Posts Tagged ‘air travel’

Mr Mathrubhootham and airline travel, 150417

April 15, 2017

Dear Sir/Madam,

I write to you following a conversation I have just had with one of my grandchildren. I call him Arun. But his real name is some modern confusion that his parents found on the Internet. Aryamaan or Antenna or Aquarium or something like that. I only call him Arun. Because at most I have 10 good years left on this earth and I can’t waste eight of those trying to address him or his sister Shamiana.

So Arun came running a few minutes ago and showed me a WhatsApp video of a passenger being dragged off a plane in the United States. In the video you can see that he has been hurt quite severely. Poor fellow.

“Can you believe this?” Arun asked me.

“Keep quiet,” I told him, “and look at all the other passengers. Look at how they are sitting with so much discipline!”

Arun grabbed his phone and went away complaining that I lacked humanity for other people. As if he has been building free hospitals for the downtrodden with his bare hands since the age of 6.

Sir/madam, if there is any aspect of human life in which I would sanction the use of excessive force, it is air travel. From the very moment you step into an airport you come face to face with the very worst examples of humanity.

Some months ago I had the opportunity to take a short flight from Chennai to Bengaluru for a family function. First I had to show my passport and ticket to enter the airport. Then I had to show my ticket but not passport to stand in a line. At the end of the line a third fellow wanted to see my passport and ticket to give me a boarding pass. Then a fourth policeman wanted to see boarding pass but not passport, and my ticket he treated with contempt. And then I told Mrs. Mathrubootham that she can go to Kochi by herself, I am going back home because even Veerappan was not investigated so much.

But she persuaded me and I proceeded to the departure hall. There I approached a pleasant young lady in a modest shop and purchased two vegetarian samosas and two cups of tea. For this I paid so much money that I told my wife that we will share one samosa and keep the other one in bank locker in case of any family emergency. Shameless black-marketing.

And finally I met the worst of the worst: other passengers. Sir/madam, never in my life have I met a group of people dedicated to the act of doing the exact opposite of what they are told. Ask them to stand up and they will sit down. Ask them to sit down and they will stand up. Ask for only families to board, and every single bachelor will run. Ask them to keep boarding pass ready and they will hold in their hands every piece of paper from their life including passport, ticket, PAN Card, Aadhaar card, marriage certificate, Padayappa matinee ticket, but not boarding pass.

Things only got worse on the flight. One young couple sitting in front of me, perhaps on honeymoon, were behaving as if they are one of those insects that come out in the rainy season and have only fifteen minutes to produce children before dying. My wife spent the entire flight reading the air-sickness bag.

Finally, when I reached Kochi the airline informed me that my bag was still in Chennai. It is OK, I said, I will buy a whole new wardrobe after selling this samosa.

Sir/madam, therefore you will understand why I am not entirely against better discipline in the field of air travel. Of course there should be no violence or dragging or bleeding and all that. Maybe just a little bit in case of emergency.

Yours in exasperation,

J Mathrubootham

Views from windows , 28 and 291013

October 31, 2013

What to do when stuck into a window seat on an airplane? Take photos…these are views of St.Louis, Atlanta, Paris, dusk, passing-over-Iran at night…



St.Louis,slipping by beneath the wings:


The mighty rivers of the mid-west:


Sun shining on water:



A bed of clouds…


The Gateway Arch from right above…





Downtown Atlanta:





I don’t know what this futuristic building is:



The mountains of Afghanistan:


Journeys are said to end in lovers’ meetings, but sometimes they are difficult partings, too.


Jet-lagged, and headachy, and trying to cheer myself up!

My experience with Air France is bad, but there are others who are worse off…

October 31, 2013

For several years now, I have taken Air France flights, and in that time, their service has deteriorated very sharply.

Let me explain why I am stuck with Air France. They are code-share partners with Delta. I have come to the point where, if I make one more trip to the US with Delta, I will get enough mileage for a return ticket. So…this time, too, I travelled AF for the Atlanta-Paris, Paris-Bangalore sector. I didn’t have the horrific experience that

this blogpost

t describes…but the service was atrocious, AF made their daily flight to Bangalore an alternate-days flight only without informing me. We found, when we went to the airport on Sun, Oct 27, that they had scheduled a 26-hour layover in Paris for me! Luckily, a 1.5 hour negotiation by my daughter, with the counter staff got me a reprieve, and I left St.Louis a day later, cutting my transit time in Paris down to 2 hours. Else, I too would be writing a blogpost like the one above!

