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  Opinion   Columnists  16 Jun 2024  Rupa Gulab | Up in the air and down in the dumps

Rupa Gulab | Up in the air and down in the dumps

Published : Jun 16, 2024, 1:28 am IST
Updated : Jun 16, 2024, 1:28 am IST

The lost joys of air travel with essential comforts and the unpalatable reality of inflight meals and turbulence in the modern age

Reviving old comforts: Cotton wool sachets and boiled sweets could make a comeback to soothe passengers during takeoff and landing. (Image: Freepik)
 Reviving old comforts: Cotton wool sachets and boiled sweets could make a comeback to soothe passengers during takeoff and landing. (Image: Freepik)


I’m old enough to remember the joys of flying when cabin crew welcomed us with cotton wool sachets and boiled sweets. You could take as many sweets as you wanted. If you were a kid, the flight attendant would grab a hefty handful and give you more — even if your doting parents were the only people in the world who thought you looked cute!

Whenever I hear babies wailing raucously during take-off and landing, I have to suppress the urge to write a vituperative letter to the CEO of the airline, accusing him/her/them of skimping on basic necessities to make flights comfortable. Even the widest and most relaxing ergonomically-designed seats cannot soothe those babies when the cabin pressure fluctuates wildly and causes ear aches.

Just how expensive are tiny sachets of cotton wool and sweets for heaven’s sake? Sure, one must economise, but there are so many other areas where airlines can cut costs, like those deathly dull inflight magazines packed with run of the mill articles by hacks, specially designed to make you fall asleep so you won’t keep pressing the call button for flight attendants. Save trees and ears, bring back the sweets and cotton wool now!

If the tight-fisted sods still refuse to provide them, shouldn’t they at least warn passengers to bring their own sweeties and ear plugs, and explain why these are important? They could add this message to that section that warns us not to pack coconuts and other peculiar things in check-in baggage, or they could add it to the barrage of text messages they attack us with when we book a flight. You know, the usual repetitive pleas to upgrade, book their efficient car partners for smooth airport rides, book their charming hotel partners for luxurious stays, and someday soon perhaps, even book their designer partners for chic and comfortable co-ords. In case you’re wondering what on earth co-ords are (I did, last year), it’s just a fancy marketing term to make pajamas legitimate outdoor wear. If you haven’t seen posh fashion victims wearing pajamas at airports these days, you’re way overdue for an eye test. Suburban Dadar aunties who do their daily veggie shopping in colourful cotton nighties are having the last laugh.

And then there’s the food. Whether it’s on the house or sold on-board, it is uniformly bad. I heartily agree with late American chef and author Anthony Bourdain who once said in an interview with Bon Appétit magazine that “No one has ever felt better after eating plane food.” He went on to say that while he had no choice on super long flights, he’d restrict himself to cheese and port: “I’d eat some cheese and drink myself stupid.” The interviewer wryly reminded us that this is the man who happily ate still-beating cobra heart and seal eyeballs without flinching. So, yeah, airline food.

I cannot remember the title or author of a book I once read, but I do recall a sentence. One character dryly tells the other to shun airline food and consume the paper napkin on the meal tray instead because it’s far more edible. I have to confess that I’m not that picky, shame on me. I attack the mandatory bread roll and butter with relish — it’s a right treat because bread and butter are banned at home (doctor’s orders). Then I demolish the dessert no matter how awful it is, because I have a demanding sweet tooth. If I’m still hungry, I open the main course container, and eat gravy with rice. Gravy and only gravy because I absolutely detest chicken and paneer (the usual staid vegetarian and non-vegetarian options everywhere in homogenised India). And finally, I pop an antacid in my mouth, so I don’t feel as sick as a dog for the rest of the day.

Airline food, however, is less frightening than turbulence — a factor we really must keep in mind even though most right wing world leaders pretend that climate change and global warming is a wicked leftist conspiracy. I have flown since I was a baby (cotton wool firmly in ears, sweet in mouth), and never experienced fear. Till a few years ago when flying over the gorgeous Indian Ocean, the plane went bumpity bump bump and dropped sharply all of a sudden — gravity wasn’t merely calling, it was screaming along with some passengers. Since then, I have always kept my seat belt fastened and the air sickness bag in a prominent place.

Turbulence is only going to get worse as we recently saw in the Singapore Airlines flight that dropped 54 metres in altitude in less than five seconds over Myanmar. The toll was horrifying, with one passenger dead of a suspected heart attack, and dozens badly injured with brain, skull, and spinal cord injuries — life altering injuries in some cases. Far worse than indigestion after an airline meal, right?

Do your bit to make flying safe again and vote out right wing leaders across the world please. Greens are not only healthy to eat, but healthy parties to vote for. Till then, go ahead and buy those ghastly co-ords. If you’re going to be rushed to hospital after a flight, best to go in comfy pajamas.


Tags: aa edit, airline, air travel