Saturday, December 03, 2005

The traumatised traveller

I am just boarding the aircraft. I will soon be comfortably ensconced in the aisle seat in the first row. Plenty of elbowroom. Enough space to stretch my long legs. Guaranteed sleep.

I reach my seat. What! Somebody is occupying it already. A mother with a one-year old baby in her hands. Would I mind letting her have my seat please and take hers that is located two rows behind? For the sake of the baby? I succumb to this emotional blackmail and move over to the third row. It’s the middle seat. I should have known better. I curse my ancestors for not doing enough penance in their time to ensure that their descendant does not encounter such bad luck.

I must put my bag in the loft above. I struggle with the handle for a few minutes before managing to get it open. I needn’t have taken all the trouble. There is no space for my bag. As usual, others have beaten me to it.

I push my way to seat 3E and park my bag under the seat in front of me. There goes my leg space. I hand over my jacket to the airhostess. There’s a pretty girl in seat 3D. Small mercy. Soon, seat 3F is also taken. By a big-made guy. He walks in with a swagger and a nonchalant bearing and that air of easy familiarity, which strongly suggest that he is a frequent traveller. Smartass.

Plane is about to take off. We are asked to fasten seat belts. I look around for mine. I locate them after considerable jostling and shuffling. But I can’t get the belt fastened. Doesn’t seem to work. I lift the lever and pull the strap hard. Nothing happens. Like Mr. Bean, I watch the smartass next to me. He manages to fasten the belt in a second. After much fumbling and several iterations, I get it right. I tell myself, a la Thomas Edison, that I had not failed a thousand times to fasten the belts. I had just discovered thousand ways how not to fasten a belt.

Safety instructions are on. ‘In case of fall in cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop down as the gentle rain upon the earth beneath. Pull the mask over your face and breathe normally’. Fat chance. I know what will happen if cabin pressure falls. Before the oxygen masks drop down, I would have passed out.

We are airborne and have reached cruising altitude. The smartass is already in a reclining position. How the hell he did that, I wonder. I search for the button to push my seat behind. Missing. From the corner of my eye, James Bond style, I notice that the pretty girl is staring at me. Obviously, my charm has proved too irresistible and she is completely taken in by my good looks, I conclude. “Uncle, the knobs are to your left” I suddenly hear her say. Sure enough, the knobs are there. I push and turn all the knobs and one of them seems to make the seat recline. But, wait a minute. Did the pretty girl call me Uncle? I am furious. Does she think I am one of those octogenarians traveling on a Senior Citizen Plan? But I look at the brighter side. At least, she didn’t call me “grandpa”.

Ha, dinner is being served now. Seat belts and knobs and overhead lofts may leave me perplexed, but when it comes to eating, the smartass and the pretty girl can take my correspondence course. I can teach them a trick or two. What would I like to drink? Just water, I reply, remembering the travel tips that I had heard (Drink plenty of water!). Now, the tray is in front of me. What’s this? Strawberry jam. Yippee!! My favourite. I love it with the croissant. But how the hell do I take it out of the thimble-sized container? Why do they need to seal everything and make my life miserable? Where is the opening or the slit? Can’t figure out. I tear it down with my knife. Get strawberry jam all over my shirt pocket. I clean up the mess. Clumsy, sloppy idiot, my wife would have called me if she were around.

At last, dinner is consumed and the trays removed. Cabin lights are off. Smartass is wrapped in a blanket and has already reached the REM state of sleep. Let me catch up on the in-flight entertainment, I reckon. How do I get the TV screen up? I lift all the flaps and search. I pull up some contraption which looks suspiciously like a TV screen. But how do I switch it on? There must be some buttons somewhere. The scheming sadistic scoundrels must have hidden them carefully. After some desperate moments of searching, I find the buttons. I have no clue which one to press. So I press them all. “Did you call, sir?’ asks the airhostess materializing out of thin air. I realize that one of the many buttons must have summoned her. I mutter an awkward sorry and ask her if she could help me get started with the TV. She presses one of the buttons and it comes alive in a jiffy. So simple, yet it had me flummoxed all this while. Why am I so gadget-challenged?

