Atanu Dey On India's Development

In Chennai for a CSR Event

I don’t think that I have ever had a more hassle-free flight ever than the one that I had last night. I left home around 9:45 after dinner. It was drizzling a bit. (Thanks, Raj, for the ride.) At 10:15 I was at the Spicejet counter and got a printout of the e-ticket. Was the flight on time, I asked. “It is before time,” I was told. By 10:25, I had a boarding pass and had gone through security. At 10:30, I was on board the flight. I have never ever gone from the kerb to my seat on a plane in 15 minutes.

Spicejet flies Boeing 737-800 aircrafts. In an all-economy class configuration, the capacity is around 190. There were 45 people on board for the 11 PM flight to Chennai. I noticed while boarding that this plane was named “Mint”. Perhaps as in “after dinner mint.” The plane rolled out at 10:45. It had been exactly an hour since I had left my apartment.

The take-off run was smooth. Scattered clouds around 2,000 feet. The main landing lights turned the surroundings into a milky white opaqueness as the plane climbed through the clouds, bumping around slightly. It’s a short flight of an hour and thirty minutes. Empty seats; a couple of very pleasant young women were the cabin crew who must be recent college graduates; no muzak on flight. No service except a complimentary little bottle of water. Snacks and sandwiches were for sale but I doubt that anyone bought any on this flight. But they had to go through the motions and I wondered if the flight attendants take it personally that they don’t sell any.

I stretched out with my mp3 player. I had not even bothered to put the seat “in its upright position” even during take-off and landing: why bother when there are no passengers in the row of seats behind. With the cabin lights dimmed, you could see a lovely moon sailing over a landscape of clouds. I was listening to “Orinoco Flow”. It was a perfect moment.

The captain came on the PA and said that it was time to descend and that the flight will come in to land from the east. Clearly an American. Captain Thomas. And as American pilots do, he had a friendly casual style. They generally give more information than Indian pilots, I have noticed. Which reminds me that around a third of pilots flying the domestic Indian skies are foreigners. There is a shortage of pilots in India and it is going to get worse before it gets any better.

The flight arrived on time at 30 minutes past midnight. Walked down the flight of stairs, got on to the bus, walked briskly through the arrival hall, and as I had no checked baggage, I was at the exit at 12:40. Saw the driver with the “Mr Atanu Dey — POLARIS” placard. The Toyota Qualis sped through well-lit and deserted streets of Chennai to the Polaris guest house in Alwarpet. Put down my carry-on in the room in the guest house at 1 AM. Total time in transit door to door: 3 hours and 15 minutes.

I was back in Chennai and it was only 10 days since my last visit. That time I was with the Australian delegation on a flight from Delhi. We were flying the airlines formerly known as “Indian Airlines” and soon enough will be known as Air India but in the meanwhile they have spent millions in renaming it to just “Indian”. S.E.B.

That day in Delhi (10th July), the Australians and I arrived at Delhi airport around 2:30 PM for a 4:45 PM flight. We had finished our visit to Gurgaon that that sooner than we had planned and decided to just go to the airport and wait for the flight to Chennai. The flight was late. Initially they said 20 minutes, then 40, then an hour 20, and so on. It took off over two hours late. From kerb to take off: 4 hours 30 minutes.

The plane was a rickety 737. An interesting thing happened before take-off in Delhi. The plane was taxiing along at a fairly good clip. Suddenly the brakes were slammed and the plane made a sharp left turn. You could almost imagine the pilot saying, “Oops, almost missed that exit” as he slammed on the brakes to make the turn. It was clear from the fact that the braking was followed by a sharp left turn that the pilots were not paying attention. The braking was hard and jolted everyone up and I am sure “shifted the luggage in the overhead compartments.”

During the flight, I called a cabin crew and asked why the sudden braking. She said she did not know but would ask the pilot. In a bit the captain comes by to my seat. Why, I asked, the sudden braking? He said, “We had to test the brakes because they had been a little soft during the previous landing.” Yeah, the ol’ “we’re just testing the brakes” ploy. “Really?” I said. From my tone he could tell that I didn’t buy his story. If he was deliberately testing the brakes, why not warm the passengers “We are going to test the brakes. So there’s nothing to worry about.”

Later the Australians were tickled that I had actually made the captain make a lame excuse for nearly missing his turn.

Laters, dudes and dudettes.

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