Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The 'Joy' of Flying ???

I am currently in the departure lounge at Hyderabad airport, awaiting for the boarding call for my flight to Mumbai. Its been a long day and I cant wait to fly back home. But as I arrived at the airport, I was greeted by an announcement of a 20 minute delay of my flight. I only hope this is the first and last announcement regarding my flight. But as I write this now, there are constant announcements, all saying the same thing : "XXX Airlines regrets to announce a xx minute delay in its flight....". And besides me, the lounge is absolutely packed with hardly a seat to spare. And many are already getting upset with the endless delay announcements. This led me to think: is flying really a 'joy' in todays world ????

The Joy of Flying.. is the tag line of a leading private airline in India. But is it really so ?? In reality, air travel has become a pain for most. In my childhood, air travel had great aspirational value for middle-class households like ours. I guess that still might be the case, which is why airlines like Air Deccan are surviving today. But the actual experience can be quite forgettable.

As I mentioned below, the 'experience' usually starts on arriving at the airport. I guess delays have become the norm now-a-days. A flight leaving on time is actually in a minority, especially in the evenings. If one aircraft is doing many multiple trips during the day, the delay gets added up and by the time the last trip comes, the schedule has gone horribly wrong. (Take the case of an airline which promises us good times, however their last flight from Bangalore to Mumbai is late by almost an hour always, I have experienced this twice). Then comes the infrastructure at the airports, especially at the departure lounges. The seats are woefully inadequate in most airports, the announcements are at best non value-adding and at worst, irritating, the beverages quite expensive and the rest rooms just about hygenic. This ensures that not only are you cursing the airline for the delay, but you cannot wait in comfort as well.

Once you finally board the aircraft, the next hassle comes during landing. Ask anyone flying into Mumbai during late evenings and they would not have missed the standard announcement '...delay due to aircraft congestion..', '.. we are currently 7th in the landing queue....'. Most aircrafts would circle Mumbai about twice before actually getting a chance to land. Not only does it provide for bad sight-seeing, it also is downright irritating. And traffic on the ground is as bad. The tarmac at Mumbai airport resembles something quite similar to one of the traffic junctions in the city. Infact, during my last flight, the bus carrying us from the aircraft to the terminal building actually had to brake twice on the way to avoid colliding with other buses, fuel tankers etc. Infact, one smart alec wondered if BEST drivers had been appointed as drivers for these buses.

In summary, while the proliferation of airlines and the efforts to make flying affordable to everyone is all very well, it has come at the cost of the joy and convenience of the flying experience. One only hopes that the authorities realize this before its too late.