The plane to nowhere – fake airline flights in India
As a child I was fascinated by flying. It was less about the actual machinery of the plane but more about the experience of being a passenger and the excitement of international travel. I suppose I was a plane spotter. One way I would satisfy this would be to create an airline cabin in my bedroom.
I would collect together office chairs and stools, director chairs and wicker benches from all over the house. These would be arranged, four a-breast with a central aisle. Each chair would then be furnished with a paper head rest cover (made out of kitchen roll). On each seat I would place in-flight magazines and sick bags (from my collection donated by mum and dad’s friends and relatives after foreign holidays) as well as hand written menus for that evening’s flight. Almost ready for departure, my parents or any other adults in the house would check in at the top of the stairs, before boarding through my bedroom door.
For the most-part this was a one man show (I would have the occasional cameo from my younger brother as check-in agent or co-pilot), I would be playing the pilot and flight attendant, performing duties and procedures to the letter, right until touch down. The destinations would be even more bizarre, this was an airline that specialized in routes to war zones from that evening’s news or package holiday hot spots, Kuwait, Ibiza, Iraq and Orlando.
My roles would be differentiated by my costume, for the pilot I would be sat at the front wearing the prerequisite cap , whereas the flight attendant’s uniform was somewhat more confused, school shirt teamed with a floral neck tie. It was a bizarre performance, but a ritual I would carry out at least weekly, until it became weird somewhere around my 10th birthday. Still my relatives were happy to oblige, so long as the in-flight movie (my bedroom TV positioned in the middle of the aisle, behind the cockpit) featured Coronation Street or Casualty.
These flights of fancy would project me and my passengers from the normality of our house in suburban Ellesmere Port into the glamor and excitement of international air travel. A more physical and innocent manifestation of my current obsession with researching exotic holidays to far flung, underground and sometimes dangerous destinations that I have no realistic hope of ever traveling to. Who knew you could fly from London to Basra for a mere £372?
My bedroom aeroplane pails in comparison to that of Bahadur Chand Gupta, a retired Indian Airlines flight engineer, who has parked a mouth-balled A300 in his back garden and has spent years re-storing to it’s former glory.Him and his wife, Nirmal, let poor villagers and slum dwellers board a stationary plane to experience ”flying” while never leaving the ground.
Despite the fact that the domestic Indian airline industry has boomed in the last few years, the great majority of India’s population- 97%- has never flown, nor stepped on board an aircraft. Captain Gupta’s mission is to give people a chance to experience the inside of a plane and to learn a little about how aircraft operate.
For no cost they check in, receive a boarding pass, climb the stairs, and are ushered to their seats by chief stewardess, Gupta’s wife, Nirmal, they hear the safety drill, enjoy a snack and drink served by the crew and have a peek in the cockpit.
A villager himself, Gupta had never flown until he got a job as a mechanical engineer with Indian Airlines. Instantly, his fellow villagers begged him for a tour of a plane but for security reasons this was impossible.
“I felt so bad at not being able to help them but I made it my mission to share the flying experience with poor Indians,”
In between trolley service and safety demonstrations, Captain Gupta’s wife, who is also a professor of political science at Delhi University, takes advantage of her captive audience. Mid-flight her messages are of drug control and HIV/AIDs awareness.
The climax to the visit involves an emergency crash landing. There is a chance to try sliding down the emergency chute. Snacks and drinks are then served, and then all passengers sit down and watch a few videos. At the end of every flight Captain Gupta has converted another fifty people on his mission to educate the public and to de-mystify the business of flying.