by Chitra Ahanthem
One major change that one sees in the past decade is the advent of low cost or budget airlines. Though flight tickets have taken a bit of a ‘high cost’ bump after the increase of fuel prices in 2008, it is still fair to say that ticket fares are no where near the price levels that were in place when the airline industry was being monopolized by Indian airlines and a few other companies. The period before low cost airlines not only saw a few flights to limited destinations but ones that were at high prices to boot: one remembers having to run around for getting student certificates and identity cards to be able to get student concessions on Indian Airlines on which a one way flight ticket to Delhi from Imphal would be 14.000. This period also saw the monopoly of a few “authorized travel agents” : they would at any given time have people they know buy tickets in bulk under various names and then sell them off at inflated rates! This was when airport check- ins did not require identity proof.
I remember being thoroughly irritated at having to say my name was that of someone else after getting a ticket that was made out in someone else’s name! This was also when travel to places like Bangalore, Hyderabad (mostly in the South) entailed a flight to Kolkata (then Calcutta) and then train connections. Of course, the entry of low cost airlines have not only made the pocket pinch lighter but has given reasons to celebrate for the travel customer. But there was something about the time that travel flight was an extraordinary experience that brings much amusement now. It was not everyone who traveled by flight and this meant that entire families dressed up and trooped off to the airport to see off or receive family members: some would even happily be a “hangers’ on” party in another family group just to be able to go to the air port! Anyone who came back by flight was almost obliged to bring back small presents to the children: mostly, the toffees that used to be given during flights. It would be safe to say that almost every family, which had someone taking traveling on a flight would have airline crockery they had flinched off! In a sense, people were making their ticket fare worth it perhaps!
Now of course, the scene has changed drastically and how! There is no monopoly of a single airlines company anymore and the same goes true of travel agents too. Now, those who have Internet access can directly check ticket fares and even book by themselves if they have a credit card or have the technical knowledge of online bank transactions. Just as the opening of the skies brought about the existence of various, one can see the entry of various “travel agents” or “booking counters” which are actually people with internet access and who live on the commissions from bulk bookings and service charges. There is more competition in terms of fares and service but the cost cutting in place to bring fares down brought its share of funny asides: I still remember the look of total shock on the face of a check in counter person when she saw the amount of food that a family was trying to bring in as cabin baggage (since no low cost airline except Kingfisher provides in-flight meals anymore).
The romance of flying is long dead: while growing up, traveling by flight was the domain of only the rich. It was something that you rarely did and had to wait for: going to study for college outside the state was almost the first opportunity to travel by flight for majority of the people! But take a look at airports now and babies, infants, old people and even pet animals are traveling and how! Even the advertisements of low cost airlines now play on how easily one can travel by flight: a popular one shows a young man going to another town to have his hair cut! Nearer home, it was heart warming to meet a young waiter in a popular eating out place in Imphal who was taking the flight to Silchar to meet up with family members for a 4 day break: something that would have been out of his reach back then and one that would have made him take a long leave that would have left him with a cut in his pay.
Some years back I read a new report about an incident on a flight that was first reported as a ‘security risk’: a man from Manipur bound for Delhi by flight had tried to open the airplane exit. Later, it turned out that this person who was actually going to be conferred a National award was traveling by flight for the first time in his life. A senior citizen, he had not known how the movement of the carrier would jerk and in his fright, he broke off his seat belt and attempted to jump off!
- Looking Skyward For The Easiest Way Out 9 January 2011 (nezone.info)