Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The maharaja's molls

The monsoon is a terrible time to fly. One whiff of a cloud and the airplane begins to rise and fall like an irregular heartbeat. At moments like these you look to the bright interiors for cheer, or to fresh-faced airhostesses who smile benignly. These things reassure me greatly. So when I stepped into an Air India plane two nights ago for a two-hour flight and saw the stern lady at the door, I considered cancelling my ticket.

Our nerves were shot by the time we landed. Everytime an airhostess walked by I would sit straight with my arms where she could see them. Sometimes they would inspect us as they walked by like examiners in a hall. It felt like the worst moments of school. When I tried sleeping, one stood by me in the aisle and yelled at my wife, "Is he your husband? Is he your husband? Is he your husband? Is he asleep?" It was so strange. This profession is supposed to be lucrative and exciting and dreamy. We know it isn't so, but it's supposed to seem this way. If I had a kid who wanted to be an airhostess, I'd take her on a few round trips on this airline, and that'd straighten her out. When the seatbelt lights came on mid-flight and the plane began to shudder, the frown on their faces sunk deeper, and I grew more worried. And then the pilot's voice came over the intercom, "We are in bad weather." That was it. Five words, he was done, we were done for. Some sweated profusely because the air conditioners were switched off. A stale smell developed. Then the plane landed with a thud, one set of wheels at a time. An airhostess said, "We hope you will fly with Air India again," to which a man at the back yelled, "Hopes!"


Sonia Faleiro said...

Hilarious! They haven't changed a bit even though every one thought they would after the private airlines attacked. I wonder what their brief is? "Air travel sucks. Make sure your passengers understand that well by the time they leave the plane."

Sonia Faleiro said...

And I'm sure you mean trolls, not molls! Molls are supposed to be pretty.

Rahul Bhatia said...

I took molls to be those slinky women who slunk beside gangsters. Very well then.

Anonymous said...

My great fear of flying had it's launch when I was a kid, headed home from summer holliers in Dublin. I was with my Mom and we were flying standby (she was with an airline, so we flew for free, but on waitlist) from London to JFK on Air India. We often flew with them to get to and from Ireland (via the UK) because we could never get on as standby passengers on Aer Lingus (who easily rival AI for their superlatively dire service).

It was a lovely clear blue sky kinda day, we were in a 747 and we were circling the airport waiting to land.

With no prior warning or seatbelt sign being on, the plane plunged I don't know how many feet. Sheer terror.

It wasn't enough for the oxygen masks to drop, but it was enough for everyone's stuff to be thrown around off the little tables and for you to lose your breath, like being on the down loop of a roller coaster.

Of course, as soon as it was over, I burst into little-girl tears and the AI stewardess couldn't have been sweeter. I remember this tall lady in a sari leaning over me, smiling and saying "It's ok, flying is perfectly safe. I have a husband and children back home in India, I wouldn't be here if I didn't believe it was safe."

I don't remember the pilot ever saying a peep after all that.

By contrast, years later, again traveling with my Mom and some friends from Buenos Aires to Rio in April, right at the change of seasons from summer to fall, we left Bs. As. in the most hellacious thunderstorm and I was convinced we would die en route.

For the four-hour flight to Rio, the crew couldn't even get up to serve food. But the pilot was one of those American chatty-Kathy types and God bless his heart, he talked us through the whole thing, which, didn't make it all alright, but it eased my panic a little.

When we landed, after doing a Pope JohnPaul and kissing the ground (almost), I saw the pilot at the baggage claim area and thanked him profusely for letting us know what was happening and that - though it felt like it - death was not imminent.