Each time I’m forced to fly Air India, I hope that it will end with me writing something effusive in my blog titled “The Return of the Maharaja”. Sadly, this is still not that day.
My flight involved a six-hour transit through Chennai and they wouldn’t check my luggage through, so I was burdened by a giant suitcase the whole time. Here’s what you do while you wait in Chennai International Airport: nothing. The check-in area, the only place you have access to, is a chaotic game of musical counters, made even more interesting by baffling signage, unhelpful staff and a single stall serving bad coffee. This last should be a federal offence in Chennai.
There were about six and a half seats in the whole place, so I pushed my trolley to a corner, sat on the edge of it and relieved my feelings in aggrieved Facebook status updates. I’d once spent three pre-dawn hours in transit at Chennai Central Station and it was a painless experience. How is the same government not able to fix the damned airport?
Later, I broke off my reading to note that several Gulf flights were leaving and wondered why there didn’t seem to be as many labourers going from here as from other Indian airports. (A few hours earlier, in Bangalore Airport, I’d stood at the glass watching the departure of EK 569 to Dubai, seeing the familiar Emirates tail into the sky in a ceremonial farewell. The last flight of the Concorde was nothing to it.)
When they started with the flights going east, there seemed to be about 7000 flights a minute to Singapore. Most airlines had the normal mix of passenger types, but Singapore Airlines was wall-to-wall elderly parents. It’s a telling customer testimonial – when your children or parents are travelling unaccompanied, you choose the best not the cheapest. Their counter was properly sign-posted, luggage was screened efficiently and their lines moved quickly. Somehow they’d managed to build a little outpost of Changi Airport with the same resources available to everyone else. I was entertained by the old folks for a while, here a dad demanding to know where a mom has kept the tickets, there a mom tightening a piece of ridiculous ribbon on a suitcase, everywhere a couple of parents arguing over who was wrong last year about something unimportant. In between, I felt sad that I was leaving my own behind.
The Air India queues were full of people fearing they’d traded comfort, convenience, efficiency and politeness for a much cheaper ticket. In the event, we did them a disservice. The food was good, seats were comfortable, the plane seemed new and the service was above average. It’s still an apology for the airline that JRD Tata ran and the maharaja flew, but it’s not bad.
The execrable flight from Bangalore to Chennai that set my low expectations was the old Indian Airlines. They were always the worst airline outside of domestic USA and haven’t changed. One of the stewardesses was actively rude. The snack trays were thrust in our faces. The snacks themselves seemed to have been made by the same person who makes the coffee in Chennai airport. They boarded well before the time printed on the boarding pass from a different gate to the one we were told, with little notice and no apology. I asked why and I was told snottily: “Oh the captain decided to leave early”. The plane seemed like the oldest flying ATR in the world, but the flight was mostly empty so I could sit where I could see the propellers, my preferred position in this kind of plane. I don’t know what I think I can do if the engines suddenly stop or catch fire, or why I believe they should do so at all, but that’s the way the nutty cookie crumbles.
Time from Bangalore to Singapore on Air India: 15 hours
Time from aerobridge to exit in Changi Airport, including immigration and baggage claim: 30 minutes
Walking out of the airport with an employment visa in my passport and a job waiting for me: Priceless
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