Early morning flights are one of the many diabolical tortures that can be inflicted on a human being. I have suffered them for the last decade. Silently. The night before I set at least five alarms (the first for 4am) at intervals of 5 minutes to ensure that the snooze button does not let me slumber. Actually, I do not sleep well that night. I am visited by nightmares of a familiar motion picture — I have missed the alarm, reached the airport late and have seen the flight take off without me.
While these primal fears awake me with a start, there are some other positively reinforcing motives. The joy of zipping through the wide roads of the city at unimaginable speeds with the cool morning breeze on the face fascinates Indian urban dwellers; much like the villager being awed by the skyscrapers in a city. But then there is something more that gets me going — the airport.
I love airports for their predictability, buzz, cleanliness and comfort, which is missing in most Indian transit points. That routine of walking up to the X-Ray counter, taking out the laptop, walking through the metal detector, spreading out your arms and explaining every beep that the hand-held makes. Then there is that self-aggrandising moment of walking to the airport lounge with a platinum credit card.
Life you may say, is set. That is why I loved “Up in the Air”.
While my travels have taken me to plenty of Indian airports (and a few international ones), I have to say that my favourite (hold your breath) terminal is Terminal — 1B at Mumbai. The terminal is functional, clean, compact and most importantly not too grand. It has the right things in the right places. As we may say — Middle Class.
A traveller needs to feel that feeling of being in a transit location and not a shopping destination. Rows of stores (which some airports have) distract the traveller from the interesting insights of watching the quirks of fellow travellers, seeing the joy on the face of toddlers as they navigate the escalators or the look of worry as the man in a black suit and leather shoes makes the dash towards the gate.
Coming back to Terminal 1B. The terminal looks a bit desolate now. With Jet airways having shifted operations to the swankier and modern T2, the experience of even approaching the airport has changed. A man at the security checkpost politely enquiries which airline I am flying. (making sure I am not on Jet or Air India or Vistara). I walk past the entrance and see a row of unmanned counters and baggage belts. Lights switched off in one area give the feeling of an airport over-designed for its use.
The empty spaces remind one of the times gone by. More than the past, the emptiness rings in the future. Like all good things, the airport also has a shelf-life. And it must make way for imposing structures that are marvels of human imagination; architectural marvels with a distinct commercial character. For nothing new in our lives comes free.