The food was atrocious, the hot drinks tepid, the stewardesses VERY unhelpful,

As my flight was re-scheduled, the seats that I had reserved so carefully, well in advance, were all cancelled. I was told I would not even know what seat I’d got until I got to the departure gate, and naturally, I was allocated the worst possible seat on the aircraft on each leg. (middle seat on the wing in one, window seat on the wing on the next.) There were a couple of vacant seats but the stewardess and unhelpful fellow-passengers would not let me change. She was not inclined to listen at all. I was speaking in English, asking for another seat, and she kept telling me, “I don’t understand what you are saying!” Thankfully, a young girl took my middle seat on the Atlanta-Paris leg, and let me have the aisle seat so that I could at least get out and stretch my legs once in a while. I cocooned myself into the window seat on the Paris-Bangalore leg and watched movies…. I strongly recommend “The Heat” (English, starring,Sandra Bullock) and Jolly, LLB (Hindi, starring Arshad Warsi)…! Climbing out from the deteritus of a long flight…blankets, cutlery, headphones…across two other seats, to get to the toilet, is a feat of agility I am glad I am still able to perform.

The resultant tiredness and jet lag are with me now, more than 36 hours after I landed, half-dead, in Bangalore. I was so disoriented that I left the liquor and chocs that I bought in Bangalore duty-free, in the cab….I know that the cabbie is going to have a great Deepavali.

I strongly recommend everyone never to travel Air France! It seems to me that the stewardesses scorn all Economy Class passengers, and do their jobs as reluctantly as they can get away with. The ground staff are never available, either, it would be better to call them “underground” staff!

Passenger aircraft from the past…

June 17, 2013

I was just musing on a few lines in a novel by Dick Francis, “Smokescreen”…”You can’t keep a good Dakota down. There were two of them …..sitting on their tail wheels and pointing their dolphin snouts hopefully to the sky.”

I remember the Dakota as being the very first aircraft I travelled in. The only airline we had then was Indian Airlines, a nice, neat logo and a navy-and-silver livery. I must have been very young, but I do remember the incline that we had to climb up after having got in at the rear of the aircraft. I think this was the Douglas DC-3 Dakota…it was only decades later that I knew the “why” of the aircraft’s name. I also vaguely remember going to Dumdum Airport (as it was then, in Kolkata) to see a Dakota aircraft belonging to the Maharaja of Darbhanga. Funny, how that memory came back to me when I thought about the Dakota, with its aerial stretching from the top of the cockpit to the tail!

The next plane I remember was the Viscount. (I am deliberately not googling for the details of all these aircraft, but writing about them from memory.) The Viscount, probably made by Vickers?…was a sleeker-looking aircraft.

Another propeller craft that I liked very much was the Fokker Friendship. With its wings over the fuselage, I travelled in it, too, many times. I do not remember destinations other than the annual visit to Madras (now Chennai) during the summer or winter vacations. I recollect that there was also a Fokker Fellowship, though I cannot recall how the aircraft looked.

As children, we would often go to the “aerodrome” just to see aircraft, in that age of innocence. Everything was accessible,behind just some aluminium fences! We would see the aircraft control tower, and be awed by the miracle of flight (which is still as miraculous to me!)

Then began the age of jet flights, and as my father moved up the corporate ladder, we made the trip to Chennai, not on the Howrah Mail or, later, the Coromandel Express, but by the Caravelle. I realize, from the spelling, that this must have been a French company… and I remember the sleek shape of the craft, with the engines by the tail instead of on the wings.

I cannot recollect when Boeing started figuring in my aircraft horizon; but I recollect my parents travelling by the 707 when it was a newly-introduced aircraft. I did follow all the models, number-wise…now we have the Dreamliner, which I suppose is the 777 🙂

I followed the slow deterioration of Indian Airlines…the rise of Air India into a world-class airline and then its rapid decline, too, as politicians got their dirty hands on the act…my father used Air India exclusively, in those heady days. As the MD of a huge British company, he travelled to London twice a year…first class! My mother, too, flew first class, often travelling with him to Europe, onwards from London. It was they who inculcated in me, my love of travel.

