the night. Even if you reach early, the Air India counter will open only by that time. You need to go to the international departure terminal (Departure-3). Look for the Air India counters. Other flights at this time will be Lufhansa and Air France and there will be a lot of people queuing for these airlines.

Give the ticket and passport to the person in Air India check-in counter. Place your check-in luggage on their platform. You can carry a total of 64 Kilograms split into two bags of 32 Kilograms each. Its better you carry two not so big bags (about 25 kilograms each), otherwise it will be difficult to handle them while loading onto trolley. Make sure that your hand baggage contains only necessary things like documents, cash, mobile, and any small books if you want to read. Remember not to put paste, creams, or any gels and sharp objects like combs, nail cutters, pins, etc in the hand baggage. The final destination city is Newark which is near by New Jersey. The first flight goes from Bangalore to Mumbai and then the next one goes from Mumbai to Newark, with a stop at Paris where you will have to sit in the aircraft itself. Remember that your luggage will be checked in till Newark. The person at the check-in counter will issue you two boarding passes and will return you the ticket booklet after taking the required sheets. They will also give you an immigration form which you need to fill with the details from your Passport.

Now go upstairs to the Immigration area, with your hand baggage. Your luggage will be now taken care by Air India and you don't have to worry about it until you reach Newark. There will be different immigration counters and you will have to wait at yellow line near them, until the officer calls you to his desk. Give him your passport, boarding passes and ticket booklet and the filled immigration form. Their duty is to make sure that no criminals are escaping from our country and you are going to US for a valid reason. They will verify the passport and may ask you some questions like why you are traveling from Bangalore when you are actually from Kerala, etc. Sometimes the person at the counter may send you to another senior officer for verifying more details. In any case, keep your calm and answer honestly. Once they complete the verification, they will put a seal on your passport and gives it back along with boarding passes and ticket.

After immigration, the next step is security check. Put your hand baggage and jacket through the scanner, and pass through the metal detector. A security officer will examine you physically and will let you go with your belongings after stamping on the boarding pass.

After security check, you enter a hall waiting to board the aircraft. You might see a lot of people waiting for other airlines like Lufthansa and Air France and might not get a seat in the beginning. Find a comfortable place in the hall and wait there for some hours until the announcement comes for Air India. Sometimes the flight will be delayed and will have to wait for a longer time. Do not sleep, as you may miss some important announcements. You need to show your Mumbai boarding pass to board the aircraft. It will take more than an hour to reach Mumbai.

Once you get out of the aircraft, follow other passengers to board the bus that will take you to the international terminal. As you enter the hall, you will see a sign board for transit passengers. If not, ask anyone the way for Air India transit passengers to New Jersey. Its a bit long walk through the aisles and at every turn, you will see the sign board 'Air India Transit Passengers'. Make sure that you always move along with other passengers. Then you will reach a big hall with a counter where the person will check your both boarding passes and will give you back the Newark boarding pass after telling you the gate number to board the aircraft. Go to the said gate number. Here you will have to go through one more security check where you need to pass your belongings through the scanner and undergo a physical checking. After that, wait at the hall near the mentioned gate, listening for the boarding announcement. Once announced, board the aircraft showing your boarding pass.

Now this is going to be a long journey. Try to get good sleep during this time. It will take more than 8 hours to reach Paris. Drink a lot of water and get out of your seat to take breaks in between. Walk through the aisles and catch some outside views through the windows near the doors. Even while you are seated, do some simple exercises and stretching to ensure proper blood circulation. You will get breakfast and lunch during this flight. When the flight is about to reach Paris the cabin crew will distribute immigration forms for those who are getting down at Paris. You don’t have to collect that. At Paris, some of the passengers will get down and you have to remain seated. Then some people will enter the aircraft to clean it and a security officer will come asking for your passport and boarding pass. After verification he will give them back. After an hour or two, some more passengers will board from Paris and the flight will start its journey to Newark.

This is another long journey. Notice that, though the Indian time is now night, it will be day time at Paris. So you will get one more lunch. After more than seven hours you will reach Newark. Airhostesses will distribute two forms before landing. One is customs form and the other is immigration form. You need to carefully fill both of them using ball pen in capital letters. If you make any mistake in filling, ask the airhostess for one more form and redo it again properly.

Newark airport is simple and spacious airport. After getting out of the aircraft, you will reach an open immigration area where there will be an officer saying 'US Passport holders, this way and visitors this way'. Join the line of visitors. The queue will lead to an immigration counter, where you will have to wait at the yellow line until the officer calls you. When called give him your passport, ticket and boarding pass along with the filled forms. He might ask you few questions, about your purpose of visit and intentions. Be calm and confident and there is nothing to worry about. If he asks more documents, be ready to handover them to him. Once he completes questions and verifies passport and visa, he will ask you to put your left index finger on the scanner to take an imprint. Then do it for right index finger. Then look at the small camera to take your photo. Once he handover the passport and other things, say 'Thank you' and leave the counter.

Just near by there is the luggage claim area. Look for the board showing Air India and your flight number to see on which luggage belt number the luggage will come. In the luggage area, there will be a trolley station. You need to pay 3 dollars to get a trolley. If no persons are there to collect cash, you will have to put it in the machine to get the trolley, or use an international credit card. Get the help of anyone around for that. With the trolley, go to the corresponding numbered belt and watch for your luggage to come. It might take some time to get the luggage.

With the luggage, move towards the end of the hall to reach customs area. While walking you will notice a money exchange counter there. If you don’t have any coins, give some Indian Rupees there and get equivalent dollars. Get quarter coins (25 cent coin is called as quarters) from there for at least two or three dollars, as this will be required to make a phone call.

In the customs area, there will be an officer to collect the customs form you have filled. Since you are not carrying any special items, you can just walk through the area with your luggage after giving the form.

Go straight towards the EXIT area and you will reach the arrival gate. Taxis can also be found near by that area. There will be a number of coin phone booths inside the hall. To make a call to any US number, lift the phone, dial the number and put 4 quarter coins into it.

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