Lately, I’ve been travelling more on flights to reach other parts of the country than on my long distance touring steed- the KTM Duke 390. And that has brought me to the point of making a decision on the type of travel I would be indulging in in the near, and farther future. Air travel or Road travel?
With the kind of person I am, I totally dislike the dreary, un- happening and extremely formal airport atmosphere. It makes me feel like I’m a machine designed to behave in a certain way and am required to modify myself to the body language and behaviours the habitat demands. Humans are in a way, robots of this perfectly stitched matrix anyways but we could leave that bit of discussion for another time. But I usually don’t give in to the norm.
As a result, waiting in airport lounges for long hours too kills me a little bit from within. You don’t breathe fresh air, there’s not much of nature around, food options are mostly too stale and expensive, there’s always some random horrible western music playing around shopping areas that gives you the unnecessary ‘London wala feeling’, there are people touching you all over (security check). Then there’s the sight of other people looking down all the time, plugged into their devices, which sort of makes me feel more.. alien.
What’s worse? Airplane delays, air traffic congestion. I fly thrice a year at the max and the rest of the trips are done by road and in the last three years, I have mostly experienced delays, cancellations with private and government airlines. I’ve also had my baggage sent over to some other city, have faced the wrath of arrogant air crews, blocked ears, non- functioning lavatories on aircrafts while on ground, weird food, un-stretched legs (though I’m short) and some other inconveniences during air travel!
My previous experience was with Air India that was due to take off from Mumbai at 7:45 PM but as usual, it didn’t. It arrived from Delhi an hour later though they kept displaying a delay time of 30 minutes. After boarding the flight to Bengaluru, the aircraft took another 30 minutes to start its engines so I was asked not to use the lavatory since the flush won’t work without engine power. The captain tried to throw around an accent while addressing the crowd but seemed pretentious rather too quickly. In my opinion, if you’re going to speak in a certain way which is unnatural to you just to sound more sophisticated and rich, at least pull it off properly or don’t do it all. I get very annoyed with that sometimes, mainly because it reminds me of my first employer who usually returned from the US with a fake accent in just one month! The effects remained for half a year until getting back to the full local Indian accent. We’ve got independence they say, but not in the heads I say. Another downside of air travel- having to put up with fake accents.
While the aircraft began to move on ground, the pilot announced a technical snag and the aircraft was taken to a bay where it took quite a lot of time for the the problem to be fixed! I reached home at 1 AM with my legs constantly asking me to stretch them. The following week, my mom arrived from Mumbai in the same flight and she too arrived home at 1 AM- but without facing a technical snag this time! That’s when I decided to do some analysis and put an end to this nonsense!
I went through some data and found out that a lot of the airlines in India have a 30%- 40% delay time. That means, at least 4 out of 10 flights are delayed and that is quite a high number! However, I do suspect that the number is 5-6 out of 10 flights though. Flight cancellations are another ball game altogether- imagine an instance when you had to fly somewhere urgently and you realise your flight has been cancelled and there is no backup available due to a high number of flyers unless you head out to the airline office and demand for one, rudely. Been there, done that. Then I was put in a flight that took off from Bengaluru at 2 PM, instead of the 6:30 AM departure time.
Not only in terms of their timings. There are quite a few norms that airline companies don’t follow until DGCA intervenes and that to me is the most evident example of the ‘chalega’ attitude that goes unseen many a times, even if its related to safety and security. An example of one such incident was when Indigo Airlines hadn’t grounded its fleet of new Airbus A320 Neo’s despite facing multiple engine failures. The aircrafts were operational until more A320 Neo engines were affected. That particular batch of A320 was grounded only when the DGCA intervened and put its foot down, not by the company themselves. It just goes to show how much of your safety these airline companies are concerned about and mind you, this is just one such incident that has come to light like the other incidents that we see every now and then of airline ground crews punching its customers or leaving them stranded on the tarmac for 7 hours! So, think of what else could be rotting inside the world of air travel.
So despite shelling out a lot of money, your’re not guaranteed in terms of reaching on time (excluding the technical snag point here) and you’re not guaranteed of your safety. So what exactly are you paying for, if both those points aren’t fulfilled? Wasn’t the sole purpose of air travel saving transit time? I do agree that an hour or two spent on delays on long flights isn’t much of a bother but what about distances that are less than a thousand kilometres? Distances that connect a few metro cities, if not all.
Many of the National Highways of India are superb in terms of quantity and quality. I’ve made to Pune from Bengaluru in 12 hours without exceeding speeds of 130 kmph. Hyderabad too is accessible in just 8 hours with Chennai being in the similar 7 hour range. Mumbai to Ahmedabad too was done peacefully in 8 hours. On these journeys, neither did I have to hurry up, nor did I have to worry about my luggage being transported to some other city. In fact, I stopped wherever I wanted to, whenever I wanted to. Oh yes, the above was done by me on a motorcycle but if you were in a car, you could add an hour or two extra.
I do agree that the above time duration of 8, 10, 12 hours seems steep compared to the claimed time of 1 hour- 2 hours taken on flights. But if you calculate the total time spent on air travel it comes pretty damn close to the amount of time taken by road. If I were to board to a flight to Pune, I would leave my place of residence at least 3 hours in advance to compensate for long distance, traffic jams and to comply with ‘airline check- in timings’. Take an additional 2 hours of waiting time for security check and boarding. You could add half an hour to one hour for a delay. That adds up your total transit time to 6 hours. Another 1 hour in flight until you take another 30 minutes to de- board and collect your baggage. By the time your exit the airport and make it to your place of stay through traffic, you would’ve spent 7- 9 hours of your time. Not only Pune, this could apply to most metro cities in India.
On the other hand, if you went by road, you would take an additional 3 to 4 hours only but you would have the privilege of stopping at your favourite eateries, stopping at pretty spots to take pictures, freedom to piss and shit whenever you want to (conditions apply). Making calls, listening to loud music (in cars), having fun on corners in ghat sections, being around nature. Road travel has its own risks and dangers too but what’s better is that you know you’re in control if not completely but partially and aren’t dependent multiple parties like pilots, ATC, security, etc.
And, you don’t have to speed up aggressively too. The 12 hour mark form Bangalore to Pune can be achieved by consistency alone. Agreed, it would cost you a little more to travel by road but freedom does come at a cost in my opinion, at least by the way things work these days. I’ve been a big fan of road trips and yet, I wasn’t hesitant to fly until taking into account all experiences I’ve had with multiple airliners. Personally speaking, I wouldn’t mind spending extra on automobile fuel, food and toll charges (in case I travelled in a car) but I know I would end up reaching my destination fresher and happier! Air travel then, needs a major OS upgrade.