Flying Air India can be quite something. More than a mere experience I’d say as even a few hours have the power to reward one with a lifetime of humorous tales. The plane, the staff, and the flyers come together as one to keep one entertained for the entire duration and sometimes one doesn’t get enough time to jot down all that is happening as one realizes the speed with which humor can gyrate around one’s senses.
I knew I was flying Air India from New Delhi to London and I made sure that my phone had enough battery life to last me those crucial eight or nine in-flight hours. And I wasn’t disappointed as even before I reached my seat I heard someone excitedly ask another passenger who was probably his friend in the real world, ‘You too? And where are you going?’
I turned to look at the person addressed and found him visibly confused. He however said in a controlled voice, ‘London, of course.’ I wanted to ask if it was possible to go anywhere else on the same flight… I mean, might as well spend a few hours in Tblisi or Istanbul or Bruges or Paris or all these cities before one finally lands in London for a plate of fish-n-chips and a large glass of Pimms. Or maybe it was actually possible to hover over a cruise ship and jump in their upper deck pool for a few laps. Who knows… after all I’m flying Air India. And everything happens maharaja style when you’re flying Air India.
As the plane began to taxi towards the take-off runway, it appeared to bounce on its way. Pot-holed runway, I thought. My thoughts were too conservative for the man sitting next to me. He did appear brighter ads he said aloud, ‘We seem to be in a Punjab Roadways bus’. Ah! So it is IGIA that lets down Air India and not the other way round.
The Boeing 777 that we are travelling in has really creaky joints. Lifting off the runway seemed to trouble every possible joint in this aircraft and the noise as the wheels retracted, was alarming… seemed like an old man with rheumatoid arthritis folding his legs and wondering where the noise came from. These planes in your flock need anti-arthritic drugs or a way to ease your aching joints, AI. I looked at my co-passenger, hoping for another bright quotable wisecrack but he was mumbling, ‘I hope their whisky bottles remain safe. I am accustomed to riding roadways buses.’
This flight was no different than many others so far as bawling and squalling kids and infants are concerned. Lots of them and each having a fascination for a totally unrelated pitch makes flights so full of sound. By the way, Specky concluded that kids must be sore at not having an exclusive seat. Why will they want to share a seat with their mother or father who was anyway finding it difficult to fit in? I think Airlines need to have a buy-a-cheaper-ticket policy for infants. Infants will get more space, feel less cramped, and probably enjoy their flight. Obviously, a full ticket is too expensive and a subsidy ticket for kids seems like a good idea… and the airlines can insist that no infant will share a seat. Hope someone from AI is reading this post and does push this strategic move into existence.
Flying Air India is fun. A female passenger, who was to occupy a seat one row ahead of where I sat, entered wearing a pink hoodie. A hoodie when the Celsius outside is bubbling at 44 degrees? Ah! She is traveling to London and probably conditioning her body and mind. She reminded me of another Indian woman who we saw in an overcoat near Eiffel Tower on a rather warm July 2014 afternoon. I’m sure this trip is going to have a lot of fun moments. This is certainly a good omen. But then life cannot keep coming back to pink hoodies and creaky wheels and needs a steady supply of comedy.
We have been in air for more than thirty minutes and the screen in front of me declares that the aircraft’s media server is still unavailable. No movies. No audio. Therefore, most passengers are busy with the next best alternative… queuing before the hard-worked toilets. I am desperately hoping the toilets remain functional until the end of this flight. But dammit, they must reboot and get their media server live and kicking. Fast.
The problem with no entertainment is that one begins noticing all that must remain under covers… and I soon realize that I haven’t yet seen any air hostess going up and down the aisle throwing water bottles at passengers… the AI hostesses do this with a lot of style, you see. For more than forty-five minutes now we are all waiting with parched throats. Even the AC seems reluctant to cool the innards of this place effectively. The male flight attendant tells me that it takes time to cool an aircraft. Yes, we understand this… but aren’t these people supposed to report in advance and get these things working in order before passengers start boarding? Well, no air conditioning and now no water. No hostess and no water. I haven’t yet seen an air hostess as yet. It appears we are going to fly only with male attendants.
Finally, after almost an hour in flight I hear an announcement about madira-paan service being initiated. And in less than the time yet takes me to blink my eyes, all male flyers waiting and gossiping in the vicinity of the toilets rush back to their seats. No one wants to miss their rationed dose of madira. The man sitting next to me who had claimed that he was an accomplished Punjab Roadways patron, has mixed his beer with 7UP… never knew this was a valid concoction. But then I guess our taste buds have a mind of their own. Another minute fact that I’ve noticed is that the servers in the flight are not giving away anything unless someone asks or demands… and this includes even miniature packets of salted peanuts. We didn’t get any as we didn’t ask for them.
Post meal experience in this AI flight is the worst I’ve ever had… the servers (and I’m not calling them by any other fancy name now) certainly have a terribly distorted sense of timing as no one came to collect trays and almost everyone got up to take the trays back. They did this because they had to go for their post-meal bladder clearance and this couldn’t be done unless the trays were picked up. If this is the way Air India defines fitness during a long flight, then they seriously need to do a rethink. If this is how they define humor, they again need to re-calibrate their sensibilities. The way I see things, Air India had behaved worse than all those molesters that Indian newspapers seem to be talking about every day these days. And molesters deserve not bail but correctional therapy.
A concluding butt-kick for Air India is the way announcements and warnings about rough weather pop up so frequently that I noticed that their intent appeared to have been lost… until one of the attendants smilingly told a few passengers loitering on the aisle that passengers with their seat belts fastened were actually a boon to them. ‘Boon?’ asked one curious sort. ‘Yes sir,’ replied the attendant, ‘we can then move with our food and drinks trolleys unhampered.’ Aha! I looked out and saw the sun shining so bright that even clouds seem fed-up of an over-dose of sun-bathing. So these warnings are to keep the aisle free for trolley movement. This is a strategic move by the servers in this flight and the pilots are very much a part of this heinous plot to keep passengers shackled to their seats! But frankly, I have no grouse against this strategy… some passengers deserve this treatment.
The Maharaja and its antics are what make Air India so distinctive. They gave me enough stuff to write one complete post… and so I must really not have any complaints. If they were to ask me, ‘Can I?’ I’d say, ‘Yes, you can but you may not… at least not all the time.’
16 June 2017