Planes have always fascinated me ever since I can remember. But this post is not about the mechanics of the plane. This is about the flight experience in general.
I didn’t get on a plane till 2007. But after that, I have flown quite a few national and international routes and carriers. Irrespective of the route/carrier, I always find three aspects of the flying experience fascinating – Takeoff, the In-flight experience and the Landing.
Takeoff: The most exciting, adrenaline-pumping part of the flying experience. Every time the plane starts taxing, meandering this way and that on multiple sub-runways, accelerating a few times and then slowing down, my heartbeat starts increasing disproportionately. Every time the plane makes a temporary stop, I always feel the plane reached the main runway and is about to take off. But it doesn’t. And the wait just keeps getting longer. The plane finally clears all hurdles and queues and ends up on the runway. It stops and the engine sound is down to the minimum, as if to announce to the world that it is about to take off. I grip my seat handles and wait with bated breath. The jet engines start revving and within a second, you are pulled along at 350kmph, blasting through the runway. I am amazed at how the physics work. I am always amazed at the pilot’s brilliant maneuver of taking off the plane, without the tail of the plane ever hitting the tarmac. After about 15 seconds after takeoff, the plane appears to stop temporarily. My breath stops, fearing the worst, every single time. And the pilot seems to say ‘Ha! Gotcha’ and accelerates again. My senses are back to normal. My breath is normal. My pulse becomes normal. And we are in the air.
This happens every single time. And every single time, this experience is exhilarating.
In-flight experience: I am not talking about the different entertainment or movie options on planes. It differs from carrier to carrier and I am in no mood for market research on plane’s movies and entertainment options. I am however referring to the in-flight experience when the airhostess comes with food/coffee/towels etc.
Let me explain through an example.
Let’s say you are sitting in Row 16, aisle seat on the right. The food tray (you can replace this tray with drinks/ice-cream/towels/coffee etc.) is dragged all the way from the pantry which is behind you to the first seat. And then you see the tray moving every so slowly from Row to Row along with the airhostess. Mind you, you don’t want to appear greedy for the tray that is coming along (and born in the 80s, for me, flying in planes is still considered ‘posh and up-market). So, you distract yourself – reading this magazine or that, flipping randomly through movie options, knowing every second that the food tray is coming along. And then it arrives at Row 15. You look along eagerly, but not greedily or in an off-handed fashion. The airhostess might ask your preferences anytime now. Row 15 is complete and the tray ambles to Row 16. This is your moment in the sun. You are sitting on the right aisle seat. She is going to ask you now.
But she doesn’t. She turns to seats on the left, asking their preferences. The Damocles’ sword continues to hang. Yet again, the wait of appear-posh-but-not-offhanded continues. She finally finishes the left seats and turns to the right. NOW then. But, she just ignores you like you never existed on that plane and asks the person sitting in the window seat. You start fuming within, but smile outwardly. Again, a good smile, not a creepy smile. She finally asks you about your meal preference, gives your tray and goes along robotically to Row 17. Mission Accomplished. All emotions subside. You no longer have to think of what the air hostess is thinking of you. Food/drink to be had. Blank the rest of the plane out.
This happens every single time. And every single time, this experience is embarrassing.
Landing: The scariest part of the flying experience. The seat belt sign is switched on, the airhostess commands everyone to put on their seat belts, move the seats to the upright position, close the trays, make Manmohan talk and smile at the co-passenger who has been farting all along the ride. I can hear the wheels barreling out, the landscape rapidly becomes visible and I realize the speed at which the plane is going when you have passed a 100 vehicles on the super fast highway going parallel to the runway within a few seconds. The airport is visible at a distance this second and the plane’s hitting the tarmac the next. First, the rear wheels touch the tarmac, giving you a trailer of the bumps that are yet to be experienced. At this moment, the plane is all wobbly, trying desperately to hold its ground. And then, the front wheel hits the runway and that’s when you know what a bump means. That moment is the shittiest, scariest part of flying the plane (and by the way, most plane crashes happen when the front wheel doesn’t touch the runway properly – there I scarred you for the rest of your life! ). Once the entire plane is on the tarmac, the brakes kick in and the plane slows down and you breathe a sigh of relief.
This happens every single time. And every single time, this experience is frightening.
There you have it – Exhilarating, Embarrassing and Frightening. Every single time. But every plane ride is memorable. And the sheer physics of it fascinate me.
I love planes. Always did.
