Yashraj Chhabra and Riiya Shukla got engaged at Auckland Airport on Aug. 18 — but the special day was almost a travel disaster
Yashraj Chhabra spent nearly a month planning a movie-worthy proposal for his girlfriend, Riiya Shukla.
Chhabra, who lives in Auckland, New Zealand, wanted to make a grand gesture reminiscent of the Bollywood films Shukla loves. So, he came up with the idea to pop the question in front of their loved ones at Auckland Airport, on one of Shukla’s next visits.
Shukla is from Auckland but has lived in Melbourne, Australia, for the past five years, so the pair are in a long-distance relationship.
The couple became close friends while studying together in college eight years ago, but they began dating more recently.
When their relationship turned romantic, Chhabra tells PEOPLE, “It was just more of a feeling that if you know, you know. And I knew that I wanted to marry her. If I am about to marry anyone, it has to be her. I'm sure that she is the one.”
After multiple attempts trying to reach the airport’s employees via calls and LinkedIn messages, he began working on the over-the-top surprise with its communications manager, Laura Platts.
Despite Chhabra’s careful planning, the big day — Aug. 18 — did not go off without a hitch.
First, Shukla’s flight got canceled. When she called Chhabra to tell him, he immediately said he needed to get off to take a call from his boss, while he was really calling the airport to let them know the arrangements needed to be rescheduled
Shukla managed to book an earlier flight, which she made with only a few minutes to spare, having hopped in a n Uber due to tram delays.
When she told Chhabra she thought she might miss that flight, he told her, "Just get on it somehow if you could. I can't wait to see you, and it's been so long.”
“We have those moments a lot, like, ‘I really miss you,’” Shukla tells PEOPLE, explaining that she had no idea about the surprise he had in store.
When Shukla finally landed, she learned that her luggage hadn’t arrived. To make matters worse, the printer used to print tickets for passengers with missing baggage stopped working.
“I was there trying to message him, and I'm like, ‘Oh my God, nothing is working out for me, and this is the worst trip ever,’” she says, adding that she was “nearly crying” at that point.
It was then that Shukla went out to meet Chhabra. Before his pre-recorded proposal began playing over the PA system, she saw a camera, but thought maybe an ad for the airport was being filmed.
Then, she started seeing her family and friends and realized what was happening.
“I was under shock,” she says. “Instead of even saying yes, I'm just nodding through the entire process. But it was the most beautiful surprise.”
There were about 40 guests in attendance, with both families’ kids holding up large signs with the words “Will you marry me?” Another board featured an illustration of the Eiffel Tower, which Chhabra says is Shukla’s “favorite thing,” in her favorite color, pink. He also brought a cake and flowers.
Shukla's sister had made plans with her to go straight to dinner from the airport, ensuring that she’d arrive dressed up.
Shukla says Chhabra — who was so nervous to record the proposal that he took eight tries — tends to be shy and introverted.
“I'm the loud and bubbly one,” she says. “So for him to pull this off … that would've taken a lot of courage, I would say. But also that means he loves me a lot.”
They are making plans to wed later this year in Madhya Pradesh, a state in central India where Chhabra's family is from
Chhabra's parents told him, “Why wait, if you know she is the one?” he says. “And she is.”
Shukla also gives credit to Auckland Airport for making the day so unforgettable.
“I think we'll probably treasure this forever,” she said. “So for them to always be part of this and also to capture this special moment, We're going to treasure this as one of our best memories.”
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