I thought I had taken care of everything. But I was in for a rude shock.
“…and what is your ETA”, the check-in staff enquired innocuously.
What does my Estimated time of Arrival have anything to do with my flight check-in? As I momentarily grappled with this incredulity, I understood, from her response, that ETA here stood for “E Travel Authorization”, a form of transit visa now required for citizens of some countries traveling through Canada. And I needed one as I carried an Indian passport. As disbelief led to the quick realization that I had not taken care of everything, that I might need to re-book my flight if I did not manage to procure an ETA before my departure, a spurt of rationality prompted me to fish out my cell phone, while the lady behind the counter called for help from her supervisor to figure out any alternatives I might have to applying for an immediate ETA from Canadian Immigration.
“It usually takes around 20 minutes”, she said as I Googled my way to the Canadian Immigration online application form for ETA, and started filling out my details. In the next few minutes, as she and her supervisor investigated my situation, I nearly completed the form, mentally thanking the internet and mobile connectivity improvements over the last decade. As we walked away from the check-in counter with the knowledge that I must have an approved ETA in the next hour or so, my son, wife and I were still hopeful that my application would be approved in time for my flight, a belief that would be severely tested.
A few minutes and seven Canadian dollars later, we had nothing else to do but remain on tenterhooks. The receipt notice arrived promptly. But that was not enough. An approval was required, something that the Canadian Immigration website said could take up to 72 hours, though it usually took only a few minutes. I counted minutes, praying feverishly behind my external composure. Ten, twenty, a half hour. My son started getting worried about being late for school. At the end of forty minutes, cracks showed in my conviction, as my mind began to work out alternative plans in the face of the ominous possibility of not having an approved ETA in time. What seemed reasonable in the situation was to change my itinerary. The airline website allowed me to change the departure date to the next day. But by now, I had lost my cool. I vented my ire on my son and wife for asking me to change the itinerary from home instead of doing it from the airport. Hope still lurked somewhere at the back of my mind, though now almost entirely overshadowed by the grimness of present reality. If this was live TV unfolding breaking news, I would be a tragic victim, but with great viewership ratings.
More drama unfolded. As pessimism gained, I lead my family back towards the parking lot, while continuing to submit a revised itinerary on the airline website. Mobile internet in true sense of the word – as we took the escalator down from the departure level, all the while keeping an eye on my submitted request, which was still processing. And then the itinerary change failed. Darkness! I lost my wits as I raged at my family, not knowing what was next. We’d head back home. I’d re-book my flight with a hitherto unknown itinerary. Quite the end of the world for someone used to meticulous planning for the mundane.
At the edge of the cliff, I decided to check my email one last time. The approval notice had arrived. Relief and elation simultaneously short through me like electric current, as I let my family into the delightful news. Now we had to rush back to the check-in counter, this time in anxiety of missing my flight despite my wife’s assurances regarding there being enough time.
I was finally through with checking in. In time. We were relieved and thankful that my travel plans were unaltered. I held my wife and son in close embrace before walking through security check, ready to depart, leave them for two weeks to see my aging parents in India. The woes of a first generation immigrant with ties to two continents vastly separated in time and space. ETA – two days.