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?