Just when I was beginning to feel happy about the Air India turnaround, their guy at the check-in counter told me something that totally pissed me off. “Sir, you need to pay extra for the front row seats.” I wanted to ask him if I could pay him in kind. Like return the complimentary sandwich which they give in flights of duration less than 90 minutes. But I was sure that it wouldn’t work. Even he knew it was not worth even fifty bucks. I just asked him for any aisle seat other than the ones at the last row. Those are the most terrible ones where everyone who is waiting to use the loo , and that is almost everybody on board on an early morning flight, leans on. Often the derriere of the person standing and the temples of the person sitting are on the same horizontal axis usually separated by a few nanometres. It appears that Indians have a special fascination for aircraft loos. Everybody checks-in atleast an hour before the take-off. But no one uses the washroom at the departure gates. The moment the safety belt sign is off half the plane rushes to the loo. It is like a trial room in a mall on a Sunday at the peak of season’s sale. I could never understand the mass hysteria to relieve oneself in the claustrophobic confines whose suction mechanism is so embarrassingly loud that everyone on the plane knows when you are done.
I was, mercifully, spared of the ordeal that day. I was given a seat on the emergency exit row. The ones that cannot be pushed back and you sit straight through the entire flight as if you were an infant fastened to the baby seat in the car. These seats come with a complimentary sermon from the most disinterested member of the cabin crew who explains how the emergency door should be operated. I once asked at the end of the special briefing if I could try it once. Unfortunately, the lady was not amused. It was just like the Indian education system. Only theory; No practice.
As I fastened my seatbelt, I started thinking about the meanness of the low-cost airlines. They set out with the idea that the passengers would pay less and get minimal services. Today, their fares match their full service counterparts, or at times even more, but the services are bare minimum. Even a zen monastery would appear luxurious in comparison. If you ask for water, they would serve you in shot glasses. Unless you are buying some of their tasteless over priced stuff, you don’t exist for them. When they found that people were not buying their food, they started selling the seats. As soon as the plane is airborne, a lady would announce that she is glad to offer the front row seats for an additional charge. Offer for an additional charge? Why can’t you cut the crap and say that you are selling. Corporate communications, I guess. After all, there should be some pretence of b-school education. Who is going to pay for the extra measly 4 inches of leg space? Thanks, lady. You can keep the four inches for yourself. Strictly no pun intended. Whom are you trying to sell space. We Indians can squeeze in anywhere. An entire joint family panning three generations will comfortably live in a room measuring 10 feet by 10 feet in Mumbai. I am just waiting for the day when the begin charging for even looking out of the window. “Sir, 100 bucks for the city view and 50 bucks for the wing view”.
The pain of low cost airlines begins right at the check-in counters. They weigh your luggage like cocaine. Every gram matters. If they find you have exceeded the limit, even by a trifle, they cant contain their excitement at the prospect of billing you. They adhere to their rule book more sincerely than Pope adheres to the Bible. What amazes me more is that some smart women manage to break even these hardcore believers. I have seen women carry in their hand baggage, a hand bag, a laptop case and two carry bags (one with shoes and other with groceries and condiments). Their totes begin a little below their shoulders and, in most cases, easily reach their knees. Thet would easily take in three duffel bags like mine. My check-in baggage for a 15 day trip would be half their hand baggage for a day’s trip. Apparently, their handbags would have a world of things. Energy bars, hand towels, scarves, umbrellas and even gas masks that can withstand a nuclear biological chemical (NBC) situation. They actually carry food, cloth and shelter along with them and can survive for 24 hours in the event of a nuclear holocaust. On a usual day, these ladies freak me out. But I like them when they beat the crap out of the Shylocks sitting at the check-in counters.
After you land, the trauma continues in their buses that are used to ferry the passengers from the aircraft to the terminal. The buses wouldn’t budge till every inch of the bus is occupied. The last guy who gets in has his face plastered to the glass doors after it is shut. I strongly suspect that the drivers get some productivity linked incentive in transporting a planeload of passengers in the least number of trips. May be they get promoted as pilots. When I finally reach the terminal, I direly want to swear that I will never travel by a low-cost airline again. But for obvious reasons, I know that I cannot. So I silently exit the airport and take up my next challenge - Identify my vehicle among the scores of cars.