Monday, 16 September 2013

Airline Travel

OK here goes, and I am hanging myself out to dry this time - I loooovvve airline travel, I love airline food (ok, mostly) and love airports too (most of 'em anyway).

The first fascination for me is the amazement and this I feel again and yet again, is the absolute miracle - no, the sheer human achievement that a 'heavier-than-air' object can actually fly into air and transport millions of people and goods everyday globally.  A 100 years ago, this was not imagineable, but now its a reality that we accept easily but its a miracle, one of the safest forms of transport that we really do not celebrate sufficiently.

While I acknowledge human achievement behind airline travel, the reason for loving it so much might be... yes, but of course, my childhood experiences!

My parents loved travelling and thanks to them their sons have travelled most parts of India through every means of transport including horse cart rides and walking through forests.  Most of the traveling initially was visiting our native place in south kanara. 

Later, we would take more occasional and shorter breaks, and visit other places.  My father was eligible for airline travel and thus on a few occasions we did go by airline travel.

And that might be the reason why I love airline travel soo much. 

At that point in time the only folks who really flew Indian airlines were mainly foreign tourists or rich businessmen and corporate executives.    We were the odd interlopers who managed to get lucky and get a peep into their lives of the rich and famous.

This was long before the private airlines began and the only airline for domestic travel was Indian Airlines.  Airports were fairly un-crowded and scantily occupied.  We were the only folks who would usually turn up a good two hours before the timeline. I loved the entire process from check in to security to waiting at the gates etc.  This also was a time when there were hardly any stores or food outlets at airports - in fact the entire airport used to run like any Govt office - y'know follow timings and do a bit of 'work' only during that time, the day was mostly one big tea break with some work interspersed.

...but I still liked it.  Just sitting there and getting a ringside view of not just those magnificient machines, but also folks and how they behaved.  It was  drama being performed right along.  Somehow at a railway station or a bus stand you hardly had the luxury of either time, and a less chaotic setting to do the same.

And I loooovvvved Airline food. As you might have gotten by now airlines, airports and travels was the world of five star luxury and they relied on the best - only the Taj, Oberois, Welcomgroup, Ambassadors used to supply food, nothing was compromised.

(A relevant point to note is that Indian Airlines, now called AIR INDIA, is the albatross that Indian Tax Payers involuntarily uphold, as it runs into great losses every year but since it is state-funded it has not shut down unlike private airlines)

I used to eat everything that was offered - even though I didn't like cheese then, I would eat the processed cheese.

A good thing about Indian Airlines in those days was that no expense was spared, absolutely none - the comfort of its pilots and cabin crew was paramount (they weren't paying for it after all). Correction, it continues to this day.


Yes, we used to absolutely love the delays - and boy, there were so many. I suspect the airlines teams sometimes used to deliberately engineer those delays.  At the airport it usually meant hitting a lounge and having one massive buffet, but since most airports had tiny restaurants they couldn't cope (also few folks 'worked', remember?) So, naturally in about one out of three delays, they would take us to a nearby 5-star hotel and feed us.

Our most exciting journey was a 48 hour domestic flight all the way from Kashmir to Delhi on to Aurangabad.  The flight was to stop at Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodhpur and then onto Aurangabad before it went to Mumbai.  But at Jodhpur they realised one of the engines had conked off, so they carted the entire cabin and crew... yes, and the passengers too - to Umaid Bhawan Palace, one of the finest luxury resort hotels in the world.

We not only had one of the most sumptuous meals, with a fabulous sitar recital, then there were some performances of local dancers in the courtyard, and then two passengers had to share a room, possibly some where royalty had spent time.  (The bathrooms were truly fit for realty, each one was larger than the rooms most good hotels provide).

So, thanks Indian Airlines - during the years we flew them we experienced practically all their five-star hotel partners across the major metros, and boy was it fun. 

Coming back to present times, yes times have changed.

Airports across the world today are not very different from rail and bus stations.  Security check ins take longer to clear than the flight duration itself.  There's a lot more choice in terms of outlets - its one big shopping mall.

The food across airlines has become pathetic - they blame it on cost saving and thanks to the budget airline movement, airlines realised people were willing to forego a lot of things (while paying the same high fares).

But in spite of all the frustrations of current travel, I still manage to find some pleasure in getting there early and spending time by myself, or sitting there and watching folks go by.

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