I have been very lucky when it comes to travel – seeing new countries, experiencing new cultures, meeting fabulous people all over the globe. Naturally this has meant logging quite a few hours on planes, through different airports, all over.

I recently flew from Bangkok to Istanbul, via Dhaka (Bangladesh). This routing was not my first choice, however I was flying on points and the direct flight on Turkish Airlines was not available…so this was the next best option. I initially thought the layover in Dhaka was 2 hours, but it was almost 6. It’s a small airport…with not much to do, and it was the middle of the night (I landed there at 1am, and my flight to Istanbul was due to leave at 6:25am). Staying awake so I did not miss my flight was my first priority.

I went off to find the lounge so I could at least get a marginally comfortable seat and wifi. The Thai Airways lounge wouldn’t let me in as I was not flying Thai Airways out of Dhaka (made no difference that I had flown to Dhaka on a Thai Airways flight). I was directed to the lounge that Turkish Airlines uses, and was told there that I should be at the Thai lounge – because I started my journey with Thai Airways, it was their branding on my boarding pass. I had to point out that despite the branding, I was flying Turkish Airlines and he finally let me in. I sat down and kept myself busy by doing few things on my computer, watching some Netflix, and shooing away mosquitos. Nope, it’s not an outdoor airport, there were just constantly mosquitoes on me…..constantly!!! At regular intervals I could hear the zapping sound of a mosquito meeting the electric bug-killing racquet the concierge was armed with. That is a very different airline lounge experience.

Eventually it was time to head to the gate. I was thankful and looking forward to getting into my seat and sleeping. Here’s where things got really interesting….

After taking my boarding pass and allowing me to pass through to the security check (which is right at each gate in this airport) I was called back. Seems they didn’t like the fact that my boarding pass had Thai Airways branding on it. In broken English they asked if I had checked luggage. Yup, 2 bags. They then proceeded to tell me that I needed to go to a transit desk to make sure that my luggage had been transferred to the Turkish Airlines flight. What? Look at my luggage tags – they clearly show my bags having been checked through to my final destination. Regardless, off we went to the Transit desk. Apparently in Dhaka you need to check into a Transit desk to make sure that your luggage has been transferred from one airline to another. It doesn’t matter that they were checked into their final destination in Bangkok.

To make things even more confusing, the one and only Transit desk is the Biman Airlines transit desk (Bangladesh’s official airline). Neither of my flights had anything to do with Biman Airlines, however they apparently take care of all travelers in transit.

Next thing I know there are 3 men discussing my “situation” in Bengali. One speaks enough English to tell me that they need to go have my boarding pass reprinted – so that it’s branded Turkish Airlines. And that they need to go find my luggage… They look at my current luggage tag receipts, my passport, my boarding pass (what’s left of it as it had been ripped with the larger piece retained by the team at the Gate), and one of them leaves with all my documents in hand to get my new boarding pass and luggage tags. It took me a few minutes to properly process the fact that I was now without my passport  and luggage tags. What can I say, it was now 6:15am and I hadn’t slept at all. I didn’t outright panic, but I was getting a little antsy about how long this would take, wanting to make sure I got on that flight. I started asking more questions to the man in charge of the transit desk, who assured me that this is “normal” procedure at all airports when connecting flights with two different airlines. Uhhh, nope. Not when it’s all on the same ticket and the airlines are affiliated and the luggage tags clearly show both flights. He conceded that I may  know better than him how things work in other airports, and assured me that all would be fine. He made a couple of phone calls – I could understand well enough that they were about me and my bags. And he told me that my flight had been delayed until 7:30, so lots of time. “Enough time to go for coffee” he said. I agreed that would be more fun than the present situation…

A few minutes later his co-worker arrived with my new boarding pass, luggage tags and passport. We walked towards the gate, and he had me wait for him at the top of the stairs leading to “arrivals” (where I’m guessing my luggage was still waiting for me…). He was back 2 minutes later – no more luggage tags in his hands (he had given me my receipts). And he started walking. I was a little confused as it was away from my gate, so I asked if I should still follow – he said yes.

A few steps later I understood – we were on our way to the restaurant. Aaaahhh, coffee/tea it is. We joined his 2 co-workers who were now having breakfast (this explained why one of them had been more than just a little annoyed by me and the fact that I hadn’t gone directly to the Transit desk upon arrival – “why did you wait so long before coming?” he asked…”why am I here at all? My luggage has been checked throughto Istanbul” I said). They were at the end of their night shift and having breakfast before going home. I was asked to sit, given some tea, and invited to join in their meal. What??? I wasn’t hungry, but felt it would just be rude to not eat anything, so I tore off a piece of flatbread with my right hand (well, I had momentarily touched it with my left when I realized I shouldn’t – and he didn’t touch his food with his left hand at all, as is custom here. Right hand for eating, left hand for bathroom…) and had that with a fried egg, and a yummy, warm lemon and honey drink. He looked at me and said “you see, I told you it would all be fine. And now we are sharing a meal.”

Indeed, all was fine and we were sharing a meal. Conversation was a little limited given my complete lack of Bengali and his somewhat limited English. But I did find out that he has a 7-year old daughter and likes to spend his vacations relaxing at home (while his wife and daughter go traveling).

So. Freaking. Awesome.

15 minutes later we left, I thanked them for their help and hospitality, and walked off to my gate with a big smile on my face. Now THAT was an experience!

It’s traveling to these smaller countries that reminds you that not everything everywhere is automated and automatic. Nor should it be. There is a lot to be said for random conversations with people you would never normaly meet, ,and so much to be gained by sharing experiences of all kinds. As much as it would have been nice to know beforehand that this was a necessary step at the Dhaka airport, thereby avoiding any last-minute stress for all of us, I smile at the thought of this little experience. Sit back and enjoy the ride, I say.