I need to go to the toilet. Must be all that water I kept drinking, taking the travel tips as gospel. I have to decide whom I should wake up now. The smartass on my right or the pretty one on the left. I decide, chivalrously, to let the girl have her forty winks. The smartass mutters under his breath and lets me through. I walk up and down the aisle searching for the toilet. Where are the damn toilets? They can’t hide them like they did the TV buttons? Ah, here is one. How do I open the door? Do I pull it towards me or push it in? Neither, as I learn from another passenger with a full bladder in the queue behind me, the doors are collapsible and need to be slid and then pushed. I get inside. Where are the lights? Not to be found. I can’t wait anymore. I decide to do it in the dark. I bolt the door. The lights come on magically, thank you. I am a relieved man now. How do I operate the flush? Search, search, search. Here it is, at last. Need to wash my hands and face. Do I turn the tap to the left or the right? Neither, again. It needs to be pulled up. Where’s the soap? Must be this gooey substance over here. Why is the water not draining from the basin? The drain is closed, that’s why. How do I remove the plug? I have no idea. I hear the bladder-full passenger gently tap the door outside. In my nervous state, I try to do several things at the same time. Something works. Water is getting drained now. I walk out triumphant but exhausted.

I wake up the sleeping smartass again and he looks at me with hatred. If he had been Medusa, I would have been turned into stone by now. I settle down again in my seat.

I try to doze off. No luck. Flight attendant is handing over some forms to be filled. For immigration clearance on landing. Passport details have to be filled in. I reach for my passport. Not there. I fret and fume, sweat and swoon. I search my airbag. Complete absence of passports. I tell myself not to panic. Think. In Jules Verne’s “Around the world in 80 days “, what did Phileas Fogg do when Passport went missing in Tokyo? Or was it Hong Kong? No, that wasn’t Passport at all; that was his manservant Passepartout. Not much help there. I look underneath the seat, bending down acrobatically. No passport to be seen. Only life jacket there. Ha, I remember now. I kept it in my jacket. I press all the available buttons on the seat to summon the attendant again. Can I have my jacket back please? My passport is inside?

The captain announces that we will be landing soon. I haven’t slept at all. I curse the pilot and other airline staff. Why can’t they demystify the whole process of flying? I curse all the engineers of the world. Why do they need to make things so complicated? So many buttons, levers, plugs, seals. Some needed to be pulled. Some needed to be pressed. Some needed to be lifted . Some unscrewed. Some are under the seat. Some overhead. Each gadget presents a new challenge and constantly tests you. Provided, of course, you find them in the first place.

It is all very well for the captain. He doesn’t need to do anything. In fact, I have read that if you step into the cockpit of modern aircrafts, you will find a pilot, a computer and a dog. Nothing else. The job of the computer is to take care of the entire flying from engine-on to engine-off stage. The job of the dog is to keep watch over the pilot and ensure that he does not touch any of the buttons or the levers or the knobs or anything as foolish. The job of the pilot is to feed the dog. That’s it.

As I get out of the plane, I notice that the mother in the first row has had a restful sleep and is now fresh as a flower. It is quite evident now. She must have had the baby a year back, just to deny me the aisle seat in the first row tonight.


Mridula said...

Reminds me of my flight to Athens (much before Air Deccan came in and we started flying on domestic routes) and I was alone and knew nothing about airplanes! But I think I had a better time than you! I managed after a considerable fight to get the TV on by myself.

Really enjoyed your account.

Anonymous said...

Well GOOD LUCK on your way back...!!

Venkat C said...

LOL Good one.
First, why cant we say "NO" particularly to people who think that their disability/discomfort is aright to cause the same to others. The mother should have asked and got a aisle seat when she got the boarding pass.
Being a traveller, I have always experienced what you have written and I am happy that I was not alone.
Being an Engineer, answering the question, I feel its great to make things so complex so that the common man understands the complexity of engineering.. he he. I always make the user interface so complex so that the user never feels that it is ordinary stuff. LOL.
By the way, how old are you? I am just trying to calculate the odds of me being called an Uncle in future (distant future).LOl

Gini said...

That was so much fun..I still remember my first flight. I was 16 then and instead of boarding my connection flight, somehow I got out of the airport and almost missed the flight!

Anonymous said...

ROTFLMAO! Hilarious man :-)
Came here through DesiPundit.

Shruthi said...

Hilarious!! :)))
I totally identify with u ;)

Dinesh Babuji said...

LOL! My friends and me have coined a term for ppl who dont get gadgets wrking(no offence, just for fun sake).."Electronically challenged" or "Technologically Challenged".
Good description. Good read.

Jinguchakka said...

Great piece of writing man! I loved it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Raj
It was hilarious.Last month when I made my visit to the USA for a second time I assumed a very confident air.The day before my travel my friend told me to wear the spectacles even to the toilet,but not knowing the purpose behind it i failed to follow the instructions.Alas!After confidently finishing I pushed a button and there came the voice of the airhostess outside,"any problem"?

Mambalam Mani said...

amazingly hilarious!!!!

Anonymous said...

had a very good laugh reading this blog...hilarious....


Raj said...

Prasanna, thanks. A comment, 5 years after I wrote the post!