I am not a frequent flyer and this was my fourth international flight. And the second one with 98% Indian citizens onboard.
This is a flight I took from Milan to New Delhi. The flight was a connecting one and so there was a layover at Moscow airport.
I boarded the flight and found my window seat at the rear end of the plane which was strategically chosen (safest location on a plane, googled). After 5 minutes, a young man, probably in his thirties came and sat beside me. We said our greetings and I started listening to music.
Now from the experience of the past 3 flights and a few domestic ones, I felt something unusual. In my field of view (because I wasn’t looking at them directly), I could still see people standing at their seats, many out of their seats and others making rounds to and fro the front of the plane to the rear.
I got curious and removed my headphones.
Within 10 seconds a woman came to us.
She was wearing a lot of gold bangles, a long new ‘mangalsutra’, a traditional attire and even more makeup. Her looks were screaming “I am married!”. She looked at me and then manufactured a distraught face.
In an instant, I got the idea that I was holding something valuable. Yes, the coveted, most sought after, the romantic window seat.
She says to the guy, “Ask him.”
I snapped “Ask what?”.
She manufactured a fake laugh and finally uttered “Can you take my seat at the front portion?”
Without taking even the processing time, I said the straightest no of my life.
And I don’t regret it. Because I took the time to do the web check-in, there were no charging ports in this plane which meant no movies on the laptop (yes I have a gaming laptop whose battery backup sucks).
So the only source of entertainment was the dear clouds playing their movie of shape-shifting characters.
Dejected, she said to him “Meeehhh! So far away, for so long”.
Alright, I get that you have just come back from a sizzling honeymoon from Vienna but seriously, what romance can you have sitting in an economy class seat on a journey of just 5 hours??
Coming back to the commotion, I started paying attention to the sounds and loud voices.
A few married men with their beer bellies, enough to choke the walkway, were solving the similar seat problems for other couples.
Some others were shouting to their wives directing them to come to their location because “I HAVE FOUND A VACANT SEAT! All we have to do is just tell the crew.”
Yes, it was as loud as you just imagined.
One bulky adolescent was sprinting around aimlessly with a smug smile on his face and a feeling of achievement which remained unknown to me.
One couple in the middle row was swiftly scanning people as if electronically profiling them to find out who would take the unclaimed seat in the end so that they could have adjacent seats.
Within 5 minutes the same newlywed woman came almost dancing to us, bringing a mid-forties man donning a cap and black goggles.
She proudly declared, ” Come with me now, this gentleman has agreed to exchange his seat with yours, WHICH he exchanged with a girl whom I previously requested to switch seats.”
This seemed like one of those cliched triangles from Hindi movies which is an unnecessarily convoluted event to give it the feel of a story.
Anyways, I absolutely refused to look into her eyes as I knew what kind of judgmental look was waiting for me.
Moving on, I took out a Don Norman book and drowned into my princely window seat.
Slowly the commotion settled down with some sad views of the crew looking utterly confused at the requests people were making. I bet they found high school differential equations easier than solving their present customers’ problems.
The plane finally took off, reached the cruise height and the safety belts were unlocked.
As soon as the plane stabilized, another unusual thing happened.
The “pommm” sound from pressing the help button overhead, kept popping up after every 15-20 seconds. I was confused. I took it to be the PA system notification sound but there was never an announcement.
I raised my head and saw about a dozen ‘help’ buttons pressed and yellow lights on.
It was shocking. “So many people have problems?”, I thought.
Whatever the reasons, the crew could be seen frantically running from one seat to another to attend to them.
You could see sad relatives separated by the aisle, continuously standing, looking for a seat exchange opportunity.
Two old uncles in front of me shouted out to their young nephew “Come here! This thing is all in Russian!” The first nephew came and got on his sherlock case to change the language on the infotainment screen.
After an hour came the time of dinner and all hell broke loose.
I had dozed off while reading the book but could hear faint voices of crew members asking people’s names and delivering their orders. It was taking way too long for my turn. And I was hungry.
5 more minutes passed, still, they’re distant.
Another 10 minutes, no closer than before.
I got frustrated. I leaned over and peeked to get an idea of what was happening.
I could see a crew member looking back and forth at the passenger chart and the passenger.
He asked their name, looked at the chart and got confused.
The passenger said something, he again looked at the chart and got more confused. I paid attention to the conversation and I could hear the crew member asking him
“But WHERE was your seat?”
To which the passenger replied “See, I was sitting here (points to the earlier seat), then I gave my seat to her and she went there. So I took this one. And my wife too.”
I literally saw the crew member rub his forehead in absolute frustration, taking a long breath and then asked the man for his boarding pass to know his original seat.
Sadly, he had to do this with almost a majority of the passengers. It was extremely sad for me to look at this. The female crew member was doing her best to assist him.
A similar condition was of the other crew members on the other aisle.
As if this wasn’t enough, once the meal started, I heard loud voices discussing what was in the meal, how it was cooked and what better could be done. One man was carrying his tray back to the crew who is already busy solving the seat puzzle, asking them to change his menu.
Another voice was shouted “Hey just eat it. It’s veg only. Something new!”
One of them called a crew member and said “Excuse me! Do you have another box of salad? Salad … Salad. Yes, salad. Another box”.
30 minutes pass by and the lavatories saw people queuing up and really it was like everyone was waiting for this poor flight to empty their bowels!
Meanwhile, the two nephews were still figuring out the Russian language case, the ‘Help’ lights keep popping up along with the sounds, the bulky boy still making aimless rounds, a Punjabi man basking in his own glory of achieving something like “Hah! Got another one of that!”.
One uncle cleared out his throat so loudly so as to burst his larynx.
During all this, a young woman cracked and started shouting at the Punjabi uncle about how loud he was being since the beginning and she being unable to focus on her work. She said that everyone was just jumping around, that it seemed like an Indian fish market and ended in a cuss word.
Now you can well imagine what followed this.
The two uncles in front of me muttering “jyada angrej ho gayi hai lagta hai (Looks like she has become too much of a foreigner.)” His cousins complementing it with a smile on their faces and adding to the judgmental phrases.
Most of the noises died down but faint discussions could still be heard.
I know that I am not a frequent flyer and this may not be common in the Indian flights. But I felt very sad for the cabin crew and other fellow passengers about how chaotic the whole flight had been.
I am not labelling people but should it be like this?
Are all Indian flights similar in experience?
If I have paid for a service, is this really the way to enjoy them?
I understand that Indian people socialize and familiarize themselves with other Indians very quickly but can’t it be done in a calm and a decent manner?
And most importantly, if one of us stands up and talks some sense, why do we as Indians judge that person and label him/her with a hundred adjectives?
Assuming that such flights ply on a daily basis to New Delhi, the crew members would have been used to all this. But looking at the frustrated crew and their unfamiliarity to such an experience, one can think that this was not common. Which give me some relief that all Indian flights are not the same.
I presented an event just as it was and I would like to know your thoughts.
Is it something cultural or do we need a manual for everything?