Why Biman Fails

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The long queue outside is nowadays usual. But I was unperturbed. I had come in early and there were the Hajj passengers to photograph. The cat strolling through the airport was somewhat amusing. A man, who could have been Chinese, gave it some food. The cat knew his way around the place. I had found cat pooh on several occasions before, but now I had the source file!

Alarm bells should have rung when I found no notice of the flight on the electronic board. The lack of people at the Biman counter was a bigger case for alarm. My friend Porimol, a journalist from the Daily Star, who was also going to Kathmandu was in the queue. At least I was in the right place! It could have just been “Biman Time” I convinced myself. When no one had turned up by 10:00 am, we all went off to the Biman Sales counter. At least there was a Biman employee there. “We have had nothing official” they said, but hear that the flight might be cancelled. They had no arrangements for rerouting, or any other arrangement. Their excuse for not letting passengers know had some logic. Since they themselves hadn’t been told, what could they tell us?

No attempt to inform passengers that flight BG701 to #Kathmandu cancelled #whybimanfails #eavig #Biman #bangladesh

A photo posted by Shahidul Alam (@shahidul001) on

As much to get rid of us, as to find solutions, they directed us to the station manager’s office. Two floors up and at the other end of the building. We made our way up the stairs. Porimol was sporting. Dragging his large case up the two flights and a short mid stair, couldn’t have been easy, but he didn’t complain. The station officer’s room was empty. No signs of any form. We sat and waited. Eventually an officer peeked through the door. Recognising me, “I too am Shahidul Alam he said. Mohammad Shahidul Alam Mia”. Finding a namesake couldn’t hurt. Connections are everything in this place. He confirmed our worst fears, the flight did appear to be cancelled. When I told him there had been no announcement, he rang someone up and asked for the announcement to be made.  Then he left, only to come back a while later. “The Station Manager is busy downstairs. If you want to see him, that’s where you should go. Sales should never have sent you here in the first place” he said. We followed him back down the stairs, past what was now an ever larger and more vociferous crowd of disgruntled passengers. They didn’t seem to care much. Obviously they had dealt with irate passengers before. The Station Manager, Mr. Atiur took it in his stride. “You are Bangladeshis, you should know how it works” he said. According to him, it was a policy matter. There was nothing he could do. But he did take us to the general manager. At least we were getting higher up the pecking order. 

The general manager shrugged his shoulders. It’s Hajj. Then they both piped in, “You know what happens during Hajj.” He didn’t take kindly to Porimol’s assertion that the Hajj flight was his problem. We’d been sold tickets, we wanted to get to Kathmandu. Mr. Atiur was trying to ease the situation. “Maybe sales can help. This is out of our hands.”

By then, we knew we were going nowhere. I sent a mail to Dewa in Kathmandu alerting her to the situation. I suggested going via Bangkok. She quickly replied, “yes.” Porimol too, “I asked?” “Yes, he too”, she continued.

Then I spotted a problem. The connection time of 25 minutes before the Nepal Airlines flight to Kathmandu would be impossibly close, and then we’d even miss the following day. The Net provided a solution. Malaysian Airlines to Kuala Lumpur then a night flight to Kathmandu. I’d miss the Himal Book Launch, but at least make it for the Panos programme we were primarily going for. Again a quick mail to Dawa. Again a quick response. This time it was another problem. There was no sales office for Malaysian Airlines at the airport. Online sales had closed (we were too close to the flight). Babu Bhai a vision had a go. Nothing doing. Even the central sales office in Malaysian Airlines couldn’t help. The flight was there in front of us. We were ready to pay, but the Biman circus had just eaten up too much time.

I tried Kunming, Shenzhen, Singapore. No luck. Now that the mad rush was over (we’d missed all the likely flights), I got back to Babu Bhai. Perhaps India was the answer. I tried to avoid it, as transits in Indian airports were diabolical, and they had these strange methods where one had to move from International to Domestic to International, and Indian visas were nigh impossible to get. Still Babu Bhai’s option of Air India via Kolkata promised the best option. It did require a stop over in Kolkata. Much as I admired Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, the airport named after him had one of the worst transit arrangements I knew of, my Elite Plus Star Alliance card not withstanding.    

Meanwhile more Haji’s were streaming in. Mr. Shukur a migrant worker from Jeddah, had been offloaded as they wouldn’t accept his bus ticket from Bahrain to Dammam. I rang Babu of Vision, to see if a new ticket could be arranged for him. My old friend Atiur, the ex governor of Bangladesh Bank was heading to Australia. He had juicy inside stories to share about the recent bank heist. Sandwiched between Shukur and Atiur, I felt the two extremities of our economic chain. Porimol and I mused, that the airport could be a permanent beat for any investigative journalist.

Meanwhile having moved from South to North to middle to try and get one of the wifi Networks, BRACNetFreefor Hajj and the linksys hotlink to work and reverting back to Robi’s claim to be a 3G network. I now need electricity. The one point on the extreme South that I was using gets taken up by the scanner device. The North has none whatsoever. Towards the middle by the loo and what appears to be a battery of servers, I find an electrical point. It doesn’t work at first, but ramming in the plug and leaning my suitcase against the socket gets my charger to light up!

Now I can sit back and watch the Hajj passengers streaming in while the airport provides humorous signage to keep me entertained

I knew there was something wrong with my luggage 🙂 #airport #travel #humour #eavig #bangladesh

A photo posted by Shahidul Alam (@shahidul001) on

I am told Kolkata Airport now has an international touch. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/Airport-rooms-get-a-luxury-touch/articleshow/51819553.cms Electricity and wifi are all I need!

Hajj passengers at Shahjalal Airport. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Hajj passengers at Shahjalal Airport. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

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