Indians love breaking rules when flying
I wish I could start this column with the disclaimer that this is not yet another rant against the Ugly Indian Traveller. But it is. And if you consider it impolite that I am repeating myself,allow me to justify that I am belabouring a point that demands a recap. You see,it isnt so much about what happens on an airplane. The general chaos and obnoxiousness that ensues when flight doors are locked is an example of how careless we have become about common courtesy. In fact,behind closed doors,we almost exaggerate our disregard.
The strange thing is that none of this is witnessed on the ground. For some odd reason,our flight last Wednesday was delayed. There was no intimation,no information and yet all the passengers took it in their stride. The waiting area was a model of civilisation. Travellers were chatting softly. There were no irate demands for an explanation of the delay. And people calmly referred to the information screen for news. When the 1.30 am flight finally took off at 4 am,trust me,I was itching for a fight (I cannot stay awake all night) but I couldnt because I was certain I would find no support. I consoled myself with thoughts of a lovely,pleasant flight with a crew full of decent people.
Silly,silly me. As soon as the boarding was announced,all hell broke loose. It was every man for himself and boarding turned into a regular affair of shoving and pushing. There is no one like the Ugly Indian Traveller when it comes to using the elbow as a weapon of torture. No Kevlar vest can protect you from this attack. It doesnt end there. Once you make your way to your seat,bruised and battered,its time to try and squeeze in to sit. Your fellow passenger hates getting up to let you take your seat. So what if she is subject to having your rear end rubbed into her face,she will never budge. Rather foolishly,I imagine,she sees this refusal to move as a victory over you.
Once the boarding is complete,everyone behaves as if the school bell has rung. Imagine a classroom of hyperkinetic children. Now replace that image with balding old men,women in jumpsuits and children in all shapes and sizes. People are jumping over seats,screaming out conversations across rows and aisles and conveniently ignoring the flight attendants as they try and restore law and order. This is the real reason flights get delayed. This is what pilots mean when they say air traffic congestion. It is on the ground and it is on the plane.
Once seated,things dont really improve. Most travellers fly with their finger on the call button. You hear cries for water across the craft as if they are in a desert. If only they would shut up I suspect that alone would fix their parched throats. Not satisfied with being fed and watered,they start to fidget. With your seat. They kick at it,they pull at it,they shake it. Your seat is their pulpit and thump on it they will. Alternately,they try reclining their seat into the face of the person sitting behind them. Specially at meal times.
Their young wards watch and emulate. Actually,thats not fair. They are better behaved because they havent had years of practice. But as novices,they cannot approach this level of obnoxiousness. My belief is that this is why they wail and cry at top volume. A flight with their loved ones allows them to look into the future. They see their parents and get a good idea of how their lives are going to turn out. And they dont like it at all. In their place,I would be falling on the floor,raging against the world. Throwing the mother of all tantrums at the lousy genes I inherited.
But the worst behaviour is exhibited at the time of landing. As soon as the fasten seat belt sign is turned on and you are asked to strap yourself,everyone develops a weak bladder. You witness a mad rush for the toilets while the crew tries to strap people in. The thing is,we dont really need to go,we just like breaking the rules. Take the case of the seat belt. Everyone unstraps it before they should and then shares complicit smiles for having bested the system. People loathe turning off their mobile phones even though it is a safety requirement. And we must open the overhead compartments while the flight is taxiing because we are told not to.
A plane ride is more than just getting from place to place. It reveals how you choose to share your space with others. In a couple of hours,it is easy to judge how you treat your co-passengers in life. If you display an inability to respect the rules or care about others,well,all I can say is that your journey in life is far from noteworthy.
Nonita Kalra is a fashion and lifestyle journalist,and former editor-in-chief of Elle India