I’d love to believe that a week before Christmas, I was extracted from a high security prison in Russia and then introduced to the Secretary of the IMF and an unnamed Intelligence Agent who then covertly told me, “Your Mission, should you choose to accept it will be to fly half way around the world dressed like Santa Claus.” Following this, a monotonic voice says, “This message will self-destruct in 5 seconds.” Fantasy…yup…that’s what that would have been. In reality, I had no mission like MI 4, just a little bit of madness left in my brain perhaps from a time when I probably fell face first into a pile of fresh cow dung as a child. For those of you who were not following me on Facebook, well…let me put it this way…I was flying home on Christmas day…I figured it would be amusing to dress up as Santa Claus and walk though the airport into my flight. And I did just that.
Let’s face it, Christmas day is perhaps the worst day to travel. It’s the day you want to be home with family sipping a warm cup of chocolate or perhaps eating a roasted chicken and filling your stomach to a point where you say, “I really need to hit the gym in the New Year.“ Just my luck though…I was flying on Christmas Day.
I had announced my stupid plan to a few friends a week before I embarked on this 12300km journey half way across the world. My friends were very encouraging at first and figured it would be a good laugh. Their laughs however transformed into a horrific reality the moment they saw the Santa Suit I had bought, complete with a red Santa sack. The laughs paved way to cautionary warnings about how I might find myself behind bars in Guantanamo Bay writing letters to my lawyer just to be able to get three square meals a day and thirty minutes of daylight.
So this is a quick run down of my Epic Journey as Santa Claus and if I did make it to Guantanamo Bay. Around 2:30 in the morning on Christmas Day (25/12/2011), I started getting ready and then put on my Santa Suit. It was then that I saw the tag on the suit which read, – “100 % Polyester”. To add to this, the Suit had fur trims. What this effectively does is keep Santa Claus nice and warm while he flies around the world in an open top sledge. Perfect if you live in North Pole, a really bad idea if you live in desert like me.
Anyways…it was too late to change my mind, I had no one who was expecting me to do this, and that was all the encouragement I needed. As I got out of the elevator, dressed as Santa, my security guard was taken aback. For a moment I bet he thought, “Does Santa really live in Tecom?” A moment later he enquired, “Aree Sir…kahan ja rehe hai?” (Sir, where are you going?) My response was, “Delivery ke liye yaar!” (For Deliveries my friend!) We jumped into the car and headed to the Dubai International Airport. As we entered the Terminal 1 Departures Gate, I realized it was Showtime! I got out of the car and got hold of a baggage trolley in the most casual manner as though everything was quite normal. One photograph on the phone and I was on my way.
As I entered the Dubai International Airport dressed from head to toe in my Santa Claus outfit, I could sense disbelief in the eyes of my fellow passengers. I started walking though the entrance gate and then headed to the primary security checkpoint. This is where I decided to take of my Santa cap so that I do not look like I am traveling in disguise. No sooner had I done this than an official looking Emirati walked up to me and said, “No no put it on.” As he said this I could see him smile and as I joined the queue I could hear his camera phone make a clicking sound. As I reached the security checkpoint, I had to remove my Santa belt, cap and boots and run them through the x-ray machine. I then walked past the scanner, which found absolutely nothing considering my Santa Suit had no pockets…(I wonder how Santa carries change for parking his sledge, License for ID proof and a Mobile Phone to talk with Mrs. Claus in case he is running late.)
Once I crossed the security check, I had to sit down and get my suit, belt and boots back on. I then found the Air France counter and started walking towards it. I was intercepted by the very same Emirati Gentleman who walked up to me and then escorted me to another gentlemen sitting on one of the benches nearby. He was introduced to me as the Airport Duty Manager. He smiled, wished me a Merry Christmas and then took out his camera phone and clicked a photo.
I then walked to the Air France counter and even before I got there, I had two members of staff beckoning me to come to their respective counters. I walked to the one closest to me and wished the gentleman a Merry Christmas. Almost immediately a small crowd gathered behind the counter. Were they trying to see what Santa’s Passport really looked like or where they thinking, who is this mad doofus about to board our flight. For whatever it was worth, I was assigned the ultra spacious emergency exit seat even without asking. I guess everyone wants Santa to leave something for them under the Christmas Tree.
