Cattle Class_2013_09_11

Cattle Class_2013_09_11


Quite obviously I don’t fly Business Class or First Class… but that is precisely why I enjoy flying. And it isn’t just the marvellous and mesmerising take-offs that stay in a traveller’s memory but an entire plane-load of cattle-class passengers join hands to make you smile and say to yourself: ‘I love to fly Economy Class.’

‘But you surely don’t need a plane load of passengers to convince you about flying,’ asked Specky.

‘No, but I’m not talking about the cacophony that is ever so present there I this class,’ I replied, and then went on to tell her that even the cacophony that she mentioned was quite special in his class. As the hostess goes around asking people if they wanted water or some apple juice, there were always voices that desperately send like, ‘Isn’t there any beer?’ The first voice of this desperation is soon follows by a literal horde of similar voices until the serving staff decides that it is better and safer to begin with the serving of the meal that has these Alcoholic drinks genetically fed into them.

This time as I flew to Kuala Lumpur to be a part of the Michelin Experience and drive a real Formula 1 racing car on a real racing track that the best of Grand Prix drivers love, I noticed a few distinct changes in how and what is served during flights. This change has probably come around rather discretely and gently so that the hoi-polloi don’t get hot under the collar and start breaking window panes in mid-air. As I explained to Specky, ‘The changed pattern includes smaller and flimsier plastic glasses, almost like the ones you see in a highway Dhaba when you stop for tea. Then there is the crucial point about the quantity of alcoholic drinks that are served.’

This made even Specky sit up and ask with a lot of interest, ‘Aha! So they have reduced the size of the beer cans now?’

‘No,’ I said, ‘they have stopped distributing cans now. They open one and serve even beer in those flimsy plastic glasses. So much for all the global noise created by the airlines about their being environment friendly.’

Specky was now seriously furious. This wasn’t really so much because of the reduced quantity of beer being doled out, but because of the pretentious positioning that the PR agencies do for the airlines. There was just too much of plastic being used in a single flight and this isn’t because of the plastic used to serve food and drinks… but also the plastic used for headphones, shawl, and anything else that you choose to ask for. I don’t even tear open the headphones kept on my seat simply because I feel it is better to sit there and try to extract some sense out of the cacophony inside an aircraft than add to the environment burden on our planet by watching some movie that you didn’t actually wan to see.

But then this isn’t one of the factors that makes me love cattle class. The cacophony has two distinct divisions based on language and interests. The language division is vital as a language that I don’t understand means that I will need to begin guessing through the tone and actions, if visible, to tell me if something hilarious is being discussed or not. Language and accent also tell me if I am listening to someone who is in Canada and is excited about the newly acquired accent and doesn’t really want anyone to know that he actually washes dishes in a run-down eatery there and isn’t even a university graduate. The interest of travellers in this class is, of course, more towards getting up and gesticulating wildly to call the steward or the stewardess… until the more travelled co-passenger gives a I-know-more-than-you smile and indicates to the little not-so-obvious button right on top. Once this drill is over, the entire class literally bursts into a conflagration of little lights and yet there is flurry in the steward-camp. They obviously know what is happening and so after a while one walks gingerly down the aisle with a huge tray of water-filled cheap plastic glasses and the cacophony dies a natural death.

‘The airlines are surely trying to improve their fiscal position by serving less beer… well, this isn’t limited to just beers and there-is-no-more whiskey now… this disease has reached the lowest echelons of colas and apple juices too!’ I said.

‘Imagine!’ hissed Specky, ‘there was a time when some smart passengers asked and went away with half-kg packs of Foxes!’ It is a different matter that most of these wily ones always pretended they had a naughty but very-dear niece who loved this brand and would be so happy to get them. The hostess probably knew she had no niece and the passenger knew she was just trying to bluff her way into getting her stock of these mints.

However, let us come back to the present and move on to smiles and assistance. Smiles are getting rarer and the spirit to go out of the way to help a passenger feel comfortable is becoming rarer too. Rarity is the new buzzword… and I’m sure this does not make the airline any richer. ‘Of course it does,’ protested Specky, ‘they have obviously begun hiring less involved personnel and a lesser salary. Makes great fiscal sense.’

The seats are closer to each other now… and I’m sure this was the brilliant idea of someone who might have explained this shift as being necessary to bring the diversity of jokes nearer to the others. So we now don’t have people visible leaning in a particular direction to hear the climax of some bawdy balderdash. I can easily hear the whispered line, the snigger that followed, and the loud indiscreet laughter without moving my head to bring my ear into position. This, no doubt, is a major advantage these days… and I’m not sure if all this evolution has happened in the other higher classes or not. If it hasn’t, it is time for them to move to cattle class because the real fun is here sir… not where you sit, sipping a large dose of Chardonnay holding the glass by its stem!



Arvind Passey
Article written on 06 September 2013