How many people enjoy flying anymore? No one, and it’s hardly surprising. It would take a masochist to enjoy rushing to the airport two hours early, standing in an interminable queue at check-in, only to have the desk attendant tell you that she will reward your patience with a middle seat in the emergency row. Then another interminable queue in front of security, you unpack your bag completely to get to the laptop at the bottom, remove it, join another queue, get frisked, go back because you forgot to put a baggage tag on your bag, repack, wait in a noisy lounge for boarding to start, join another interminable queue, get into a cramped bus with standing-room-only and hurtle across to the plane, another queue, squeeze into your seat twiddling your thumbs until, 45 minutes post take-off, the draconian pilot decides to switch off the seat-belt sign and you can get your laptop down for a break. You can choose to buy airline food if you want to want to inject a ripped-off and unsatisfied feeling into your flight experience. It’s only when the descent starts that the ordeal begins to end.
Today, though, flying from Gwalior to Delhi on an Air India flight, I had the opportunity to realize how much the ‘horrendous flying experience’ is actually a ‘horrendous airport experience’. Gwalior’s tiny airport has exactly two flights that land in it every day: a Delhi-Mumbai and a Mumbai-Delhi, both Air India, both interrupted by the little city. The airport is a recently-converted military airbase, with one biggish waiting hall which opens directly into the runway. Check-in takes all of 1 minute, the airport never having to accommodate more than about two dozen passengers; security takes even less time, and post-security, you can saunter across the open airfield right up to the Air India flight on the runway, and clamber on board.
The pilot was a really friendly guy, too. I didn’t get to meet him, but as I walked towards the plane, I could see him up there waving to the little kids amongst the passengers who were curiously inspecting the plane from afar.
It’s been a while since I flew a non-budget airline (at least, not since that hair-raising business class to Europe) so it came as quite a pleasant surprise to actually get food on the plane. Granted, it is priced into the ticket at an exorbitant rate, but nonetheless, the fact that you don’t have to open your wallet and shell out money makes it seem like the airline is giving you something for free. And what a refreshment it was to spend the entire flight without the crew trying to upsell you some trinket or toy from the in-flight shopping.
I also really liked the fact that the seat belt signs went off, not 45 minutes but 2 minutes after the plane was airborne. The plane had a 30-degree inclination when the pilot switched off the signs! I got up from my seat for a few minutes and stood on the aisle, looking down at the rest of the passengers from my inclined plane, just to relish the experience of not being babied in the air.
I’m trying to recall the last time I flew Air India, and I can’t, really. It must have been years. I’ve deliberately avoided it because a couple of friends had their flights cancelled during the strike, and I hate changing my travel plans. But I really enjoyed this one –down even to the matronly, sari-clad air-hostesses. It was evocative of a long-past era when flying was for the elite and privileged and being airborne was a personal adventure; and if there’s one thing I like more than adventure, it’s the feeling of being elite and privileged while the adventure is going on.