Nobody wants to read yet another account of passenger trauma induced by the proclaimed pathological delay of Air India flights. Nor about the anguish inflicted by the habitual misdemeanour of the autumnal aunties of the aisle (AA). Though I had my share of both these ritualistic inevitabilities by the time I took my seat on board AI 048, Delhi – Trivandrum, I swear I didn’t want to write about it either. That is till at take-off when the Young Handsome/Hopeful (YH) who sat on the jump seat next to the emergency exit assured me that these were exciting times, changing times literally: the beleaguered airlines had hired 800 more YHs in the past few months who would soon be replacing the AAs. The only AA on board was there to cluck-cluck the wisdom and expertise garnered over the course of a century of service in the air to the rest of the crew who were all YHs.
“The delay,” the YH said “was due to a major technical glitch for which the flight had to be towed away for repair.” For someone who prefers to travel sticking as close to terra firma as possible this was not really confidence-inspiring. Well, the exuberance of youth shines forth in many ways – imparting information without weighing pros and cons is just one. The flight originally scheduled to depart at 6 PM was pushed to 8 PM and finally took off around 9 PM. Some of the regulars at the gate – which too was changed to a lot of confusion and chaos at the last moment – cribbed that delays were usual with this last flight to Kerala; a few even suggested the ‘technical glitches’ were just a ploy to wait for some babu or mantri on the way.
“No sir, nothing like that,” rang out the bright-faced, ebullient effervescence. “I can assure you this was a routine issue.” How much ever I wanted to believe the YH but over the past two days I was being notified of a progressive delay. Surely things weren’t so honky dory at the hangar.
“We were informed of the delay only today and were told to report for duty at 18 hours instead of 16.”
“So how can you proclaim the nature of the issue was ‘routine’?” I wanted to ask. Instead I chose to bask in the radiance of the unsullied and partake in the promise of a better future and preferred to believe that whatever the lying template talk, it was tutored to taint those pout-pretty lips by none other than the AA herself. As if on cue there was a fracas at the aisle. It was suppertime and a lady heading loo-way was being remonstrated by the AA to return to her seat and not obstruct the food trolley. This AA had earlier nyehed across my crosshairs: boarding the aircraft she had blocked my way for a full minute-and-half smoothing out a business class passenger’s coat over the hanger, even giving it a fond pat before shutting the closet. I stood there mutely witnessing the heartrending defiliation. ‘Well done,’ I told her. ‘You couldn’t have possibly waited a second for me to pass.’ ‘But I said excuse me,’ she countered gazing at me like Caliban. There was nobody behind me in the air vestibule; I was the first to board from the janta side, desperate to grab some sleep before a long day. Or maybe I was just upset as I realised watching the coat love that it’s been a while since my mom tucked me into bed.
Soon as the lady was sent back I decided to stand up, literally. I walked towards the trolley scraping knees up the aisle ready to dunk the AA, shadowed eyes, cracking rouge and all, into the cling-filmed food trays. But she now actually stalled her cart, smiled at me even and motioned with her hands as if giving me directions to the rear end of the aircraft. There was nothing I could do but sit on the gut-sucking stainless bowl for some minutes. Then it struck me: the recycled rudeness was not human, but technical in origin. Technical glitch -> flight delay -> irate passengers -> rude to airline staff -> back at you rude. No shit.
My request for post prandial black coffee remained unattended for a long while; of course I blew hot at the YH who finally brought it. Things came to a head when my request for black coffee was met with ‘would you like it with milk?’ The successful delivery of the steaming black brew was met with my frosty ‘thank you’ waylaid by an equally icy ‘you’re welcome.’
The crew ran out of non-vegetarian food. A navy commander in my front seat (he kept referring to himself as ‘commander so-and-so, carrying a lot of expensive naval equipment’ over the phone right until take-off) was shamelessly told to make do with vegetarian. What I was hoping would be a casus belli was a damp squib; the commander said the commander didn’t mind – food was food. The saving grace was that I got the last non-veg meal on board the 048.