I then stated the long walk to Gate 143. As I turned the first corner, I heard two young ladies from the Duty Free Shop scream out, “Merry Christmas Santa!” I looked back, wished them a Merry Christmas and as I was about to head on, they screamed out, “Where are the presents?” I smiled, waved and walked on. It was a long walk to the Terminal Gate and right though I maintained a serious, matter-of-fact face as though there was nothing out of the ordinary happening.
At the Gate, the ground staff greeted me with great joy and welcomed me in. It was fantastic. I went inside and sat down as though everything was normal. However one lady from the far corner saw me and burst out laughing. A few seconds later I saw a flash go off. She had made her way to within feet of me and clicked a photo. I looked into her eyes, she sheepishly looked into mine and I said, “Merry Christmas” with a big smile. Her eyes opened wider, she smiled, nodded and then returned to her seat. I think her clicking that photograph got everyone smiling at the gate. Were they wondering why Santa looks Indian? Had Santa’s job been outsourced to India as well? Or once again, were they thinking… “What a Doofus?” (Sorry…no points for that one…please keep the answer to yourself.)
After a brief wait, the flight boarding commenced. I waited till the very end and then walked slowly though the aerobridge. No sooner had I got into the aircraft than the Airhostess screamed out, “Père Noël!!!” (Father Christmas, AKA. Santa Claus) As she welcomed me with a sparkle in her eyes, I looked at her and said, “Didn’t you know that we now fly Air France?” She smiled and escorted me to my seat and then came back a moment later saying that she would like to click a photograph with me.
My Flight to Paris was perhaps one of the best I have ever had. Every time a stewardess walked past, they would refer to me as ‘Père Noël’, smile and ask me if I needed anything. Before we commenced out decent, the Purser, walked up to me and said, “Thank you Papa Noël for flying Air France.”
It was still Christmas Day when I landed in Paris. As I walked though the transit terminal, airport staff were the most amused. In everyone’s face I saw a smile they would at first try to conceal and then in an almost childlike manner smile from ear to ear and then say, “Papa Noël où est mon cadeau?” (Santa Claus, were is my present?) By now I had perfected the art…and would say, “C’est sous l’arbre de Noël!!!” (Its under the Christmas Tree!!!) Jingle all the way…Oh what fun it is to walk through an airport, on Christmas Day. As I walked towards Gate 42 in Terminal C…I could hear radio transmissions saying, “Papa Noël est à l’aéroport!” (Santa Claus is in the Airport)
I have never really liked the security checks in Europe. The last time I was in Paris, I was yelled at. The lady at the security check was rude and raised her voice at me and some other passengers for not removing all electronic devices from our bags. I was not expecting things to be any better this time. Boy oh Boy was I wrong or what? The smiles on the security staff’s faces could be seen for miles. As soon as I got into the queue I could see faces light up. When I got to the security scanner, three people came up to me and said, “Joyeux Noël,” followed by, “Où est mon cadeau?” I have never seen the French be so polite to anyone. It was truly a Christmas Miracle. A moment later however one of the ladies looked at me and said, “Papa Noël, can you take off your jacket?” I looked at her and said, “I don’t have anything under this. If I remove it, it might be very embarrassing for Papa Noël.” She smiled and let me though.
After a considerable walk, I reached my Gate for my connecting flight to Atlanta. At the gate I decided to access the WiFi in the airport to update Facebook. This was quite a pain considering I was standing and trying to type in my credit card number into my mobile phone and carry my camera bag and my Santa Sack all at the same time. I bet it was quite amusing for people walking past watching Santa struggle with his bags and phone. After a few minutes the boarding announcement was made and I stood in queue. Ten minutes later, an elderly gentleman walked up to me and while pointing to a distant kiosk said, “Excuse me, Père Noël did you leave your red bag there?” Indeed I had. Lucky me, the Frenchman had just helped avert ‘An Unattended Santa Claus Sack Security Warning.’ I grabbed my bag and boarded the aircraft.
