When Vash Chhabra started thinking about how to propose to his girlfriend, Riiya Shukla, his mind went straight to her favorite Bollywood films.
But instead of trying to create a complicated song-and-dance routine, he had another idea: the airport.
Airports have played a big role in Chhabra and Shukla’s relationship, too.
Shukla, an Auckland native, lives in Melbourne, Australia, where she works for the Victoria state government. She and Chhabra, who still lives in New Zealand, have been in a long-distance relationship.
So Chhabra hatched a plan: he’d arrange for their loved ones to be at the Auckland Airport when Shukla arrived for a visit. He would be there waiting, on one knee, ring in hand.
He also had another idea – he would propose to Shukla via the airport announcement system. Getting their loved ones on board for the big day was easy, but going through the layers of airport staff and protocol was a challenge.
Chhabra cold-called and sent LinkedIn messages to any airport employees he could find. But it was when he finally connected with Laura Platts, the Auckland Airport communications manager, that everything began to fall into place.
Platts helped organize logistics, which included bringing a cake, flowers and two very excited families to the airport, as well as a professional crew to film the whole thing.
Chhabra was able to record his proposal, to be played on the airport PA system – but it took eight tries before he managed to calm his nerves enough to get it right.
Altogether, it took a month for Chhabra, Platts and the other airport staffers to prepare for the big day.
Flight delay, lost luggage threatens plan
Shukla, thinking she was just taking another routine hop over the Tasman Sea, had no idea what was waiting for her on the other side.
Although she took the Melbourne-Auckland commuter flight so often it felt like she could do it in her sleep, fate had other plans on August 18.
First, her flight was canceled and rescheduled for later in the day. Then she nearly missed her flight because of bad traffic, leaving her rushing through security to make it on board just before the doors slammed shut.
When she landed in Auckland, Shukla realized that her luggage hadn’t arrived. She planned to go to a service counter to complain, but her family members kept calling and encouraging her to forget about the bags and just come out to meet them in the arrivals hall.
Finally, she did.
And there was Chhabra, on one knee, with loved ones behind him holding up signs spelling out “will you marry me?” as his pre-recorded proposal played over the PA system.
Suddenly, thoughts of lost baggage were gone.
“I tend to get lost in his eyes and as romantic as this sounds, it’s actually true. I do. For a while, it just felt like it was just us. Then, all of our family and friends came and they all hugged us. It was pretty magical.”
For Chhabra, the weeks of planning and days of panicking behind the scenes were all worth it.
The couple plans to wed in India. Shukla is from a Hindu Gujarati background, while Chhabra’s family is Sikh and from both Gujarati and Punjab.
For the time being, they still live in two different countries, and now they plan to get married in a third, with a honeymoon likely in a fourth. But both Chhabra and Shukla feel like their addresses are irrelevant as long as they have each other.
“As much as I thought Melbourne was my home,” Shukla says, “now, I would say he is my home.”