Air travel from an Indian Airport
Travelling through an Indian Airport, can be quite an experience.
Indian airports are like a second home to me. My work requires me to travel extensively, and every time I take a flight, I am amused to see the multitude of Indians, from different backgrounds on display, preening in their self anointed importance at ‘flying’.
While a lot of us have accepted air travel as an integral part of our work requirement, there are still many Indians who are flying for the first time, or still look upon air travel as an exciting excursion… a journey that will become a talking point, when they sit with others who haven’t ever set foot on an airplane.
It has to do with Cheap Air Tickets which are available online which means that you only need to pay a little more, and you can actually experience air travel instead of travelling by train.
Initially, I used to get irritated at having to travel with boors, but eventually, I have, in the true Indian ethos, gone with the flow and decided to enjoy these experiences.
The first thing that will hit you when you enter an Indian airport, is the queue outside. Usually, for every one person traveling, there are seven escorting.
To an extent the only difference that you feel when you stand in the queue, with the bustling, jostling and loud crowd around you, is that those around you at the airport, as opposed to the railway station, use deodorants.
Once you make it past the crowds you experience the chaotic check in systems at the airport. Though the crowd has visibly thinned, now that the relatives and escorts are left behind outside, there is still chaos.
Not because the airline’s systems are faulty. Because Indians have a problem with authority and following basic rules. So there is, as with every sphere of Indian life, cutting of lines, fighting, pushing, shoving, and a compromise arrangement ending in the formation of four lines that eventually merge into one.
Frequent travellers have discovered the joys of web check-ins, which means no waiting in lines. But most people, though they have access to the internet and the web check-in facility, really fear technology. So they prefer to wait in line, and get a chance to ask the check in staff, face-to-face for a window or aisle seat.
After the valiantly achieving a herculean task of checking in, the action shifts to the next point of interest… the security check.
Yes, I agree that a lot of the rules at Indian airports are pretty vague, with different airports following different security protocols, yet instructions clearly printed in multiple languages and in bold letters are usually ignored, along with the constant verbal reminders shared by the security staff.
So while the rule states that you need to place your mobile phones in your hand baggage for screening, it is common for people to first queue up to place their bags on the X-ray machine, and then head back from the frisking area to place their mobile phones through it again. Needless to say, they look hilarious, running up and down the security hold area.
Then you reach the waiting area. Some bright person had a great idea to privatise Indian airports, so now most cities have private operators running food stalls in the holding zone.
It is common for people to queue up eagerly to buy something to eat, as most no-frills airlines do not offer free meals inflight.
Then starts the whining and cribbing. It is common to see people complain about how the food they purchased at the airport should cost less than half outside… how they being conned, how they’re being forced to eat stale food, how the government (with some twisted, creative leap of logic) is eventually responsible for the poor quality of their food.
Next, you have the boarding process. In India, people like to crowd around the area near the gates. It’s like the start of the New York Marathon, with hundreds milling around near the start line, waiting for the signal to board. The moment the flight is announced, there’s a mad rush to be the first on board the aircraft, almost as if they believe that getting there first, means that the airline will refund your air fare!
Once you’ve boarded, you start with jostling for baggage storage space. Despite airlines being very clear that only one piece of hand baggage is allowed, Indians, if they could, would carry their entire home with them.
So you have people boarding later, after the overhead storage has been stuffed to near capacity, still pushing shoving and moving bags around to miraculously make space for their bags. But then that’s the Indian way ‘Push a little, Shove a little, Adjust a little and make space for yourself’
Once the flight has taken off, you have free inflight entertainment by the way of a live orchestra. Sometimes it’s a symphony of crying babies, sometimes it is a symphony of snoring co-passengers. Whatever it is, it’s LOUD!
On landing at your destination, there’s again a mad rush, to reach the exit of the plane first. Well before the plane has come to a halt and well before the seat belt sign is switched off, people are on their feet, reaching out for the overhead bins and queuing up to deplane. Almost like the plane’s on fire, and they’re trying to get off before it explodes.
After getting off your plane, you have the crazy experience of collecting your baggage from the conveyor belt.
Everyone gathers around at one end of the conveyor belt and then you can see families, children and the elderly peering over each others’ shoulders till they give a yelp of joy and recognition, when they see their baggage on the belt.
Then they shove and push their way through the people standing in the front, to squeeze their hands between them, and pull out their baggage. It’s almost as if they believe that the baggage will come by on the belt only once. Miss it, and forget about your baggage forever!
After you’ve been through this, you find another queue… this time to board a cab. As usual you’re pushing shoving and fighting to find your way to the front of the line.
As you finally get into the cab, exhausted from your exploits, you wonder why you choose to travel so much. And then you reflect and smile about the wealth of experiences you gather, every time you do!
After all, it is better to have travelled with difficulties, than not travelled at all.