Right though my journey; I loved the look in the eyes of parents. They were more excited than their kids. In the aerobridge, one parent asked me, “Were is my present?” I looked at him, raised my finger and said, “Now you and I both know that you haven’t really been a good boy, now have you?” As I got into the flight to Atlanta, I could hear parents telling their kids who I was. In the flight one of the Airhostesses’ walked up to me and said, “Papa Noël you forgot your barbe(Beard in French)?” I looked at her and said, “Nope, they now recruit us much younger!!!”
The flight across the Atlantic was mighty long. The temperature in the aircraft did not warrant Furry Polyester Clothing. I felt uncomfortable for most of the journey and had to frequently get up and walk up and down the aisle. What was rather amusing was that when people who were sleeping would wake up to see Santa Claus walking up and down the aisle, they would do a double take and then continue sleeping with a dazed look on their faces. This was the only form of entertainment I had on the flight apart from the marathon of films I subject myself to.
As I landed in Atlanta we were well into Christmas Day. It was close to 3 in the afternoon in the East Coast while it was well past midnight in Dubai. This would have to be my longest Christmas ever. I quick calculation gave me a 32-hour Christmas Day as I flew across three continents and innumerable time zones. The moment I got out of the plane and entered the aerobridge, a member of the ground staff looked at me and said, “Welcome Santa!” My response to him was a bewildered, “Hi…Merry Christmas! How do you know my name? Have we met before?” His quick-witted response was, “Santa I didn’t see no presents under the tree this morning. What you got in the sack for me?” I laughed and walked away.
Everywhere I went I found that the ground staff were the nicest and most amused. Santa Claus walking though the airport on Christmas day seemed like a fun and welcome change to the usual travelers who almost never smile. As I made my way through to passport control, at a distance I saw a lady directing traffic to the two counters… “US Citizens and Permanent Residents to the right, Visitors to the left.” She looked like a serious lady but the moment she saw Santa Claus walking up to her, she started laughing out loud. She pointed in my direction, looked at a colleague of hers who was to her right and directed her attention to Santa. She then walked up to me said, “Merry Christmas Santa, Welcome to America! Now I know why I didn’t get any presents this morning…you’re just getting in right now?”
We both laughed and she guided me to the queue I was supposed to join. She walked back to her post still laughing while I looked at people in my queue and continued acting as though everything was normal. As I got closer and closer to the yellow line, I noticed how the immigration officers would look and then smile. Finally I got to the counter and the lady behind it looked at me and began laughing out loud. She then like everyone else that day said, “Santa, where is my present?” Before I could give her my well rehearsed answer her intercom buzzed…and the voice on the other end said, “Do you have Santa at your counter?” She replied, “Yes and he is all mine.” This was turning out to be a lot of fun. She then looked at me once again, stood up to check out if I was in full attire, and then approvingly gave me a high-five. I’ve never got a high five at passport control anywhere in the world. She went on to stamp my passport and said, “How many bags do you have Santa?” I said, “One check in bag, one hand bag and of course my Santa Sack.” She burst out laughing and asked what I was doing in the US? I looked at her raised one eyebrow and smiled… She continued laughing and then I said, “Well I’m here to spend the holidays with family.” She asked me if they knew what I was doing? I told her that they must have seen it on Facebook. She returned my passport, wished me a Merry Christmas and said that she hoped my family did not look the other way and act as though they don’t know me when I meet them at the arrivals.
I left the counter with a skip in my leap and a smile in my heart. I picked up my bags from baggage control and then headed to the exit. As I walked with my bags, a gentlemen at customs looked at me and said, “Your bags must be quite light this evening Santa…” I smile and walked though looking for my family. To my surprise they were not hiding from me, but had their cameras out capturing every moment of this doofus’ arrival.
I figured that this little journey of mine must be some kind of record. After all, I must be the first Indian who traveled 3 continents on Christmas Day across 12000 km dressed as Santa Claus. If there is someone else who has done this, come in front of me and I will tell you that you are MAD!!!
Next trip…I’m gonna be Superman!!!