Chicago Blues

This blog is an online repertoire of my columns that run in the Indian Express, North American edition. Here I rave and rant about life, mostly as seen from the large vistas of my little world.

Location: Chicago, United States

Friday, December 21, 2007

Flighty Frills And Mighty Bills

If you think cutting into a microwaved “strictly vegetarian” meal (with options of Gujarati, Jain, and “raw” varieties), suspended in mid-air above sea level, is progressionism, you don’t know the half of it. The desi air travel industry is back in the business, despite the good old navigational glitches and hostess hitches that are often scorned upon, with exclusive in-flight features and low fare deals being offered by most companies.

While Air India’s Maharaja with his smiling, curtsying countenance may have, over the years, become representational of desi air travel, there are other competitors seeking earnestly to steal from Air India’s limelight. Jet Airways, for instance, which up until now had dominated the Indian domestic market, has introduced an 18-hour direct flight from Newark to Mumbai with a short stopover in Brussels starting this month. What’s so great and unusual about that, you ask?

Well, how would you like, on this high class Boeing 777, an ultra-comfy private cabin, with a seven-foot seat-cum-flatbed (which is not only spacious, but vibrates and wiggles to assuage those worn out limbs), big screen entertainment monitors, all-purpose buffet wings, and also a personal closet, if you’re traveling premiere class? And if you’re traveling economy, how would you like soft, downy cushions that distend beyond your seat’s stretchability, giving your legs extra comfort, without you having to fret over thumping your feet against concealed metal extensions underneath?

Well of course the premiere class extravagance comes at a price, but if you’re willing to shell out a little over 10 grand, you can be sure to kick up your heels and delight in the finest cuisines and wines as you lounge back in your King-style chaise, crank up the volume on your music station, and maybe even text or email your friends around the world about the luxury you’re steeped in.
And well, if you’d rather take economy, you wouldn’t have to worry about the ergonomics of the arrangements, which are more than optimal, according to the buzz.

Of course, the imperial comfort provided by Air India has been upgraded too, lately. Not only are its first class travelers given Maharaja treatment in airport lounges, they are also given 6.5 foot-luxury seats, and televisions with up to 500 channels.

And well, if Air India and Jet were to stop vying for the “better” title, and enter into a tie-up instead, like Jet’s CEO Naresh Goyal recently expressed, they’d possibly augment the market share (for Indian carriers) to a whopping 50 percent in the near future, from the present meager 20 percent.

Meanwhile, other international airlines are bucking up to follow suit and offer high-end services to their desi customers. Virgin Atlantic, for instance, has upped the ante a notch by offering suites with recliner seat-cum-beds made of fine leather, and complimentary massage services and free champagne, for its upper class London-to-Mumbai travelers.

Yet with tags like “dirt(y), cheap air shack,” “cattle car,” and “flock fest,” given by irate passengers, Air India is not the only one in line to endure reproach. Even with all the fancy fittings and frills, air travel is getting increasingly exasperating, and moreso for us desis. And if you think getting singled out like magnets at airports and being questioned about trivial things such as purpose of visit to India, or just enunciating the convoluted names some of us are blessed with is daunting, you’re in for surprise.

What’s more, if you share your name with any of the array of suspects deported from the US, or with a member of any of the stealth extremist groups under acute vigil post 9/11, you’re bound to go through a series of humiliating and infuriating security checks before you can get on board.

On a lighter note, the liveries we desis sport can also turn into travel nuisances. And then there are the “usual suspects” - stapled packets of colorful powders, reeking of pungent, dangerous spices.


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