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           Volume 11 |Issue 06| February 10, 2012 |


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Straight Talk

Up in the Air

Nadia Kabir Barb

I was talking to someone the other day and our conversation led to us discussing our mutual phobias (trust me it beats talking about the weather). I mentioned my dislike of small spaces especially my unnatural fear of MRI's — I now know what it might feel like to be inside a coffin and he told me of his dread of flying. The only difference was that I do not have to subject myself to MRI's every other week unlike the person who I was chatting to. His work entails flying on a regular basis. I can't say I envy him. Fear of flying has never been an issue with me. I am not one of those people who either hates it nor am I one who particularly enjoys it. It is a means to an end — flying gets me from point A to B and nothing more. Obviously teleporting or having a “Beam me up Scottie” scenario would be ideal (come on you must remember Star Trek!) but alas that is not going to happen in my life time.

Despite my general apathy towards air travel, one thing that I have noticed is how much it has changed since I was a child. On the positive side, the world has definitely become a smaller place and you can fly to almost any part of the globe if you wish to. With all the technological advancements, we are benefiting from shorter flying times, have a wide variety of in flight films, music and games to choose from. It used to be a luxury service few could afford but now it has become a commodity accessible to a vast number of people due to the competitiveness between the numerous airlines popping up each year. However, one aspect I am acutely aware of is that travelling has over the years become far less personal than it used to be. I suppose it is not surprising when there are approximately 1.5 billion (give or take a few million!) people who use air travel in a single year. At one time, travelling used to be an event and something you looked forward to with excitement and anticipation, I am sure many of you can recall going to the airport to receive relatives flying in from somewhere or have a horde of people joining you at departures to see you off. Nowadays travelling has somehow lost its charm.

With the increase in passengers and flights the quality of service has deteriorated. Photo: Courtesy

The upshot of this increase in the number of passengers and flights is that many of the airlines have been unable to maintain the quality of the service provided in the earlier days of air travel. I am not talking about the low cost airlines that are available these days. At least they are up front about the service they provide or the lack thereof. You pay for your ticket and in some cases pay extra for your luggage and the food you consume on the flight. You pay the bare minimum and the rest is up to you. Basically what you see is what you get. My concern is with the larger commercial airlines that charge considerably more but find themselves unable to match the price with the service they provide unless one happens to be travelling business or first class.

I remember travelling to Chicago when I was six years old. Despite trying for a few hours, I found myself unable to sleep. The cabin crew came by every now and then to see if I was okay and then just whisked me off to the galley to sit with them. Then they took me in to the cockpit to meet the pilot. I was ecstatic to be allowed into this wonderful place with flashing lights and buttons all around. By the morning I had established a rapport with all the flight attendants and they let me push the food trolley and help serve breakfast to the other passengers. What remains with me to this day is the fact that they made what was a very boring flight for a six year old into an exceedingly memorable journey. I doubt that my children have had or will have that sort of experience. Can you imagine having that kind of access to the cockpit of a plane these days? You would probably be wrestled to the ground if you so much as looked at the cockpit! The flights may have been tedious but the service was usually good where the flight attendants made you feel that nothing was too much trouble and making you comfortable and at ease was an integral part of their service. These days this does not always seem to be case.

If you think about it, flying really is not always pleasant these days starting with the rising prices, the long queues at the airport, the endless security checks, the uncomfortable seats, the often unpalatable food, the uncooperative fellow passenger or unhelpful flight attendant but it seems that we have no choice in the matter. If you need to travel then you just tend to put up with it.

I accept that it cannot be easy dealing with difficult passengers who are either too demanding or obnoxious on a regular basis but I have been on numerous flights where I have felt that the cabin crew give the impression that they would rather be anywhere other than on the flight and are actually doing the passengers a favour by assisting them.

An incident that comes to mind is when my Aunt flew back to Dhaka from London recently. She was on a flight with passengers returning from Hajj and when she boarded the plane, she found that her seat was occupied by another passenger. When she told the gentleman he was in the wrong seat he refused to move. When the flight attendants were informed, instead of finding the right seat for the passenger they asked my aunt to wait till all the passengers were seated. So she politely stood around and then was ushered to a middle seat sandwiched between two men also returning from Hajj. After a while she realised that not only was she uncomfortable but the two passengers on either side were also feeling awkward with a female passenger sitting with them. So she asked the attendant to try and find a seat with another female passenger which they finally did. What surprised me was that they were not able to ask the person sitting in her seat to move to his designated seat. They obviously took what they felt was the easier option.

Another experience I had was when I was seated next to a man who sat in the no smoking section of the plane and insisted on smoking. Despite being told he was not allowed to smoke in the non smoking section he persisted in doing so. I could have hugged the flight attendant when she finally came and took his cigarette and snapped it in two. There was also a flight where the cabin crew were so busy chatting and laughing in the galley during the night that some of the passengers, including myself, had to ask them to keep it down so our children could try and get some rest. A flight back from Italy was truly memorable for the wrong reasons. My family and I were taken off the passenger list because the connecting flight had been delayed (no fault of ours) and after a heated discussion they finally allowed us to board. Once on board we realised that they actually had fewer seats than they had passengers — i.e. the row we were in had two seats instead of three! So my husband had been allocated a nonexistent seat. The only reason we managed to fly back together is one of the passengers decided to get off the plane so we could travel back together. The truth is sometimes stranger than fiction...

Sadly, with the growing number of flights and passengers travelling each day, the quality of service has been the first and most significant casualty.


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