KM, too, was a big traveller, and I also started seeing the Airbus aircraft. I used to drop him and pick him up from every single flight, and airports were still friendly places, within fifteen minutes’ drive… On his many travels around the world, he did make a memorable trip on the Concorde, from London to New York, and his account of his experiences were the highlight of my interest in passenger aircraft, for a long time.

I remember the pride that airlines took in their craft…the Caravelles were named after rivers, I think, and the Jumbos after Himalayan peaks.I would check to see what each aircraft was called!

My younger brother had his own area of interest…any time our father travelled by a new aircraft, his questions were, “How many toilets did it have? Where were they located?”

Slowly, the glamour faded out of air travel, as the process got faster and faster in the air, and simultaneously, slower and slower on the ground. An aircraft was a marvel of engineering, a magic of science, and yet, became just an air bus, ferrying people from A to B. And yet, with shrinking seats, luggage allowances, blackout dates for frequent flier miles, and other inconveniences….I still like to look at the big aluminium bird that is about to lift me into the air and take me to a distant destination…and the marvel of flight has me in thrall once again!

Clouds and colours

July 29, 2011

As we flew from Chennai to Bangalore, we almost immediately hit the rain-bearing monsoon clouds….first they were fluffy cotton wool fleecy:

white cld 260711

Then they started turning dark, with ice at their tips:

chni blr 260711 cloud

Soon the frozen water made prismatic effects as the sun hit it:

rnbw effect 260711

There are some disadvantages to a window seat, particularly when you have to cross two people to get to the toilet…but equally, there are some major pluses to be in it, and watch the wonders of Nature and our Earth outside!

Good Queue Design….

July 26, 2011

Good design is needed everywhere, not just in consumer products and clothes. In the early hours of the morning, after about 22 hours in the aircraft or at the gates of various airports, we had to jockey around, to join the various queues in front of the Immigration counters, trying to speculate which line would mean the least waiting time. Surely, a common queue, with the passenger at the head of the line going to the next available counter, would have been far more efficient (and, therefore,a better design) than these separate queues, especially when officials ask people to move from one line to another, which results in further chaos. Good design is people-friendly…but it always needs some imagination.


July 21, 2011

Packing is, I find, a very idiosyncratic process. I think each of us has a different way of packing! My way is to try and get some space where I can leave my suitcases, and keep throwing things into it; and then, at a suitable time (which I keep postponing, alas) I sit down and pack it all in properly.

I was not, earlier, a very good packer; my suitcases would rather easily become “full”….but the plus was that the said suitcases were not very heavy. KM and were (are) excellent packers, but it would need a crane to lift a suitcase once they are done!

Over the years, I’ve learnt how to pack fragile things, to keep shoes at the base (spine) of the suitcase, to fill up hollow things with items of clothes, and so on…not to mention packing and repacking certain food items to prevent them from leaking all over the contents of the luggage (thankfully, a lesson I’ve not had to learn the hard way.)

I’ve learnt to keep a list by me (half my time is occupied by searching for the list!) and over the years, the list has also increased…things like laptop, power cord for laptop, camera, battery charger for camera, card reader for camera, and so on, were not there earlier! Electronic items seem to figure quite largely in hand luggage.I’ve learnt to use my computer bag as my personal handbag, on long-haul flights, along with one carry-on strolley.

The throwing away, at security, of several small scissors and, on one memorable occasion, my beloved tiny Swiss Army knife, have taught me to pack all nail clippers and scissors and safety pins in my check-in baggage. Safety pins, you ask? Yes. I was once upbraided on keeping these terrorist weapons in my carry-on baggage, and they were thrown out. Alas, I was, at the time, wearing a shawl around my head, pinned in place with two safety pins…they made it through that weird security check! Apparently I could terrorize the plane only with unused safety pins.

I’ve learnt to buy only suitcases with number locks, so that at international airport, after the security screening is done, I twirl the locks and secure my baggage against light-fingered handlers (oh yes, there are many, still!) When I am entering the US, or exiting it, I often still find a billet-doux from the TSA inside my luggage, their equivalent of “Kilroy was here”.

I’ve learnt to carry an empty water bottle along, and fill it up after the security checks, as on long flights, very often it takes the stewardesses a long time to fetch water, in cattle class. I’ve learnt to carry little snacks with me, as it’s not always possible to go to a snack bar and order something to eat in the interval between one connecting flight and another. (I remember an occasion when my daughter carried curd rice in her carry-on baggage from Portland, Maine…and when it was not allowed, she sat there in the security area, and ate it up, saying she was not going to waste such a precious thing!)

