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Classed Air Travelers

Issues 15-17, April 24, 2011

Siddhi B. Ranjitkar

Knowingly or unknowingly, we have been building classes of air travelers in the 21st century. If you are willing to spend a large amount of money on traveling then you can enjoy the status of a first class or second-class passenger depending on the amount of money you are willing to put in the travel. If you prefer to spend a minimum amount in traveling then you simply travel on a third class cabin becoming a third class passenger not a respectable customer traveler.

Only the air travel is the most efficient one for the intercontinental travel. Currently, we can spend least amount of money and time for traveling from one continent to another. We don’t need to spend weeks and weeks to travel from one continent to another. Lives of travelers have been easy because of the comfortable travel at the least cost of time and money. After a supper in America we can be in Europe to have breakfast traveling in air over the Atlantic.

The current e-ticket has made the passenger able to buy air tickets at a least cost. Buying tickets on the Internet has been the most cost effective and cheap. Airline management has been so smart to price each seat in planes separately. When we buy the cheapest tickets, we find that the worst possible seats in airplanes, and not changeable.

Airlines have their own provisions for the passengers to carry luggage with them. If you are a first class traveler then you get the special treatment, you can carry with you three luggage of 70 lbs each in the Virgin Atlantic Airlines; if you are the second class passenger, you get two luggage of 50 lbs each, and the economy class passenger can carry only one luggage of 50 lbs. The Gulf airlines permit you to carry two luggage of 50 lbs even traveling in the economy class but the Gulf airlines follow the policy of other airlines when you buy the tickets from it but travel in other airlines for connecting flights. So, we had carried two luggage of 50 lbs each traveling from Nepal to US but we could carry only own luggage traveling back to Nepal following the policy of Virgin Atlantic.

We start our air travel at the airlines check-in counter. We are senior people. Even at the counter of the Virgin Atlantic at the Logan Airport in Boston, USA, we are not the privileged passengers as used to be. Staffs at the counter don’t smile at the customers at all but seriously look for any faults you might have. Staffs are not for compromising on anything at all.

Then, we go to the security check. Security staffs are serious and look at all passengers, as if they are all would-be terrorists. We take off shoes, jackets, purses and belts and put them in several trays and pass them through the scanner along with our handbags. Then, we stand in front of the body scanner. We are not sure whether we would pass through the scanner until the serious looking person signals us to pass through the scanner. In case, the scanner makes a noise then we need to go through the whole body checking even though we are of early sixties and are unlikely to carry any destructive materials to sabotage the aircraft.

Thanks to the infamous shoe-bomber and other terrorists sponsored by Muslim fundamentalists for killing anybody other than the Muslims, millions of air passengers have to go through the security check. Even though only a few of the millions of passengers traveling all over the world every day are likely to be the terrorists, all of the travelers have to pass through the security check costing millions of dollars if not billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money to all the governments in the world, as none of the current governments of the world has been able to develop a better device other than the current body scanner.

Yes, every government is responsible for the security of its citizens but in the name of providing the people with security, the state staffs have been seriously harassing the innocent and unlikely terrorists throughout the world. This is the incompetence of all these governments; as a result, air travelers have been suffering from harassment throughout the world. The state staffs have been harassing the people that they are supposed to respect and honor. These security staffs forget that the passengers they consider as the possible terrorists pay their salaries.

We think that we have developed Internet and other communication sciences in the 21st century unmatched in the history of human kind to make our lives easy but it is not true. In this word of computer science and software development for every problem to solve, our governments have been using the same old technique of scanning for security check. We cannot imagine why the governments don’t use some taxpayers’ money for devising a better technique to scrutinize passengers quickly without giving any troubles to them. Millions of air travelers will benefit from such technique.

Next is, passengers boarding a plan. Boarding the disabled and men and women with children starts so that they can easily be seated in their respective seats. Then, the privileged-first-class passengers board the plane; the business class passengers follow them; finally, the third-class passengers board the plane.

