Attitudes and Appearances

6.45 am. Mumbai domestic airport. The flight to Hyderabad is now delayed by 25 minutes. It is raining heavily and the passengers, most of whom are on their way to Hyderabad for a day trip on work or business, are getting restless. When some of them insist on knowing the reasons for the delay, the air hostesses roll out a standard and automatic response: “ATC has not yet given us clearance for take-off”.

The reason for the delay in take-off is finally understood at around 7.00 am, when about 15–20 new passengers enter the plane. It is quite evident from the tags on their hand baggage that they have arrived on an international flight from a gulf country and this flight to Hyderabad is a connecting flight for them. These passengers, all Indians, probably work in the gulf region and are on their way to home (Hyderabad) for the Ramadan holidays. As soon as the new passengers are in, the plane doors are shut, the air hostesses get busy closing the overhead luggage racks, remind passengers to wear their seat belts, switch off their mobile phones, etc. The captain’s announcement also comes on to welcome the passengers and give the flight details.

Soon all the passengers are seated and buckled to their seats. Except one. He is one of the new arrivals, and boarding pass in hand, he is looking for his seat, any seat, an empty seat. He is a dazed looking, middle-aged man, a little dishevelled and frayed shirt cuffs. One of the air hostesses tells him firmly, “Sir, please take your seat.”

The man asks her in Hindi, “But where is my seat?” She ignores him.

Another air hostess, who is passing by, tells him in English, “Look at your boarding pass, sir. Your seat number is given very clearly.” And she walks away without showing him to his seat.

By now, the man is desperate. He either does not understand English or cannot decipher the boarding pass or both; it is quite obvious that he needs help to find his seat. A fellow passenger takes pity on him and points him towards the correct row and seat. The plane starts taxi-ing towards the runway, just as he buckles his seat belt. Soon the plane is airborne and breakfast is served. In about an hour’s time, the plane lands in Hyderabad, the passengers disembark with many of them being received by family and friends. The 6.20 am flight from Mumbai to Hyderabad is now officially over.

I was in that flight to Hyderabad that day. It was a memorable trip in every sense of the word. Rain was my constant companion that day, both in Mumbai and Hyderabad. I almost missed the flight to Hyderabad due to a traffic jam at 4.30 in the morning, was totally impressed with Hyderabad airport, visited the magnificent Golconda Fort for the first time, got stuck in traffic jam in Hyderabad too, was treated to a sumptuous lunch at a friend’s friend’s friend’s place, drove through the stunning Osmania University Campus, received Id gifts, and much more.

But none of the above memorable experiences come to my mind when I think about that day trip to Hyderabad. What comes to my mind is that brief interaction between that man and the air hostesses. An interaction between a guest and a host (yes, this is the airline which says that it considers its passengers as guests). An interaction which, strictly speaking, didn’t concern me at all. An interaction that disturbed me and left me with an unanswered question: why couldn’t the air hostess(es) reply to the man in Hindi, or help him find his seat, when it was so clear that he didn’t really understand English?

Was it because of the man’s clothes and appearance? I have still not been able to figure out why an air hostess who smilingly hung a passenger’s guest’s coat, with a sickeningly sweet, “Certainly, sir”, ignore another passenger’s guest’s request (in Hindi) for help in finding his seat. Or worse, was it an airline policy against speaking in a vernacular language with passengers “guests”?

This incident happened more about 3-4 weeks back and I still cannot get over the look of confusion on the man’s face or his desperation to find his seat. Equally unforgettable are the cold looks and responses of the air hostesses. When I narrated this incident to a friend, she said that I was overreacting. And if I was so bothered, I should have done something.

Yes, I was bothered, as I have been witness to too many incidents like this over the years to just remain a spectator or add it to the list of things that “disturbs” me. But I am also clueless as to what is it that I could have done. Dear reader, did this incident bother you? If yes, what would you have done?

21 thoughts on “Attitudes and Appearances

  1. tell him his seat number with a smile…both of which take no time and are of no effort to me…both of which I have done many a time…:-)


    1. So have I :-). This time, I had a window seat and was not close enought to tell him, but was close enough to hear and see what was happening. I would like to know how would you have dealt with the air hostesses?


