22nd May, 2010
One of India’s worst air tragedies had just occurred at the Mangalore Airport. Air India Express flight IX 812 from Dubai carrying 166 people had the most ill-fated landing with the plane overshooting the table-top runway and plunging into the valley. This tragedy killed all in the plane but only 8 who are now being hailed as miraculous survivors.
23rd May, 2010
I was on my way to Mangalore Airport. I had to catch Air India Express flight IX 819 bound for Bahrain via Doha. I was eagerly looking forward to spending my holidays with Amma and Pappa at Qatar. I didn’t mind the fact that my flight was the very next day after the devastating crash. On the contrary, for silly (but obvious) reasons, I thought an Air India Express flight soon after this incident would be the best flight in terms of safety and everything else.
We reached the airport. There was a huge crowd outside the international terminal, but this was a crowd of relatives and friends of the people who were leaving for their respective destinations that morning. I had come with my Aunt and Uncle. We were expecting a phenomenal crowd, a traffic jam, a plethora of news agency vans, a number of over-enthu reporters but no, nothing of that sort. And thank God for that. I was about to enter to go get myself checked in, when fellow passengers of my flight informed me that we were supposed to wait outside until further notice.
So here begins my great saga of waiting.
Finally there’s an announcement that passengers of IX 819 can proceed to check-in. Apparently, the delay was due to ‘rescheduling’ of the flight! (Did you get that?). I was one of the first to get checked-in. I went and sat next to the immigration section where we are supposed to sit. I was filling out my immigration form and talking to a nice old Kannadiga lady who told me she was going to Hyderabad and seemed very happy about it. After the lady left in some time, I had nothing else to do except admire my boarding card. I realized I had got one of the last seats on the aircraft. And I had also realized that the boarding time given was 8:15 am and the time I realized that was 8:15 am. I didn’t take that as a good omen. I couldn’t stop yawning either.
We were called for completing the immigration formalities and security check. I always love it when they call us for this part because after this there generally isn’t much time before we get to sit in the flight after the security check. The immigration thing and the security check thing finished off fast and we were asked to wait near our gate. Now ‘wait’ has become a dreaded word for me. We began waiting. I began yawning.
People get up and walk towards the gate. I perform somersaults of joy inside my head.
But then its just a false alarm. I get back to yawning.
People get up and walk towards the gate again. I perform somersaults of joy inside my head again. This time it was no false alarm. We got to sit inside the flight. I thought to myself ‘Yay! Now there’s no way I’m waiting anymore!’
I could never be more wrong.
Ha! Ready for take-off. The ugly stewardesses yell at us to switch off our cellular phones. The safety instructions play on the screens. We fasten our seat belts. But nothing happens. No take-off.
Now I think we got the most interesting pilot and co-pilot ever. Mr Banerjee and Mr Kapoor respectively (I forgot the first names). Mr Banerjee started talking about our aircraft (which was a new one) – aircraft model, speed, altitude, decibel rating(or what, I don’t know) and other technical stuff which I doubted anybody understood or even bothered to understand. All of us just wanted him to start the plane already for the take off.
Then after all the technical details the pilot informed us that there was some kind of ‘documentation’ to be done and the security had to give a green signal before he could take off, and that could take a while. I had to revert to yawning.
The pilot says that the flight is finally ready for take off. I go ‘YESSSSS’ in my mind. The plane travels along the runway and stops somewhere. I look forward to my favourite part of the take off when the plane suddenly accelerates exponentially and the plane starts lifting from the ground. The plane takes its position. I look out of the window (I fortunately got the window seat). My excitement reaches its height. And then the pilot announces, ‘Due to some technical difficulties aircraft has to return to base. Sorry for the inconvenience.’
I am essentially a patient girl so I could sit there quietly for a long time, but not my fellow passengers. While they started fighting with the crew, I started yawning yet again.
The pilot and the crew were initially mum about the details of the ‘technical difficulty’ but then the pilot announced that there was a problem with the air-conditioning. It wasn’t like we didn’t guess already. It was as if the aircraft had transmogrified into an oven and we were getting baked in it. We were not allowed to get out of the plane. We were tired of fanning ourselves. The fight between impatient passengers and equally impatient crew was going on. The pilot announced that engineers were working on it and it may take around an hour or so. One of the air hostesses finally started serving water, after we asked her to. I was honestly not surprised at the quality of the service in the flight. This time the air hostesses were yelling at rather than requesting to the passengers. Probably they were equally frustrated, but I thought they were supposed to learn how to control their impatience. And what was up with the air conditioning in the supposedly new aircraft? And why was it taking so long? The pilot now announced that we would be shifted to a better place with adequate air conditioning if the repair work took too long. And then we were allowed to get out of the plane to the more airy surroundings outside.
We were promised to be temporarily shifted to the airport lounge. We breathed a sigh of relief. I took my bag and walked towards the exit. When almost half the passengers had alighted, we were forced back to our seats with the reason that the repair work had almost come to an end. So then the air conditioning started working, but on a rectifier. After quite a while of waiting and yawning we were informed that we were ready for takeoff. We were apprehensive of trusting that, because we were said that we were ready for takeoff twice before and the plane never really did take off. Anyway, the plane did not take off. I was hungry and I couldn’t stop yawning. My patience was wearing off like old paint. After 15 minutes or so the pilot said again that we were ready for takeoff. I didn’t trust that. But to everybody’s delight and relief the plane finally did start. Phew!
While the flight was in air, nothing eventful happened. Food was bad as usual. The air hostesses looked more hideous than usual. The air conditioning was too excellent though. I was shivering most of the time. The flight landed safely and at the predicted time at Qatar. All formalities at Qatar airport were finished fast and I reached home safely and I am so happy to be with amma and papa and annu. All of us together after a long time!
The final take was at around 1:30 pm. The plane was actually scheduled for a 9 am take off. More than a 4 hour delay. I had really hoped that after the previous morning’s disaster, they would spruce up their services. It would have been really foolish of them to leave room for complaints the very next day. But it seems to me that when it comes to fools, Air India Express are the biggest jokers around. And according to me, the quality of a journey is inversely proportional to the number of my yawns. And when it comes to the number of yawns, I must say that I almost broke my jaw from the excessive yawning. You are welcome, Air India Express. But I’m really sorry you won’t get an opportunity to serve me again.