Her First Flight Aboard Indian Airlines

By : Barnali Bose, Editor-ICN World

KOLKATA : Tata,Tata, waved the little girl and her sister as their father stood at the door of the Boeing aircraft of the Indian Airlines flight. In those days, in the early 70’s, airports were not inaccessible to visitors. In fact, visitors were not only allowed to glance through the glass screens but could also step out on the porch to see the flights take off. In fact, one could faintly see passengers on the window seats waving to their loved ones.

How could she ever forget her first domestic flight on Indian Airlines ? She remembered envying her father, his flight ticket- a rectangular thin booklet of glossy paper- which he gave her every time he returned from his business sojourns.

It was a strange passion of hers to collect those tickets. Those that her mother considered junk, reflected her dreams the little girl hoped would materialize soon. She and her sister neatly stacked the tickets in a corner of their cupboard.The bright symbol of Indian Airlines on the tickets was a far- fetched dream, on the wings of which she hoped to fly. Had she made a bucket list, the wish to fly would definitely have topped it. How often she played imaginary games with her sister, walking up the staircase of their house and turning back to wave to imaginary relatives as they boarded their imaginary flight!

She remembers that day very vividly, when her father gave some tickets to her, a knowing smile lighting up his usually grave face. As she looked at the squiggles and wiggles that read her name, she jumped with joy, hugging him, not tiring of thanking him and impatiently waiting for the much-awaited experience.

There were butterflies in her stomach as she boarded her first Indian Airlines Boeing on a 55 minutes flight. A sari-clad airhostess, donning a hair bun, stood at the entrance, palms folded in a namaste, welcoming the passengers. The little girl was in awe of the air hostesses, dressed in similar-printed blue pure silk sarees, neatly worn and impeccably pleated and pinned on the shoulder.

She listened to the announcements with undivided attention, waiting with bated breath for the take-off. As she and her sister fiddled with the seatbelts, their father came to their rescue. To her, he was the superman taking them on their first flight ever. She sat at the window, her sister beside her and saw tiny figures waving away. She rigorously waved back, smiling sheepishly at her father who was visibly amused.

As the plane sped through the runway, she was both excited and scared- excited on embarking on the much- awaited adventure that was dotted with fear of the unknown. She shuddered as the vision of a popular hindi movie in which the male lead had died in a plane crash, flashed before her.

Quickly brushing her fears aside,she plugged her ears with the cotton balls her father gave her.With a sudden jerk, the plane started moving. She glanced through the window to see the terminal retreating in the background. Although the screeching of the wheels seemed distant, she could feel their friction on the runway. After a pause and a quick turn, as the plane acquired speed, she clasped her palms praying that all would be well.

A few minutes later, she could feel herself being lifted. She felt like a bird on its first flight. She could see the houses, the trees, the fields, the roads, the hills ,the cars and the river- all quickly shrink into mere lines, patches and dots. Then as they flew through the clouds, she felt like shouting in glee, but quickly controlled the strange urge to do so . The sparkling clouds floating in the air seemed so close, yet beyond her reach. She had seen mythological characters flying through the clouds and as she closed her eyes, she felt like a princess flying on Pegasus.

Just then, she felt a tap on her shoulder and turned to see a smiling air hostess stretching a tray towards her. How much she had been waiting for this moment! Her father had told her that lozenges and toffees along with pouches of wet face tissues soaked in eau de cologne were offered on flights. He had however told her that taking too many was not a mark of good etiquette. Controlling her urge to disregard his advice, she picked up a few.

The airhostess, perhaps having read her mind, asked her if she would like some more. It was as if she had been waiting for this very opportune moment. As soon as it was said, it was done. She almost grabbed a palmful, smiling almost apologetically at the amused lady and consciously avoiding her father’s disapproving shake of his head.

Then came the announcement of breakfast to be served. The smiling airhostess offered food packets. She was quick to open hers.Two triangular cheese sandwiches, an omelette and a sweetmeat were on offer. Much to her surprise, her father allowed her to have her first cup of tea ever, aboard Indian Airlines. Tea at home was taboo for children.

When the flight was on its descent, she glanced through the window to see tiny bridges, rice fields, cars and trees gradually resume their normal dimensions. Then with a bump, and a quick rolling of the wheels, the plane touched ground. As they came to a halt, the flight was done buther desire to relive the experience gained increased manifold.

Over the years, she lost count of her flying experiences but her first will always be her first. Since then, many air carriers were born, a few survived, some faded into oblivion and a few merged into others. Cost cutting measures on food and water too were adopted by various air lines but not Indian Airlines that later came to be known as Indian and then as Air India for both domestic and international.

Atithi Deva Bhava- welcoming guests with food and water, the airline did not forego despite its plummeting finances and mounting debts.

She narrated her recent experience on a connecting flight from Delhi to Kolkata on her return from the U. S. There being a few hours stopover at Delhi Airport, she had lunch in a lounge before boarding.

Aboard the flight, when snacks were being distributed, she politely declined. Much to her pleasant surprise, the air hostess came back with a take-away, small paper bag and requested her to accept it. As she looked into it, she saw a snack- combo and a childlike smile lit up her face. The scene of the little girl, and the air hostess with the tray of lozenges and toffees loomed large before her.

Decades passed and although its glory suffered a setback, her favourite airline had not lost its essence- its kind hospitality. And the recent takeover by the Tatas have proved that life is indeed a full circle. Who, but the pioneers of the airline can best revive the first-ever airline of India? In my question, lies the answer.

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