The first-class cabin is highly luxurious. The space for two first-class seats in a row is equal to the space for the eight-third-class seats including the areas of the two passages. We can imagine the price of the first class tickets. Certainly, they will receive the honorable treatment from the flight attendants. Only the rich people or showy people can afford to travel on the first class seats.

The business-class cabin is not much different from the third-class cabin. It has seven seats instead of eight seats in the third class cabin. Surely, they also will receive better services from the airhostesses. For that they pay higher prices than the third- class passengers.

The third-class cabin is the largest one. It has eight seats in a row. Seats are narrow. Regular passengers just fit in the seats. Toilets remain busy most of the time in he third-class cabin.

We traveled in the third-class seats on board the flight of VS12 of the Virgin Atlantic: British-private-owned airlines from Logan Airport in Boston USA to Heathrow Airport in London on the way to Nepal on April 05, 2011.

Seven seats in a row in the third-class cabin will make the passengers comfortable. The Virgin Atlantic has made eight seats in a row most probably to be competitive with other rival airlines. Seating eight passengers in a row, it can make more money than seating seven. So, the Virgin Atlantic can reduce the price of its third-class seats for attracting passengers from other airlines. Most of the passengers probably don’t mind being uncomfortable for seven-hour travel rather than paying more money for little more comfort.

Flight attendants serving the third-class cabin frown when passengers come in. Sometimes, their expression is so serious we don’t know what is going on in their minds. In addition, they act more like law enforcement people rather than service provider. They don’t permit us to change the seats even though seats are empty. The reason is the empty seats are of higher value than the seats we are in.

Airhostesses don’t care about whether our problem has been resolved or not. The remote control fitted in the seat I am in is not working. So, I asked the passing airhostess for fixing it. She tried it as I did pressing buttons on the remote control several times but could not fix it. She has asked the male airhostess to report on the non-functioning of the remote control. He went to the direction of the cabin of pilots but never showed up again and the remote did not work during the flight.

Raising my plastic cup, I said, “coffee, please.” The airhostess said, “This is tea, my love.” She did not bother to say I would bring you coffee. However, they served nice food and drinks for dinner. Some of the services we used to have in the past have been lost to the cheap tickets.

The Heathrow Airport has been grown so big. We need to walk a long way from the aircraft to the place where a bus is waiting for us to take to the terminal. Ours is terminal four. We rode the bus standing at the sign: terminal 4. The bus has taken more than 10 minutes to reach the terminal 4.

The security check is in the way. We again take off everything that will create a noise. My spouse has already taken off all her jewelry and has put in her bag.  We put everything in a few plastic trays, and sent them to the scanner. We again pass through the body scanner. On other side, we pick up all our belongings and put on the shoes and walk to the counter of the Gulf airlines.

A lady with a thick glasses and wearing a Muslim headgear is behind the Gulf Airlines counter. We stood in the line to the counter. When our turn came we presented our passports and four boarding passes the Virgin Atlantic gave us at Logan Airport in Boston. The lady looked through our passports and checked the luggage tags. Then, she presented us the Gulf airlines boarding passes instead of the Virgin Atlantic boarding passes for the flight from London to Bahrain. She returned the Virgin Atlantic passes for the flight from Bahrain to Kathmandu.

At the Virgin Atlantic counter in the Logan airport, issuing the boarding passes for the flight from London to Bahrain, and then from Bahrain to Kathmandu, the man at the counter has said that at the Heathrow, we will get Gulf Airlines boarding passes instead of the Virgin Atlantic boarding passes. So, I asked the lady at the counter, “Why don’t you give us the Gulf Boarding instead of returning the Virgin Atlantic Boarding passes for the flight from Bahrain to Kathmandu, too.” She said, “Those are the boarding passes, my dear.” No more questions are taken at all.

We are confused a bit as we have received the Gulf Airlines boarding passes as a substitute for the Virgin Atlantic boarding passes for the London-Bahrain flight but not for the Bahrain-Kathmandu flight. Previously, when we had traveled by the Qatar Airlines; we received the Qatar Airlines boarding passes as a substitute for the Virgin Atlantic. This time, the lady at the counter of the Gulf Airlines refused.

