Thursday, December 28, 2006

Air Deccan Experience

Every country has its discount airlines. US has Southwest, England has Jet2, and India has Air Deccan.
I needed to fly from Delhi to Trivandrum for my friend's wedding, and Air Deccan was the cheapest.
I was sufficiently warned that flying Air Deccan would be adventurous - it's a full-on discount airline, where you even have to pay for the tea on board. But i figured that having flown Southwest and grown up in former Soviet Union I'd be prepared.
The first fun surprise came when I learned that Delhi has a lot of fog in late December, and that a lot of times planes don't take off during the fog, either because the planes or the pilots or the airport are not equipped to fly during the fog. And, of course, Air Deccan is one of the airlines that isn't allowed to take off during the fog, and I would be flying out right in the middle of it.

I decided to take my chances - the night before my flight was reasonably clear, the airline hot line said there were no delays so I went to the airport. And that's where the real fun started.

Just like the US, India takes its airport security seriously. Just like the US, the goal is great, the execution is poor - in order to get into the airport, you have to get past a security guard. However, instead of checking for your ID, he just makes sure you are coming in with an e-ticket printout. Which, as we all know, is easier to fake than a passport. I wonder what the equivalent of "Kip Hawley is an Idiot" is in Hindi?

I knew that Delhi airport was supposed to be disorganized, but the check-in counter for Air Deccan was pure mayhem. It was purely Darwinian - with only two check in counters, and with a good one-and-a-half hour to go, there was a mad rush to check in. As if everyone's life depended on it. Everyone had a trolley laden with suitcases, and everyone was jockeying for a position to ram the cart into someone else to get closer to the counter. Unlike airports everywhere else, there was no organized line - there was just a sea of people, each trying to get to the counter faster than the next guy. Just as I was thinking that it reminded me of getting on a train in Russia, I saw a couple other white people in line who looked distinctly like my former compatriots - and started laughing. I made a joke to them saying that "it was just like getting on a train in Moscow" and they looked at me like I was a caveman - apparently, Russia has progressed to "civilized boarding" in the past decade that I was gone.

Thankfully, I spend the first half of my life training for this day, waiting in various lines in Belarus - so I was ready. Coupled with my vast experience playing basketball, I was able to box out while maintaining pleasant demeanor and eventually made it to the counter with my toes intact and without letting too many people go ahead of me.

Which is where the best part started. I give my ticket to the agent, she asks me to place my bag on scale. There's a guy to my right blocking access to the scale, trying to shove his own ticket into the agent's face. She tells him to let me through, he won't budge and insists that she needs to check him in first before he'll let me through. I laughed. It's a classic situation - everyone's out for themselves, not realizing that if they cooperate things would move a lot faster and smoother. After spending a few minutes to explain that to a guy next to me, he finally decided to give it a try, let me through, I checked in, he did right after me, and I was off to the next round - the security line.

To my amazement, there was no stampede to the security line - after checking in, everybody was very happy to stand in an orderly line to get past security.

Very strange... Why would there be total chaos to check in followed by total order to get through security? Wonder if people with guns standing around had anything to do with it...

The rest of the flight was very uneventful compared to the check-in process. There was no mad rush to get seats, no wheels falling-off during takeoff, nothing. Also, instead of an old-school Russian Tupolev the plane itself was a new Airbus - so the rest of the flight was very civilized. And, of course, landing in Trivandrum was a blast - fields of coconut palms everywhere, everything is green, warm, welcoming. Kerala seemed very promising.



Anonymous Nida said...

India can be an incredible country to travel in, so different from anything we are used to! I've also travelled to South America (Using LAN Airlines) and have had a cultural experience like no other.

5:08 AM, January 08, 2013  

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