Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cranky old thoughts on a plane

Not that old, of course: it's not like they've been gestating for fifty years or so: no, these were some notes I made on the flights back from India and am just now getting round to writing in my blog.

(Reading what I've written below makes me look like a cranky westerner, and I don't mean it to come across that way.  My trip to India was amazing and eye-opening, and I hope to go back.  But my thoughts were written down on a cramped plane, and may reflect something of that!  I'll be more positive and coherent in later writing, I promise! )

Air France seems to be ten years behind Delta or KLM: I expected much better.  The plane from India to Charles de Gaulle felt old and rickety, and the entertainment facilities were non-existent.  I was originally seated at the back of the plane, but it turned out that there were three girls travelling together: two had seats next to me, and the third asked if I would switch with her.  It was a win-win situation, since I ended up sitting on the upper deck of the 747, in the slightly-less-cattle-club but still economy seating, and with rather more leg room since I was in the front row.  Nonetheless, the in-seat entertainment system, while present, didn't work, and the seats still felt as if they were about to break apart. 

Of course, my crankiness at that point probably didn't help my impression of the flight either: I'd arrived at the airport at 10 or so at night, had  to wait for almost an hour to get through security, which was more rigorous than most airports I've been in, and also seemed very poorly organised in terms of efficiency.  My flight didn't leave until nearly 2am, and so I'd been up for nearly 24 hours straight by the time I was focusing on the features of the plane.

Security is very visible in New Delhi: every hotel I saw had cars being searched as they entered the property: the hotel I was staying at scanned all hand baggage on entering the hotel (and of course, large luggage as well), made us pass through a metal detector at two different points, and waved a wand over us on entering.  Not so surprising, given the events in Mumbai a year or so ago, but still it made an impact.

I was very suprised at the extent to which India still attempts to restrict currency export: with the fall of the Soviet bloc a couple of decades ago, I'd assumed that most countries had given up on this sort of hard line: but India's laws --- presumably dating from the days of partition --- are still rather draconian.  I changed my remaining rupees back at the currency exchange desk by the departure gate, and unlike the experience in other airports (here's my money, there's the exchanged money, thanks, have a nice flight), this required my filling out the blanks in a letter to the manager of the appropriate branch of a bank, explaining that I had exchanged this many dollars on entry, here was the amount I had left, and respectfully requesting that they exchange it for me.  Plus, I had to have my boarding pass, passport number, and all sorts of other information.   

After all that, I expected at least to be asked whether I had changed all my money, or to exhibit the receipt from the currency exchange to demonstrate that I had.  But apparently the draconian ban is draconian in law only: no efforts were made to enforce it, as far as I could tell. 

Fortunately, the bar in the airport was willing to take dollars, even though the prices were all quoted in rupees.  Unfortunately, there appeared to be no free wireless: apparently there is free wireless, but the way they authorise it is by texting a password to your (indian) mobile phone number, and so as a visitor, there was no way for me to get on to it: the bar staff didn't offer to help with this, and I didn't learn until later that this was how it works, so I didn't know to ask.

Now that I've written this, it's time to start writing more positively,
Yours, crankiness ejected, I hope,

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