Stuck in an alien city since two days, with my railway tickets not proceeding for confirmation from the queue of waiting list, I was forced to book a last moment flight to get back to my hometown. As luck had it, all economy flights costed way above my gross salary and the cheapest available was Air India!
I traveled via Air India for the first time in my life. Actually, it was my second time but I vaguely remember my first one since I was lot younger back then. Owing to its repute, I was expecting a disappointed journey. I was expecting angry staff, non-classy unsophisticated unkempt aunties, a tattered aircraft in a mess and a take-it-or-leave-it service.
To be safe, I arrived at the airport two and a half hours before the departure time. The huge crowd took me by surprise. I honestly thought nobody travels by Air India anymore. There was a lot of confusion and a queue having people more than a millipede’s legs! I tried doing self check-in using the kiosk machine but it wasn’t helping me. I suffer from agoraphobia. It is a fear of crowds. I feel anxious and panic amongst too many people. Today was no different. I asked help from an old man, only to realise he was a staff member. I sure was a little amazed seeing the non-adherence to uniform. Nevertheless, he tried to help me with the self check-in and himself failing to do so, suggested me to join the long queue.
In despair, I stood there following the queue. As time passed, I began to calm down. My mind started analysing the scene around me. I had to experience this afresh. I needed to pull out the modern, sophisticated and trendy carriers out of my mind. I cannot compare them with Air India. I realised the approach here is very different.
I wouldn’t say they were 100% professional but indeed, they worked more like home. They handled the crowd like Indian parents in the 80s handled their kids. Hey! these are people who might have had children in the 80s. So when the child came to them for help, they would try to help with patience and kindness but don’t you yell at them if they fail. If it is you who came late for boarding, they might give an angry look saying, “aren’t you supposed to be here forty five before time? Check in starts two hours before boarding. What can I do with a queue so long?” But they sure cannot remain hard hearted for long, they themselves will arrange your passes or perhaps just like you go to your grandpa when mommy says no, you may go to another uncle there seeking help. A ‘please’ and ‘kindly sir’ should be sufficient to call their maternal/ paternal instincts.
Oh of course! Do expect a bashing also if you are an unruly crowd pouncing on one! Be disciplined and respectful. It was a disappointment to see travelers leaving their trolley behind at the check in desk after submitting their luggage. The same people wouldn’t do that when traveling with the modern flyers, where young, smart, polite yet strict air hostess would have ensured that you place it rightly. Remember when you left your room in a mess and mommy would clean it up despite all the cribbing and complaining? So, when finally one gentleman from the staff, decided to look after them because they were disrupting the way to the check in desk, he was yelled at by a young man. The gentleman tried giving his explanation, “I am trying to clear the trolleys! If you wait a little, the queue system will become more organised” . I don’t know what made the young man so furious that he screamed and screamed and screamed that this man doesn’t value time etc. As I told you, you cannot give such attitude to the Air India staff and expect a polite sophisticated response of “I am sorry sir”. The gentleman left murmuring that if the guy knew the work better, he might as well do this.
After almost an hour I reached the madam at the check in desk. I was happy to see the difference. She wasn’t all caked up in make up. It was sober and simple. She wasn’t there to soothe anyone’s eyes. However, horror soon awaited. For the first time I heard the term ,“ticket not confirmed due to last minute booking”, in my flying history! My name was not in the list. The Madam asked me to wait. I knew I don’t have to yell. I just had to behave as a kid. She was my mother’s age after all.
-“What do I do now?”, *puppy face*.
Yes, her heart melted! She asked me to speak to the manager sitting in counter one.
Panicked and in total hysteria, I walked down to the counter. My sister once was made to wait in the flight for two hours only for the flight to be cancelled! I had spent ten grands on this ticket and stood in the airport crowd for one hour now. I wanted to go home! However, I was getting apprehensions of the flight getting cancelled. Though I couldn’t stop chuckling at the flight being over booked! I was imagining how they would transport the extra passengers? Perhaps, standing in the passage like we do in public transport.
