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Holiday season

Buckle up, it’s time to fly — wows and woes of holiday season air travel

Check-in chaos and boarding battles to the fight for flight real estate — take a humorous ride through the journey by air

Leslie D’Gama | Published 22.05.24, 08:43 PM
With queues longer than the runway, lounge access losing its exclusivity, and the politics of airplane cabin real estate, air travel during the holidays is a tenacious affair today

With queues longer than the runway, lounge access losing its exclusivity, and the politics of airplane cabin real estate, air travel during the holidays is a tenacious affair today

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Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away” crooned Frank Sinatra oh-so-very long ago. And somewhere around 1969, to commemorate the moon landing, he changed the name of another popular song to Fly me to the moon. Whether you’re aiming for Mumbai, Peru or outer space is your call, but flying these days is as commonplace as morning coffee — Vande Bharat and jet fuel prices notwithstanding.

“Now everyone can fly” proclaimed AirAsia. “Simplifly” was Air Deccan’s mantra. Singapore Airlines insists it’s “A Great Way to Fly”. I could go on, but you would get as impatient as you would standing at the check-in counters at the Kolkata airport.

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Cue the queue

A few months ago, I saw a queue at the Kolkata airport that didn’t seem to be moving much. Pulling out my priority pass, I headed for the lounge to sip on a coffee. Imagine my surprise to see that said queue was for the same lounge! Just like Samsung’s motto “Everyone’s Invited”, everyone seems to have a lifetime free credit card with lounge access. I quietly left to the sound of hurriedly slurped coffee, clattering cutlery and speeding passengers trying to make it to the boarding gate having achieved their free lounge access!

Flying today is as commonplace as morning coffee

Flying today is as commonplace as morning coffee

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The journey, however, starts well before the airport gate. Those of us who know how to operate DigiYatra may confidently step up to the kiosk — only to be told that there’s a new version of the app that needs to be downloaded, new biometrics that need to be uploaded, and ‘could you please stand this way for a more flattering facial expression’? You sigh and join the queue for the burly policeman to check your visage, the government ID and the ticket. Of course, you also need to manoeuvre the trophy trolley on which you piled your boxes till they were falling off the sides and now have to deal with an errant wheel that keeps going left.

The curious case of banned items 

You’re now at ground zero and you made it to Queue #2 — the check-in counter. Well, you did check in online but you have that baggage drop — not the ones that fall off your trolley; the ones that you will use every ounce of strength to heft onto the conveyor belt. What’s that? The lady just informed you that you’re 5kg overweight? How dare she make personal remarks? Oh! She means the luggage. That’s where they will sting you. You end up forking out far more than those few extra kilos are worth, but you can’t jettison any of the family presents.

Queus are a mainstay of air travel now

Queus are a mainstay of air travel now

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I know you tried your best — you’re wearing three layers of clothing, a few overcoats and you’re heading to sunny Goa! Did you try whining? It holds up the other passengers and puts pressure on the personnel to let you through. Or you could have your little kids start romping around the forbidden area, or start wailing. Anything works.

The next, Queue #3, is the most riveting, where you enter the realm of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF). The “I” may stand for “industrial” but their diligence knows no bounds when it comes to rooting out contraband, except, of course, for the select few. Force is the operative word. Prepare for the choreography of security measures from “put your valuables in a tray” to “take off your belt and ensure your pants defy gravity while raising your arms”. They are looking for forbidden goods on your person, cabin baggage and even in the lining of your clothing.

Prepare for the choreography of security measures from “put your valuables in a tray” to “take off your belt and ensure your pants defy gravity while raising your arms”

Prepare for the choreography of security measures from “put your valuables in a tray” to “take off your belt and ensure your pants defy gravity while raising your arms”

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Behold an eclectic collection of water bottles, perfumes, cigarette lighters, pairs of scissors, garottes, knives, guns and water pistols join the growing tub behind the counter. It doesn’t stop there. Freshly-packed masala, pickles and jams meet their fate in the CISF’s hands. And pity the humble safety pin — barred from duty despite its efforts to keep things together. Once cleared of potential threats, you have the option of heading for the lounge (if you really love queues), or you could browse the selection of unaffordable merchandise available, or splurge on an overpriced coffee. But you must embrace the full spectrum of the airport experience, for it is but a prelude to the next stage — boarding.

Boarding battles 

You carefully avoid the Sleeping Passenger sprawled across three seats and make a beeline for the departure gate. There you queue obediently till you are informed that you are in a boarding sequence due much later. But you stand your ground and let all the other sequenced people crawl around you.

And then you are on board! You’ve grabbed a fair bit of prime aircraft real estate — a couple of overhead bins, some underfoot space, and the adjoining seat to drop your extra hand luggage. Then you’re all ready to cajole the rightful owner of said adjoining seat that your family wants their seat as they are travelling with you. God help them if they refuse. You will give them the “treatment” — lean across them to check on your child every few minutes, make them get up so you can roam around the cabin checking on your family, and visit the washroom several times. Once you’ve settled down, you must — absolutely must — press the assistance button just to annoy the cabin crew for yet another glass of water, so you can use the loo yet again!

As the journey draws to a close, the race to be first off the blocks begins in earnest

As the journey draws to a close, the race to be first off the blocks begins in earnest

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The flight takes off after some desultory demonstrations by the cabin crew, which you missed while checking out the seat pocket — reading material, safety card, barf bag. And then, belts off, it’s tiffin time. You’ve carried enough for the family and friends and must now start dismantling and distributing. The smell of your delicious home-cooked food vies with the aroma of Cup O’ Noodles. It wafts across the cabin as do your children, getting stuck behind service galleys and harried attendants. Food done, it’s off to the next queue — the pilgrimage to the lavatory, where taps are toyed with and doors are left unlatched in the pursuit of enjoying your new private seating.

As the journey draws to a close, the race to be first off the blocks begins in earnest. Mobile phones spring to life, you stand up when you’re asked to sit, open the overhead bins without a care for safety, and head for the exit, preferably before the pilot. The cabin crew drops words like “taxi-ing” but you know you need to be first in that queue too.

Come fly with me, let’s fly, we’ll fly

Pack up, let’s fly away!”

The author, a frequent flyer of yore, was reminded that the write-up on train travel must be followed by one on air travel, something that’s now on everyone’s plate, especially as the holiday season breaks.

Last updated on 22.05.24, 08:50 PM
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