May 21, 2008

Best in India

Our return flight from Coimbatore leaves the gate nearly an hour late. It is fun to watch the flight attendants zip through the safety demonstrations at double speed, the man's voice increasingly chipmunk like, so they can finish before we sped down the runway and into the air. That urgency must contribute to our making up time en route, because we finally land in Bombay only half an hour late, at 1040pm.

Predictably, the instant the wheels touch is the instant that, throughout the plane, cellphones beep and glow into life. Who are the discussants whose need to be contacted cannot abide the few extra minutes till the aircraft has come to a complete halt?

In this case, we taxi for about ten minutes, from right next to the domestic terminal past various vehicles and structures and lights to some remote part of the airfield. The instant we stop is the instant that, throughout the plane, human forms leap from their seats and begin simultaneously clawing at the overhead bins and trying to muscle forward, cellphones in their hands impeding said clawing and muscling, beeping all the while.

And we wait. And wait. And wait some more. Fifteen minutes we wait. Finally one of the attendants' voices crackles from the speakers, something about how the bus that is to carry us to the terminal has non-working doors. So for our security, they are going to station two staff members at the doors (what about their security?), and we need to wait for these staff members to arrive from wherever they happen to be at nearly 11pm on a Tuesday night.

The voice concludes with this sentence: "This is the state of our low-cost airline."

When we finally start shuffling off the plane and I pass the said attendant, I say to him: "That was a pretty revealing thing to say, about the state of the airline."

"It's not just that, sir," he replies. "Look where we are, near the international terminal, so far away! They always treat our late flights like this!"

Sure enough, when we finally get into the bus, it trundles along on a grand tour of other remote parts of the airport. The boundary walls with shanties on the other side, BEST bus overtaking us on that side; an old East-West Airlines 737, nose absent and crumbling; hangars with ghostly Air India planes surreal in the night light; the odd baggage tractor that slows down to let us trundle ahead. Twenty muggy minutes to get to the terminal, where it's blissfully cool.

But it's not over yet. Now there's an interminable wait for the baggage. When I finally unload our lone bag off the conveyor belt and trudge outside, I remember to check my watch. 1135pm. 55 minutes since we landed: over half our flying time from Coimbatore, spent just getting out of the airport.

As we leave the airport, I notice the signs that, when we were last here two weeks earlier, said "Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport | GVK" -- "GVK" being the consortium that's rebuilding the airport. Only, they don't say that any more. Now there's a whited-out space where "GVK" used to be. Ah, I know what this is about. The Shiv Sena and the BJP have been agitated, because "GVK" on these signs was in a font size larger than "Chhatrapati Shivaji". This, they agitatedly announced, was an insult to Shivaji.

Well, I'm so glad GVK has whited their initials out of the signs. Can't have that insult stand. The airport's better for it. The best in India, I hear. Welcome to Bombay, all.


Kavi said...

That was a vivid journey in my mind. I always wonder what would happen if they jam all phones post the landing.

Everyone would be shaking so much, the ground beneath would shift. Perhaps.

And if it was Air India, the nose would touch down !

Rahul Siddharthan said...

I'd have hoped that an airport, in today's world, would be the last place to need to worry about vandals and thugs. Got to wonder, if GVK can't protect themselves from the Shiv Sena, what will they do against terrorists?

Anonymous said...

why you not drive coimbatore boss?

Dilip D'Souza said...

gbo my friend: in three words, not enough time. We had about 11 days available. Drive to Nilgiris and back would have been minimum 3 days each way, leaving not enough for the place itself. Diwali, we're planning to drive in that direction, have 3 weeks then. Let's see.

Ajeya said...

The rush to get hand luggage after the plane comes to a standstill mystifies me. Where are these people going to go if the doors are shut? Am I missing something? Is this an India-only phenomenon?

Gaurav said...

No Ajeya, it is universal. Same story in the US too, though given the state of airlines in the US, the rush might be in case the airline charges you extra for every minute you stay on the place. :)

Bharat Rajawat said...

i liked your blog

R. said...

i travel 4 days a week...most of what you wrote is an integral part of my life...and the blardy thing is i hate flying..

you know in all the three new airports (or terminals) in mumbai, bangalore, hyderabad, they missed out one teeny tiny itsy bitsy lil thing, which is passenger comfort...i hate all three new terminals with all my heart!

Sidhusaaheb said...

I've always thought that those who play by the rules, at least while they are in India, risk losing their Indian identity!