It turned out to be an easy task however. The Manager uncle there though angry at other passengers, was patient with me. Trust me I was scared of getting a chiding from him for booking last moment because of which my name was not there in the list. Alhamdulillah, nothing of that sort happened. I had got the trick- be well behaved, patient, innocent, respectful and disciplined. I waited till his sight fell upon me from amongst the herd. Upon hearing my problem he was able to immediately give me my boarding pass. I could leap out of joy. I was finally going home.
I was purely relieved after the security check. A hour and a half for the entire procedure! Alhamdulillah. The best part was actually after boarding the flight. It was beautiful. Maybe you would say that I was too bored with the bland colours of the economic carriers that the bright red simply seemed too appealing. Could be! Not denying. I also felt that the leg space was better or maybe I have become thinner :-). Again, the Air Hostesses caught my eye. I have never gawked at air hostesses this way! They must be approximately my mother’s age and so graceful. Every description of today’s air hostess was defeated. No they were not slim, petite, scantily clad and carrying a frozen face with a practiced smile, nor had they the same mugged up 10 lines to speak to you. They had more than “yes sir, yes ma’am, okay ma’am, sorry ma’am” to say.They were not coldly formal, yet carried themselves with demeanor. They didn’t chirp and swing, rather spoke with firmness and dignity. I would say they were just naturally hospitable. Perhaps that’s what experience buys you. Unmeasurable confidence and grace!
When they spoke to you, they would speak as a host would do when you visit their place as a guest. It was just the body language which struck me so much! I know I am going on and on about them but they impressed me so much.
A small incident. Just as the flight begun, they served a warm platter. Since, I had hogged on some munchies in the airport, I wasn’t really hungry. My meal hence was left untouched. When she came to clear the plates after sometime, I said I am not done. She came back after sometime to check. I could just see the concern in her eyes,
-“are you not eating?
-“not hungry ma’am”
-“would you like to take it with you when the flight lands?” (Wow! No looking down upon people who sneak the served meals into their bags and take home :-D)
-“no, will eat it a while later I guess.”
-“okay.” , The most genuine smile as if the next thing she would do is to pat my head.
I made sure that I finish my meal before she comes next and yes, I sneaked the bread into my bag.
Incident 2: two of them were serving beverages. One tea and one coffee. No tea bags please! It was freshly made tea, brewed Indian style and was being served in kettles! She came asking,
Meanwhile the lady serving tea went ahead only to turn to look at me staring at her (she sure was so smart!). I gestured that I want tea. She smiled and winked! “Yup”
They didn’t wait for people to ask for help. I barely heard the beeps of those buttons to call them. They were just all around all the time.
-“you settle down first sir, we will help you with the baby.”
-“we have not yet parked, please sit down” (loud and commanding)
-“are you travelling alone ma’am? There’s a lady behind who wants to be seated next to a woman. Would you be willing to move behind?”
Confidence! Pure confidence. They served bottled water every time you asked , unlike the flights which give you water in tiny tea cups. It was all in all grand. I must be hallucinating or perhaps was over awed because I felt the flight was smoother and was a grandeur in the sky! Every time the aircraft titled and swirled in the sky, it was a smooth royal sweep tearing the clouds- not the usual tiny encircling before landing.
As the tradition goes, the flight was an hour late and I was more than happy to spend that one extra hour in there. From the start till the end, when a soft and slow announcement of landing was made, I was only marking the differences. The announcement was not a mugged up hush-hush reiteration of “Ladies and gentlemen, we have begun our descent to XYZ airport….blah blah blah blah”. Rather it was a patient, meditative and calm announcement. Every word calm, traditional, polite and well paused.
-” Ladies…..and…. gentlemen…………..”
I wish I could afford this for every trip of mine. I wish meeting you was not such an expensive affair. I wish I could muster the courage to walk up and ask your names. You were just amazing! Your airlines is infamous, I don’t know why. It is the granny of Indian aerial transport- traditional and cool. You’re just fine the way you are! Will miss you every time I fly