I am increasingly hearing today what I used to hear 15-20 years ago.
i) Youngsters waiting to bolt out of the country. Back in 1996-97 (and I guess before that period too), there was a mad rush to bolt out of India. Everyone were preparing for their SATs, GREs, GMATs, TOEFLs etc. or going to computer training institutes by the hundreds. The sole objective of these activities were to get out of the country and get into the distant dreamland called the US/UK where untold riches and green cards would befall on them. The IT boom-bust and 9/11 attacks notwithstanding, that desperation to get out of the country continued till about 2003 (I was also an enthusiast, till I suddenly decided not to go).
I hear similar stories now. The only change being that the list of countries is not just restricted to US/UK. The list of countries includes Singapore, Australia, Canada, New Zealand etc. Everyone I spoke to in the age 16-23 wanted to get out of the country (albeit, my sample size is small).
ii) This time though, the youngsters realize that there are no untold riches (although a few of them will hit a goldmine). They just wanted to lead a comfortable, hassle-free life. However, I think that there is more to it than meets the eye. I think there are a couple of reasons for this desperation to get out:
a) Lack of enough employment opportunities: The period of 2003-2008 was a golden period for Indian youth in terms of employment opportunities, real estate, MBA-leading-to-lakhs-of-rupees-starting-salary etc. Never before had India seen such surplus in all walks of life (atleast in the urban and semi-urban regions). Many youngsters wanted to stay back and mint money in India than go somewhere else where the economy was not exactly ‘booming’. However, post 2008, the employment opportunities have dried up, and if you are not from a Top 10 Engg/MBA school, the jobs and salaries you get are not ‘exciting enough’. Post 2008, the increments and onsite opportunities in the IT industry (which hires a majority of the student population) have dried up and the outlook is not very bright (maybe bright from a business standpoint, but from an IT employee standpoint – not so much). A few statistics which get thrown out from a population standpoint include 250 mn between the age of 0-10, 250 mn between the age 11-20 and 250 mn between the age 21-30 by 2020 in India, and the youngsters realize that there is a tsunami of competition coming behind them. Couple that with relentless inflation in real estate, daily commodities and the like, the inflation-adjusted-salary-and-savings amounts to nothing. Reduced opportunities, increased competition and spiraling costs is a recipe for disaster. Hence, the bolting.
b) Apathy: Again, the period 2003-2008 led India to believe that there could be change in the way we functioned, change in the way we governed, change in the way how systems worked etc. That hope rapidly dwindled post 2008 when scams, protests, lack of effective governance erupted. People getting raped, murdered and mutilated in broad daylight led to no arrests or convictions. The eternal question of ‘What’s in it for me?’ strikes everybody and seeing no hope in improvement of governance, people bolt to other countries where there is a hope of a fair, if not good, governance.
iii) People who went to other countries pre-2003 wanted to desperately come back in the ‘boom’ period of 2003-08. There is an unusual theory called ‘x+1’ which explains the behavior of Indians outside India. Whenever you ask ‘So, when are you planning to come back to India?’, they give you a standard answer of ‘Next year for sure’. And when you ask them next year, they will obviously reply with ‘Next year for sure’ and so on and so forth. However, this began to change, in real numbers and not just fictional hopes in the period 2003-08. Post 2008 however, this statistic again changed to just a hope. In fact, the answers shifted to ‘maybe next year’. I could never understand why people say ‘maybe next year’ even after they have a green card/citizenship/there is no plan to come back (and 9 out of 10 cases, people don’t come back. Even if they do, they run back within a year or two citing pollution, bad governance, kid’s adjustment problems etc.). Maybe it is to assuage some remote guilt that they have left the country. I really don’t understand – if you want to leave the country, leave. If you want to stay and settle there, stay there. You know what is best for you. Why have that remote guilt is something I could never understand. Anyway, these days, I hear ‘maybe next year’, the same response I used to hear pre-2003, the response which can be decoded as ‘maybe never’.
I wish I could say things are not that bad. They are bad, and I see employment opportunities dwindling by the day and spiraling costs by the month. However, I have had the opportunity to see the other side of India – youngsters relentlessly working on their ideas, on their businesses, on startups – all of it in India. Hope, as my favorite movie says, is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And without it, we are all dead.
P.S: I am not endorsing staying in India and fighting it out etc. You do what is best for you, without any regret. In fact, for all you know, I might bolt some day. I just wanted to bring in the perspective of ‘history repeats relentlessly’.