Sunday, September 04, 2011

Life In A Metro: Flighty Thoughts

What goes on in the mind of a cattle-class passenger

Whenever I am on a flight, the most anxious moment comes when the plane is about to land. I am not alone, I'm sure. Horrible things are known to happen during landing, and I usually find a silent prayer involuntarily slipping out of my lips when the plane touches down.

It was no different last Sunday when, returning to Chennai after a pleasurable week in Kolkata, I held my breath as soon as the tyres hit the runway. I was eager to reach home safe so that I could pull out of my bag the large collection of books and CDs I'd bought from Park Street and look at them with renewed pleasure. A purchase is not a purchase until you've spread out the objects of desire on the bed upon reaching home for one final inspection before they become a part of your daily life.

The plane was still bouncing on the runway and I was yet to exhale in relief when I heard a cry from behind. “Excuse me, sir! Excuse me, sir!” It was the air-hostess who was strapped to her seat at the rear end of the aircraft. “Please go back to your seat! Please!” She was pleading, at the top of her voice, with a passenger who, within seconds of touchdown, had got up from his seat to retrieve his bag from the overhead compartment.

What surprised me even more was that the passenger – a bespectacled, thinly-built man who must be in his forties – returned to his seat with great reluctance, as if he did not like following the orders of a woman half his age. Had the plane been forced to take off again suddenly due to an emergency situation, he could have fractured his skull and died. It is not for nothing that the air-hostesses politely keep telling you to keep the seat belts on until the plane has reached the parking bay. But since they are pretty, petite and polite, you don't take them very seriously: replace them with menacing lathi-wielding police constables and you will find not a single mobile ringing during the take-off and not a single passenger unlocking the seat belt within seconds of landing.

But it's a very Indian thing: to defy rules if the rule enforcers happen to be of the courteous kind and if rule-breaking does not attract any penalty. We become like a classroom full of unruly students. There can't be a better example of this than the aircraft. No one seems to realise that the rules are for their own good, for their own safety. And yet, you will find passengers overcome by the sudden urgency to speak on the phone once they board – even though they had been idling their time away at the departure lounge. I guess for most of them, it is the thrill of being able to talk from the aircraft.

It no longer surprises me when phones continue to ring even after the pilot has announced, “Cabin crew, prepare for take-off.” What really surprises me is the scene inside an aircraft after landing. Though not many display the courage to get up from their seats while the plane is taxiing towards the parking bay, almost all passengers are up on their feet the moment the plane comes to a halt.

There is usually a long wait, which can extend up to twenty minutes, before the ladders arrive and the doors open, and yet passengers give up the comfort of their seats and stand up, often craning their necks under the overhead compartments, as if that would hasten their exit. At that point, the plane does not look like a plane but a truck packed with cattle. Cattle: doesn't the word sound familiar?

Published in The Hindu MetroPlus, September 3, 2011.


Banno said...

Yes, it always surprises me, the rush people are in to stand up and retrieve their baggage, and stand around for 15-20 minutes piled up on top of each other.

Unknown said...

Its true about the 'rush' we Indians tend to force upon ourselves on flights. For over a decade now, I've been travelling to and from Indian airports and each time, I observe the exact same behaviour you talk about. And one other very peculiar-to-Indians habit is to attempt fitting in not only one's own luggage, but others' as well to optimise space.

During every flight, I keep observing and sure as hell, I do find at least a couple of desi bandhus who take it upon themselves to adjust the overhead luggage, 'Is this yours? ok...ok' As they ask around, they would juggled with it and shove in a laptop or similar item.

This is usually the beginning of my in-flight entertainment :) !!

Jam said...

I think it has to do with the group behavior of humans. One mischievous passenger stands from his seat, every one will move out of their seats.

btw, i used to compare human behavior with cattle, but, nowadays, after observing buffaloes and dogs in city streets, i found that cattle are behaving more civilized compared to urbanized humans!

Anonymous said...

in trains people usually are found standing as it's about to halt or nears the station.If they could have it,they'd also crane their necks out of the plane or would stand on the foot stand.
i'm more afraid of air travel.
train journeys are fun and more about station specific food.therein lies the romance.
you agree babu?

Sudeep said...

Dear BG,
How many centuries have gone by, with us (Indians) reeling under shortages. It is easy to forget that this has changed only in the last two decades or so (that too not for all sections). In the shortage era being at the beginning of the line was very important. You cannot undo in so short a time survival techniques built up over centuries.

It’s also cool to be rushing – it shows how busy you are – not a moment to waste. Haven’t you also seen the blackberry’s being whipped out, and status of the work that various subordinates were supposed to do being checked? It actually shows a deep rooted inferiority complex (along with other things like the fake American drawl etc.) said...

This won't really have effect, I think so.