Article written exclusively for India Today
Flights, as some of us know them, are air-pressurised metal tubes designed to facilitate humans to indulge in small talk with random strangers at 35,000 feet above sea level.
I still remember my first flight way back as a kid, we couldn't get on to the plane till my mom packed us aloo puri in spite of innumerable assurances that we would be served on the aircraft. You see, Punjabi kids like me rank mid-air food scarcity crises higher than potential flight hijacking.
Air India's unofficial mascot, PM Modi, boards a flight.
There was a time in the pre-recession days, when air hostesses would come with a tray full of toffees and offer it to the passengers before the take-off. Like an imbecile, on my first flight, I took the whole tray from the air hostess, only to be given a seemingly comforting excuse:
"Take a few toffees, and I will mail you the whole tray on your birthday."
I am 24 years old and that tray still hasn't shown up on my door. So ma'am, just in case you're reading this, do get in touch urgently. I got some scores to settle.
Soon, with the passage of time, the aviation sector realised that it had to come up with a new business model to sustain long-term growth efficiently. Budget airlines were launched, which gave no freebies at all, and thus offered lower airfares.
I am in love with the Air India model of budget airlines known as Air India Express. The best part is that they don't let you feel like you are in an actual budget airline since they serve you complimentary refreshments onboard.
It's almost like they feel guilty that you have fallen on such bad times that you have to travel by a budget airline. The thing about flying Air India is that somewhere deep down, you know very well that if you coax the airhostess, she will quickly churn out gajar ka halwa (Indian carrot confection) onboard for you. It's precisely this motherly love that keeps the airline from falling apart.
Budget airlines offer you a complimentary-picnic-kind of an environment nowadays. Families bring in boxes full of McAloo Tikki burgers onboard as that is one of the cheapest items on the menu in an airport food court.
This is usually followed by a mini burger distribution ceremony where relatives sitting in all corners of the aircraft get their share while hurling choicest abuses at the MNC chain for being miserly in handing out ketchup sachets.
Since these flights don't have any great entertainment options, people are forced to come up with innovative ways to amuse themselves, like peeling oranges, cutting toe nails, settling ancestral family feuds onboard et al.
Airlines, in an attempt to make you feel hospitable, had started announcing cabin crew names and now they have gone a step ahead by announcing their locations.
"The chief air stewardess on our flight to Bombay is Miss Tanya Malhotra who hails from Ghatkopar. Assisting her shall be Miss Shilpa Gupta who hails from Thane (East). Please feel free to get in touch with them if you seek to share the cab ride home."
I am rather delighted about the fact that airlines give all cabin crew members their share of recognition by announcing their names, but does one need to call out their locations on domestic flights too, considering all of them are from India?
They might as well share insignificant information about their diet plans to complete the circle.
"Miss Tanya goes for a low carb diet on Tuesdays. However, every Thursday she is only on protein shakes all day long, and tends to capitalise on her moral high ground by reminding people munching samosas around her about their short lifespan due to potential cholesterol issues."
Also, I don't really get why pilots feel that it's their moral duty to give live updates of the flight stats every now and then.
Dear pilots, please bear in mind:
Passengers in general:
1) Are mathematically challenged and can't comprehend both altitude and speed at once,
2) They are busy flipping pages of the inflight duty free shopping magazine not due to any "genuine" interest in shopping, but simply because it has an aristocratic feel to it.
Finally, the last hit was the global financial crisis. Airlines went into a hyper austerity mode. Finance teams worked overtime and every minute cost was stringently worked out and analysed on countless Excel sheets.
So one fine day, the CEO of a major airline, introduced the new finance head in a Captain Planet style announcement:
"Deceit, treachery, greed and indifference - with the powers of all combined, I give you Captain A**hole!"
This announcement was met with a thunderous applause. The new finance head was bright indeed and had some valid suggestions like:
"Sir, we could meddle around with the thermostat by a few degrees to optimise the energy consumption and make it perfectly calibrated to cause passengers' discomfort, yet not so much that they will have the courage to raise their voice and bother the cabin crew. Also, we can save water consumption by ensuring our faucets only release either soul stirring cold or lava spewing hot water. This way, we save costs and even get to boast around the globe about our low carbon footprint, compared to competitors."
Soon, the practices were aped by everyone in the aviation sector. Thus began its downfall. Here's hoping there is some light at the end of the tunnel.