  2. Why not report to the airlines? Not sure if it will have any effect. When I was flying frequently, I used to give feedback regularly. I stopped after seeing there was no feedback of any kind. It is the same airlines that u are implying. I think we are good at making the moves, but not so much in seeing it to conclusion. Or in communicating to stakeholders.


    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, and also for your suggestion. I have already written to them, I but do not expect any response. It is not just this airline in question, it is the general attitude to feedback and criticism.


  3. Sudha- you certainly have a point there. Yes I have thought on similar circumstances and it certainly annoys me when such attitude is shown by some where they need to be courteous basically. Especially in your example.


  4. I know of this incident, when a passenger on a Virgin Atlantic flight was served some funny food. He actually wrote a mail to Sir Richard Branson. The mail became very famous and was quoted by many media houses. Though the author of the quote chose to be anonymous shunning the spot light. The effect was clearly visible to all. Now the airline you mention is a surrogate advertising for a beverage whose advertising is banned by the government, hence the challenges. If someone wants to learn hospitality in India, they should look at the Tata’s. But then running an airline is not only about hospitality is it?


    1. You have made a very pertinent point Vikram, when you say that running an airline is not only about hospitality. But since when has advertising stopped anyone from being courteous?


  5. Hey Sudha,

    It does make one feel helpless and angry. But I would have got up and asked the hostess sweetly, ‘Don’t you understand Hindi?’ and then proceeded to call the said gent over and told him the seat number. As tskraghu has pointed out, feedback forms are useless in complaints. I suspect that the hostesses open them and tear up any without a good comment!

    I had written about this same airline in one of my posts, when they harassed me while flying back from London. I will mail you the link, considering no one is even mentioning the name of the airlines in this blog including you! 😀


    1. I thought there was no point in mentioning the name of the airlines since everbody is so smart and knows which one I am referring to 😀 And thanks for the link that you sent, which was brilliant. Wish I could have written a post about this issue like that.

      Thanks for the suggestion, Zephyr, that is exactly what I am going to do next time this happens. And yes, I am pretty sure that this will happen again.


  6. I have seen people being ridiculously polite to NRIs or first class and they give a darn about air hostess. I think air-host are more polite comparatively….

    I was quite impressed by delhi airport, yet to visit hyderabad 🙂


  7. Sudha,
    I would have got disturbed too. I have seen such pseudo attitude not only in airplanes and airports but also in most elite places and it infuriates me. I don’t know how the man himself looked at this treatment; did he see it as ‘normal’ because he has always been treated in this manner. I hope he (and others like him) feel empowered some day to demand their rights as equals. An onlooker fighting his case would not have quite the same effect.


    1. Such attitude is prevalent everywhere. I see it practically everyday. But there was something about this particular incident that disturbed me a lot and that’s why I decided to write about it.


  8. I recall the beautiful adage “khali ghada hi shor karta hai” :). People today are becoming quite snobbish about being fluent in English; its almost a status symbol nowadays! The man whom i almost always recall in such situations, is Dr. Harivanshrai Bacchan, who despite being an erudite scholar and professor of English at the Allahabad University, wrote all his polished gems in Hindi.
    I usually have mixed feelings for the snobs in such cases, because they are the product of the times and the society at large has given them a pedestal to be snobbish. Only the empowered and enlightened can show deference and courtesy.


    1. Yes, we are the product of the society and the times we live in. And I have been a snob too, without actually realising my attitude. On a field trip to a rural area, I spoke to someone in the bus Hindi just because I thought that he would not know English. I was surprised to receive an answer in perfect English.


  9. Quite a different post, I must say. People spend fortunes to earn a qualification in customer relations. They missed one important point in the course syllabus- that customers are human beings and must be treated as such.


  10. Strikes me as strange this. These are the people in the hospitality department – they are taught and paid to be civil. I am sure their classes do not entail different approaches for treating people based on a language (or otherwise) division.


    1. Sure, they are taught and paid to be civil. But their own inherent biases also come up and then they become selectively civil. Even here, they were not openly rude, but their tone and body language conveyed something else altogether.


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