Flight from London to Bahrain is smooth. Flight attendants are in a better mood. They are in Muslims headgears while welcoming passengers. Once boarding of passengers is complete they took off their headgears and started working. Their services are excellent even for the third class passengers.

We are in Bahrain after sunset. Again passing through the security. Here, we don’t need to pass through the body scanner. We send our carry-on luggage through the scanner.

We are concerned very much with the Virgin Atlantic boarding passes for the flight from Bahrain to Kathmandu. So, I approached the floor manager and showed him our boarding passes and asked him whether we needed to take Gulf Airlines boarding passes. To make it sure that he understood what our concern is, I asked him again about the boarding passes and he repeated that Virgin Atlantic boarding passes were okay for the flight from Bahrain to Kathmandu.

On the way to the gate to the aircraft, I asked the man directing passengers to the correct gates to aircraft about the boarding pass. He also has said that the Virgin Atlantic passes are okay for the Bahrain-Kathmandu flight. He directed us to Gate 7.

Our layoff time at Bahrain is almost six hour. We have plenty of time to worry about the boarding passes. My spouse asked me to inquire again the validity of the Virgin Atlantic boarding for boarding the flight to Kathmandu to one of the men at the counter of the Gate 7. One of them said it was okay but another told me, “Go down to the ground floor from where you came up and there you would see a large banner there; you would get Gulf Airlines boarding passes there.”

Now, we are sure that we need to get the Gulf Airlines boarding passes. So, I went down to the ground floor from where we came up, and looked around but no sings of anything. Again I saw the floor manager and asked him about the boarding passes. Taking the Virgin Atlantic boarding passes from me, he said, “This is third time, I am telling you these boarding passes are okay for the flight to Kathmandu. Look, here is the flight number Gf 262, flight time and seat numbers, only the gate number is not given.”

Now, I am sure that the boarding passes are good enough for flying to Kathmandu. I came back to my spouse. My spouse and I laughed at how we have irritated the ground floor manager. Then, our confusion about the boarding passes has gone.

Except for a few Canadians and some other Europeans, the plane has carried only Nepalis working in the Middle East and North Africa. We are the only couple that has come from the USA. Nepalis are very happy. Probably, they are coming home after a few years of working and earning something to show at home. Some of them carrying cell phones with players and are playing Nepalese songs.

We boarded the plane in Bahrain at midnight local time and supposed to land in Kathmandu at 8:00 morning also local time. While flying over Nepal and preparing for landing, the plane turned to north; we thought that the plane was entering the valley and soon would land but it turned back to south; it turned again to north and again to south. It did back and forth between north and south several times making us to suspect something serious must have happened. The captain did not make any announcement. It has scared us, as we know that the plane making such repeated north-south flights is unusual, and the captain not making any announcement is also unusual for us but most of the Nepalis have not noticed it and have continued to enjoy the flight.

The plane finally entered the valley making us feel safe and ultimately landed. The plane came to complete halt. Naturally, passengers got up from their seats and went for their carry-on luggage. The captain suddenly angrily shouted at the passengers, “sit down, sit down” making us scare very much.

The captain has been so rough probably because passengers have risen from their seats. Captains announce before landing and caution passengers not to leave their seats before the planes come to complete standstill. This captain neither announces that the plane is going to land nor even bother to explain why the plane has been delayed but becomes so angry when passengers get up from the seats after the plane has come to the complete halt. We have never travel with such a rough captain in our lives. The captain is not only rough but also does not perform his duty, as he has failed in reporting the passengers reason for making north-south and south-north flights several times not flying forward making the passengers like us to worry about it.

The 21st century passengers traveling by air have been classed. Some privileged passengers traveling in the first-and-second-class cabin might enjoy considerably better comfort but the majority of passengers traveling in the third class cabin suffer.

April 24, 2011.

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