Inequality & Airplanes

I love spending time at airports but don’t enjoy the flying as much. There was a time when I spent 24 hours at the Bangkok airport and during the drawn out transit , not once did I think “What the hell am I doing.” But the minute I get on the aircraft, I know I am not looking forward to it. My only wish is that I should fall asleep and only wake up once the wheels of the aircraft drag against the runaway of my destination.

Last night when I was taking a domestic flight, it dawned on me for the very first time, one of the many reasons why I hate flying. Interestingly I should have enjoyed the experience as I was upgraded to what is called a premium economy on this flight. For those who don’t know, this is better than the economy but does not make the cut for a business class. You are entitled to a bunch of privileges that your fellow economy travelers are deprived of.

Privilege is a good place to start, as that’s what bothers me the most, a few extra monies can really shift the balance of equality on a flight. Taking a flight not only recreates the experience of the unequal world we live in but actively promotes it. I would like to state at this stage that I am well aware that the ability to use an aircraft as a mode of transportation is a privilege in itself. But this rant is about the experience on a flight in a span of few hours. In one sentence its the “nonsensical stuff” our global economy is built on.

Let me elaborate.

No matter how thrilled you might feel about getting a window seat or an emergency exit with extra leg room, the moment of truth is when you board the flight and go past the grand business class. You realise that your achievements just don’t match up, even if you worked really hard or worked your charm at the counter to score the best seat. Worse yet, when you are waiting in the queue desperately to get to your seat, but the air-hosts think it is more important to ensure the business class passengers get their nicely cooled juice, rather than you a seat.

Similar exhausting experiences with the food, an hour into the flight and my stomach is killing me, but still no sign of the measly meal. And all this while I am thinking the much privileged class are probably on their fifth course. It gets more painful with the toilets, especially on domestic flights where you have 2 toilets for two-hundred people and one toilet for eight. Some of you might think, but they have paid way more extra dollars to get this privilege and treatment. And this is exactly my problem.

When a handful of people have the extra money, the service providers forget the basic rights of everyone else. There are many examples of this, but the one that comes to mind is when a big multinational wants a piece of land, they know they can have it, as they will pay people out. In the light of all this extra money, its seldom forgotten who has rights over this land, it could be a tribal community or a farmer. But the administration does not care.

The airline industry is this administration that makes you feel vulnerable, ashamed for not belonging to a social class. They ensure its very clear that there are boundaries, which on a flight is a curtain and the minute you cross that curtain, an airhostess will politely but curtly show you where you belong. I know some of you might think that I am being harsh on the industry, but I am merely making an observation. Even in a crowd where you think you are equal, you are not, you will feel it the minute you enter an aircraft.

I do believe there is a better way to do things, the Industry not just the airlines can start with inculcating sensitivity about issues like equality. What I am suggesting is not to let go of making profit but choosing a different business model that is built on sustainability and values.

Neha Saigal,

Aspiring writer, yoga teacher, development consultant based in Delhi.