I’ve learnt that the size of luggage, and weight allowances, often depend not on strict rules, but on the discretion of the staff at the check-in counter. Sometimes harassment occurs, most often there isn’t any.

I am still extremely annoyed at some airlines charging for the second piece of luggage, and then charging by weight. Why should my 250-lb fellow-passenger be allowed the same weight of luggage as I am (110 lbs)? I am scared to write this as some airline official might be delighted to read this and spot and opportunity for even more charges!

I’ve learnt to use cabin baggage that just fits under the seat in front. On long flights, it’s often very comfortable to put my feet on the strolley, and stretch as much as I can, on the instrument of torture that an economy class passenger seat is.

here’s my take on aircraft seats in econonmy class

I’ve learnt to always buy wheeled luggage (yes, I belong to an era before it became de rigeur!) with strong handles. I’ve learnt to make friends with my luggage repair guy in Jayanagar 4th Block, and get non-wheeled strolleys “well-wheeled”! Yes, indeed I’ve become a “wheeler-dealer”…at least in terms of my luggage!

I’ve learnt to pack one change of clothes in my carry-on baggage, and a toothbrush, in case my case doesn’t arrive along with me (it’s happened several times, and thankfully, is happening less often.)

So…excuse me while I go and get stuffed…get my luggage stuffed, that is! A weekend in New York will be followed by a marathon journey to Chennai, and then back home…..hopefully, with my luggage.

Out of the aircraft window…

June 26, 2011

I always love having the window seat, but on the flight from St.Louis to Orlando, I got only an aisle one. Yet, as I saw the sun sinking in oranges and reds, I started aiming the camera….and the gentleman in the window seat (the middle one was vacant, luckily!), a paralegal from Orlando, asked me if I’d like the window. I accepted with alacrity!

st louis one 240611 air

As the plane gained height, I looked out to see the iconic Gateway Arch of St.Louis:

2 stl air 240611 arch

<lj-cut text="more aerial photography)

We left the mighty Mississipi behind…

3 stl air 240611 rvr

The aircraft wing was a steady feature as the dusk deepened:

5 stl air 240611 wing

The light on the wing was a comforting beacon that the flight was going well (there was a lot of turbulence):

4 stl ari 240611 dsk

Evening shaded into night, and the twinkling lights of many cities showed themselves below me, as we flew onwards:

6 stl air night lts 240611

The colours of a sunset or sunrise, from an aircraft, are (I feel) really incredible sometimes….

7 stl air clrs clds 240611

WHAT delay?

April 10, 2008

premkudva‘s post says, “the news of the delayed commercial launch of the Airbus A380, which resulted in cancellations”

They should stop going to Tolouse (to louse?), France, and come to good old Bengaluru….NO delays, we are making frequent commercial trips…

airbus 100408

Send the airlines along here, Prem!

Letter to TSA

October 11, 2005


I am an international passenger, who has travelled on Delta Airlines both to come to your country, and on domestic flights to many states. This is probably my 8th visit to your country, and I have visited since 9/11, too.

On the first few flights on this visit, I was selected for screening. I thought this was a random process but I was not happy that it was on each and every flight. Then a TSA official explained to me that when my boarding pass had four “S”s on it, I would always be selected for more intense screening.

While I do understand the safety concerns that lie behind this kind of screening, and certainly would not mind occasionally going through it, I am unable to understand why I should be selected for this on each and every flight that I have boarded till date ( about 12 flights so far.) My husband, who travels with me and whose ticket was booked at the same time, is sometimes selected and sometimes not.

I cannot help feeling, as a genuine passenger, that all the time spent on going through my luggage would be better utilized. I would at least like to know what the criteria are that make me get selected for this type of screening. I am now budgeting 20 minutes extra on every flight for this and you can imagine, for example, when I traveled from Florida to JFK to LA on the same day, it can get extremely tiring in terms of extra time and the feeling of being delayed while other passengers go through. I do realize that I am a stranger in the country and can understand OCCASIONAL screening; I would like to understand why it has to be on EVERY flight that I take.

For a genuine passenger, the feeling of distaste and discomfort at being searched never really goes away; I have not gotten used to it at all. I thought I would email you and get some information about this….

I do look forward to hearing from you.

With regards,