A few weeks ago, there was a huge brouhaha when the video of an Indigo Airlines staffer getting into fisticuffs with a passenger went viral. Everyone was horrified that a passenger should have been thus traumatised.
Of course, airlines cannot afford to respond aggressively when travellers misbehave, because they are part of the service industry after all. Indigo sensibly published an apology and took action against the staffers. But, frankly, our airplane passengers deserve every poke in the eye and kick on the ankle anyone can deliver. So if airlines are recruiting volunteers for this job, then I am applying right here, right now.
Last week, for example, the aircraft I was in had barely touched down on the Chennai runway and was still sliding to a stop when one large, burly man, clearly by attire not a country bumpkin or first-time passenger, jumped up to grab his luggage. A stewardess had to shout twice before he sat down. My hands itched to give him a tight slap.
Earlier, while boarding, staffers announced loud and clear for passengers in seats 22 to 40 to board. So everyone rushed in and crowded around the entrance as if they were the gates of heaven. Several minutes had to be wasted asking each flyer to show their boarding pass just to say, ‘Hey, you are No. 16.’ They then lined up on each side of the queue like starving refugees at a soup centre. Then, when the poor airline sod announced for 11 to 21 to join the queue from the back, they all began to insert themselves laterally into the line from whatever point they were standing.
I followed one young man’s modus operandi. In his 20s, he stood on alert at the sidelines, then slowly began inching close, then, while seemingly looking into the far distance, he sidled sideways into the queue. I asked gently why he was gate-crashing and he replied, and this is a zinger:
‘I’ve been waiting here wonly for a long time,’ he whined, ‘but they called my number just now.’
‘Too bad, laddie,’ I said heartlessly. ‘Go to the rear like the rest of the civilised world.’
I am proud to tell you that I did not whack his head with a heavy object despite intense temptation.
During security check, every second woman had to be told not to break the queue for depositing stuff on the X-ray belt, and at least two smartly dressed females got into arguments about this with the security personnel.
Are they so illiterate they can’t read boarding passes? No, they read from their menus to pick sandwiches. Are they so deaf they don’t hear announcements? No, they get it spot on when the luggage carousel is announced. Is it so hard to understand the logic behind boarding by seat number? Unlikely, because they negotiate dollar conversions and duty-free shopping superbly.
Sure, some passengers need guidance, but the majority of travellers are just extraordinarily badly behaved. That man in the video was one such. He found it infra dig to be told how to behave by a “mere employee” because we class-bound Indians think any employee anywhere — whether in shop, restaurant or airplane — is automatically an inferior being whose very existence is subsidised by that one meal or ticket we have bought. So they must always defer and we must always be loud, obnoxious, entitled louts.
We also think rules are meant for slow-witted idiots, not us jugaadu survivors. That before Armageddon strikes we will be the smart ones who get that last airline bus, that last seat, that last taxi in the airport.
Each time an incident like this happens, people puff up with pompous indignation to ask how a service organisation can treat customers so badly. Is anyone out there asking why customers are treating service providers and co-passengers and the basic courtesies and rules of airline travel with such scant respect?
Flying 35,000 feet in the sky in a tiny aircraft cooped up with 100 other people is a fraught experience, hanging on the threads of a wing and a prayer. Vile passengers are the last thing we need. If I were the flight crew, I would so much rather just open the door mid-air and ask these people to walk home.
Where the writer tries to make sense of society with seven hundred words and a bit of snark.