I have done quite a number of flight journeys over the past few years and I realized its altogether a different world at the airport and in the skies. Just sharing a few observations with you. Please note, all of the conversations listed below are absolutely true.
1. People go “Engliss”
All travelers, necessarily, have to speak in English. Be it the 80 year old granny or the middle-aged, pot-bellied, white/grey safari suit clad, fat mustached baniya. No matter how bad their English, they have to use it. It’s probably believed to be an unofficial authorization pass. This is an actual conversation I recently heard:
Passenger to air-hostess: Madam, what is length of this flight?
Air-hostess: Umm! Sir, I would have to check with the pilot?
Passenger: How you don’t know length of this flight when you are going up and down on it whole day.
Air-hostess: Sir, I do walk along the aisle whole day, but I have never really measured the length.
Passenger – Looks at me with a surprised smile, wanting to say “Can you believe this!”, but actually blurting out “Whaat is this?”, while his hand rotated in an anti-clockwise direction in the same way that every Indian’s does when asking the question “kya hai yeh?”
To which I replied: “Dhai ghante mein pahucha degi Delhi”
Passenger: Oh ok. Thank you
I think some Airlines have figured this out and are now trying to avoid such embarrassing situations by mentioning the languages that the cabin crew are conversant with, during the on-board announcement. So they go “Our cabin attendants can speak English, Hindi, Manipuri and Punjabi”… this announcement on a Chennai to Coimbatore flight. J Yeah right..that will surely help a lot.
But the CISF guys are like rebels in the lot. They never give up Hindi.
A CISF guard says to a foreigner standing in front of me at the security gate “Mobile, purse bag mein daaliye.”
The guy is totally confused. He figures from the guard’s body language and quickly puts his cell phone in the bag.
Guard : “Purse Bhi”
Guy : “Huh”
Guard “Purse, daalo yaar, purse”
I whisper into the guy’s ears, “your wallet”. The guy - embarrassed by his own stupidity for not realizing what he meant, and tensed by the hostility of the guard, is almost peeing in his pants by then, but manages to move along.
I, being a smart-ass, go up to the CISF guy and say “Sir, woh shayad Russian tha. Usko Hindi nahi aati”. To which the guard replies “Toh mene Ke Russian mein baat karni usse.”.. J
2. But the CISF guys do have a sense of humour
Try interacting with the CISF guards. They are always quick to reply with a hilarious one-liner. Once, at the entry gate the guard took a long look at my photo ID and then looked at me, back and forth. He said “Yeh photo ID kaam nahi karega. Aapke photo mein aapke sar ke upar ek bada black spot hai”. He smiled and let me through. He was of course referring to my long-lost hair.
3.. And the air-hostesses/stewards are dumb
It feels like they have been given a pre-defined script which they have mugged-up entirely. The script also consists of answers to standard questions. So if you ask an off-beat question, expect a complete bouncer reply. The following happened to me once when I was sitting at the Emergency Door window seat.
An attractive air-stewardess (whom I mentally rated a modest 8 on 10 on looks :P) approached me and briefed me on the procedures to open the door. She ended with “Are there any questions, sir?”
To which I smiled and jokingly said “No. Sounds pretty cool. I can open the door whenever I feel stuffy and wanna let some fresh air in”. The lady went completely berserk. She shook her head from left to right furiously and said “No, no sir. Did I not tell you, not to open the door unless instructed by the cabin crew”. (And that is when the rating suddenly slipped from 8 to 2)
4. People go “Courteous”
All of a sudden you hear a deluge of THANK YOUs and SORRYs and PLEASEs. You begin to wonder – Are we in India? The same guy, who outside the airport, snubs his cab driver’s “Thank You Sir” by saying “Haan haan, theek hai, theek hai.. Paise rakho”, says to the Air-hostess “Madam, can I habe a glass of water pleeje” . Yes, and its always Madam -Not even a Ma’am, or a “Oh Hello” or a “Ae Shook Shook” or a “Smoochhh Smoochh” (The last one is the Mumbai style of calling for waiters. Very unique… No combination of letters can accurately describe that sound.)
5. It’s a race
When people enter airports, they see it as a race in ‘Takeshi’s Castle’ (remember, the TV game where you bounce off cushioned walls and obstacles). They see the multiple check points as some sort of obstacles; and crossing all of that to reach the airplane in the least possible time as the only little adventure left in their lives. So they plan their every move like.. Join the shortest queue while checking in; load mobiles and purses in their bags even before they join the security check queues, try to shove their bags before everyone else’s through the x-ray; get a seat closest to the exit gate; and lastly, the dumbest of all – stand in a long queue at the exit gate 10-15 minutes before the scheduled boarding time. Can’t they see they are all boarding the same flight which will depart at the same time for everyone. It’s like they are all on this secret mission – The Be-the-first-one-on-the- plane Mission.
I too, have played this race a couple of times. Just to see what its all about. But I play it slightly smarter. See, people don’t get it that the first one in the queue, is the first one on the bus, but the last one off it; because he gets shoved to the back. So, I time my entry into the boarding queue in such a way that I am about the 40th-50th passenger in it – in effect, I am the last one on the bus and the first one off it.. Genius. Come to think of it, It is kinda fun. Which I realize means that my life has slowly but surely – started to suck too. :P
But the race isn’t over at boarding the aircraft. The worst of it is when the plane lands. All the people stand up in a flash – desperate to get off the plane. Even the 6 feet tall guys at the window seats stand; with their backs bent uncomfortably (so as to avoid the overhead compartment).. their faces trying to avoid the next guys back-sides. But they dare not sit back.
That is one main reason why I hate the aisle seat. The guy next to me is always so eager to get off. If you keep sitting, he keeps getting frustrated. And trust me, because I have tried this. He would keep staring at you, making faces, getting restless; I can almost hear him saying to himself “What is wrong with this person (me). Is he not aware of the secret mission. The Be-the-first-one-off-the-plane Mission. I am going to lose for sure now, thanks to this moron.”
The gaze is so unbearable that you have to get up in guilt. If you still persist and not get up, then he would nudge you on your arm and say “Please, Excuse”. Which is the ‘courteous’ way of saying “Arre Pudhe sarka (or Arre aage badho)”. So then you finally give-in and stand… between all the bodies, shoving and rubbing against you – for an eternity –waiting for the plane door to open. The most terrible experience. I have never tried to win this race for sure.. J
From all of the above and many such weird experiences, I have begun to believe that there exists a rule book being circulated around titled – Dos and Don’ts at Indian Airports: The Essential Guide. And I am determined to find this book, so that I can study it and behave appropriately in this mad-house alien world.