Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Low Cost No Frill Experience Served Hot...

I have been flying since I was 6. Not only on cloud 9, but flying, literally, on aircrafts, and it is only recently that I have begun loathing the experience.

I took my first flight when I was 6, from Cochin to Bombay and was overjoyed at the attention I received by the airport staff (even though I was flying the (in)famous Indian Airlines - the only AIRLINE in the country those days), the bag of chocolates I carried back with me and the first row seat that was reserved for me! The most exciting part was to open the table from the handrest rather than a seat in front of you - which was so 'regular' and 'passe' to my young mind!

So technically I've been flying for over 3 decades (if you're good at Math, you'll know my age)...and many of these years have been spent flying the national airline Indian Airlines with its cantankerous air hostesses, its unpalatable food and its peculiar "Aeroplane" odour.

For the longest time, I'd squirm inside the aircrafts tottering between wanting to throw up after smelling the 'food' or even the canned orange juice they'd be serving, and trying to eat the stuff or ignoring it as the hostess slammed it down on the table...

Most often I'd give the whole package a miss because as a child, the food was not important, the experience was! Needless to say as I grew older, the food seems to have become more important than the experience....

As a child I flew IA because they were the only airline ruling Indian skies, as a student because they offered a student's discount and as a married woman because they offered an Armed Forces discount. After a few years, when economic viability was not a concern (for the shortest period in my life) I took to flying Jet Airways and loved it so much I would think "If I fly it has to be Jet, else I won't fly at all!"

Unfortunately for my 'flying' dreams, the economics of travelling took over my life as there were no more "discounts" I could avail (not being a student anymore and becoming a mere civilian), and as my presence in all the family weddings became essential and required me to fly up North to my erstwhile home and favourite city (saddi Dilli) more than just a couple of times a year. Add to that parties, and general get-aways, vacations to meet mom and dad, or pay a 'flying' visit when they were hospitalised or the like started to take its toll on our annual travel budget.

Soon we realised that I was spending more on travelling by air every year than on our investments and savings. This led us to quickly shift gears and thought processes (in that order) and I began viewing the so called "low cost no frill" (LCNF) airlines in a new light.

Heck! So what if they didn't serve any meals on board? "All I wanted to do was get from point A to point B. I could eat before boarding and after disembarking" I told myself secretly envying the Jet(airways)setters and the Kingfisher(s)...

Spicejet was the first LCNF I flew. Not bad I thought. Yes, they were not serving any food (only water and cookies on sale), the travelling gentry was well, lets say, used to travelling Haryana Roadways buses before their 'first flight' and the leg space was dismal (didn't matter much to me because I am five feet nothing). But...I was saving money and that mattered!

Over the years I've sampled them all - Indigo, Go, Air Deccan - now Kingfisher Red, Sahara - now Jet Lite/Konnect, can never figure which one is which any more and was quite happy that they'd managed to rise above (get the pun?) the LCNF tag and started serving free water and smiles (in that order), and also selling food onboard.

All was well in my Utpoic paradise even as I thanked God for my height (or lack of it - people like me seemed to be built for LCNF leg space), bought exorbitantly priced insipid sandwiches onboard and adhered to the 20kg baggage restrictions, until I flew Spicejet again, very recently on a long haul (by Indian standards) flight from Pune to Kolkata.

This is what I wrote in my diary:

"So its official now. After having given up leg space inside cabins, baggage allowances and hot gourmet (!) food I am also required to give up on FOOD altogether on low cost airlines. The flight I am on doesn't have any vegetarian fare and I have to make do with a lime juice (or have a cold spinach-cheese sandwich the sight of which makes me nauseous).

According to a Spicejet cabin crew member they carry very 'limited' numbers of food packets for fear of them getting wasted and because they are a low cost airline they avoid that!

It doesn't matter to them that off the 189 passengers that can be accommodated on their Boeing 737-800, 12% of who may have placed their orders online, the 80% may be HUNGRY for all of the following reasons:

1. It is a long haul flight (if you take into account 1.5 hours prior checking time, 5 hours of the flight itself and all the rest of the 'inadvertent' delays)
2. It is a "lunch time" flight
3. The flight IS late for crying out loud!

After fooling us into believing that we could have 'hot gourmet food' as 'buy-on-board' options, we will be denied that too just because they've decided that 150 passengers don't want to eat on a 5 hour flight!!!!

Its not enough to have a full wallet. You'll still go empty stomach when you fly LCNF!"

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