On Independence Day, the ground staff at Mumbai airport is dressed in traditional Indian wear. No uniforms, their personal wear. Kurtas on jeans, glass bangles, saris, a white lace salwar kameez, greens, blues, purples, reds.
They look normal, like everyone else. The airport seems festive and it feels as if all security measures will be relaxed, flights will go off on time, there will be no turbulence in the sky and the planes will all land smoothly.
I am also flying in the day which keeps me calm. I’ve realized that evening flights increase my claustrophobia in a plane. At least once, I look out, see it is dark, the pilot announces that we will be flying over the airport for another hour, and I stop breathing, wanting to open the door and jump out.
A flight we took a couple of months ago has done much to increase my fears.
The flight is delayed by a few hours, we are on Terminal 62 or 63 of the humungous Delhi airport, with no food in sight, passengers are getting more and more irate with the sole girl at the boarding counter . She sneaks a biscuit into her mouth every now and then. At first, she is polite. After a while, her polish begins to wear off. At last she says, “Do you think I am God that I can tell you when the flight will come in?”
It ends in her leaving the counter and walking off to the next empty terminal, to cry. The angry crowd follows her. She is being consoled by a middle-aged airline officer. He turns on the passengers and berates them for making the poor girl cry. When the passengers ask him not to interfere, he says, “I am the pilot of your flight. If I decide not to fly, all of you will be left hanging here all night.”
The crowd skulks away, aghast. Everyone is subdued by the thought of this angry pilot flying us.
It seems with decreasing fuel, airline courtesy towards passengers has also decreased.
A week ago, the security personnel at the airport gate smiled at me as I hauled my luggage towards them. I should have known something was wrong then. Because security personnel at airport gates never ever smile. At least, not at me. Usually my name flummoxes them, and they look at my ticket, my identification and my face, with extreme suspicion. I can almost hear their minds creakingly pronounce each syllable of my name – “Ba …”
This time, they say with obvious pleasure, “The Air India flights have been cancelled. But go in, go in, you’ll get to know yourself.”
I cannot understand why while I get 20 to 30 sms-es every day, selling me deals I do not want to deal in, I cannot get a sms about a flight delay or a flight cancellation.
Inside there are 2 counters and 2 grumpy officers and 100s of patients.
You wait in 1 queue, then wait in another queue, for a refund stamp and a piece of information that could have been given to you at the first counter itself. Most people ignore the queues. The ones with too many questions are pointed towards a duty office which is spilling over with dissatisfied passengers.
The only ones who remain unflustered and resigned are the foreigners, who have probably been Air-India‘ed several times during their stay here.
It is all Maya, they seem to say.
The Air-India fuel shortage did give me a few extra days of holiday. So I am not complaining.