We all know the typical Indian flier who cares little about protocol. They crowd around an aeroplane’s exit gates, don’t stand behind the yellow line at security checks and jump from their seats the second the plane lands. There’s always that absurd moment when both plane exits are choked with people and the doors are yet to open. I’ve always wanted to shout – Why can’t we all just sit down?
The Indian flier is definitely in for a crash course in airport civility.
Social distancing’s flight test
Delhi airport recently unveiled its plans for resuming operations after the lockdown, which seem to hinge on social distancing guidelines. For one, people will have to maintain a reasonable distance with each other in check-in queues. This means no more chatting around in Kumbaya circles in the middle of queues or ramming a trolley into the person in front of you because you were too busy on your phone. This alone will be a lesson on respecting personal space. Perhaps, even those lonely self-check-in kiosks will get more attention. They always seem to be collecting dust while check-in queues grow longer.
Mask-clad staff, staggered check-in queues, ultraviolet disinfection tunnels for baggage: this is the future of flying. But if there’s one thing these depressingly clinical precautions will do for good is tame the typical Indian flier.
All this won’t just take the fun out of air travel but also take the ‘Indian’ out of the Indian flier.
From getting drunk before boarding and misbehaving with crew to smoking in plane bathrooms to pushing and kicking co-passengers – Indians don’t have the best reputation for flight etiquette. Take for example the incident in January this year: a video of a bunch of unruly Air India passengers knocking on the cockpit door and taunting the pilots went viral. Apparently, they were annoyed at the delayed take-off.
#WATCH Dhananjay Kumar, Air India: A video of few passengers of AI 865 is being circulated. The flight delayed on 2nd Jan due to technical reasons. AI management have asked crew for details on reported misbehaviour by some passengers. Further action would be taken after inquiry. pic.twitter.com/aufkrO2QfX
— ANI (@ANI) January 4, 2020
And it’s parliamentarians too. Who can forget the scene BJP MP Pragya Thakur made in December last year when she delayed the flight, refusing to move from an emergency row seat, which is not meant for wheelchair passengers.
In September last year, Congress MLA Vinod Chandrakar allegedly humiliated a female Air India staff after he was denied permission to board a plane due to his late arrival.
Now, if masks are made mandatory in airports and people are less inclined to touch others, drunken brawls and tantrums may all subside. With a facial obstruction, the noisy Indian flier (another avatar of the typical Indian flier) is going to have a hard time shouting, screeching or being loud in any form. It may just give power to the term “silent airport”.
For a society that doesn’t know how to stand in a queue without rubbing against each other at the airport security or boarding gate, the new rules will be a cultural challenge. Even for the red-eye flight, I have reached the airport to see the long serpentine lines at the check-in and security. If social distancing becomes the norm, then these lines may just bleed out of the exit gate and join the crowds that have come to say goodbye. Because let’s face it: our newly built airports are large, but they are still built for rubbing and jostling culture. These are not large enough for a social distancing behaviour.
Essential travel after essential goods
Yes, the Indian flier will finally get a wrap on their knuckles but what’s really going to change is the experience of flying. Leisure travel is going to reduce and no one is going to jump on a flight unless it’s essential travel. The risk of contracting coronavirus by stepping into an airport and the possibility of being made to self-quarantine after a flight, is going decide whether they take the journey.
Not to mention, exorbitant ticket fares will probably be a factor too. Even for someone who frequently travels within the country for work won’t be flying with the same frequency. This will mean taking a flight will just be about getting from place A to place B – a very utilitarian and no-frills approach.
The very image of flying is going to change with more airport and airline staff covered in masks and PPE. It’s going to look quite clinical, like a Black Mirror episode. Air hostesses and flight attendants, who are usually the face and brand of any airline, are going to be covered up now, which means carriers are going to have to start thinking of ways to make flying appealing again.
I wouldn’t be surprised if an airline puts out an advertisement in the future that peddles on sanitisation and hygiene instead of the grandeur of being up in the air.
Everyone with the means to fly is itching to get on a plane to see their parents, partner, or colleagues. Although, a typical Indian flier’s experience of flying may have been permanently marred by the coronavirus pandemic.
Views are personal.