Have you ever woken from a deep sleep on a flight to be momentarily disorientated? Briefly unsure where you’re going to or where you’re coming from? You try to narrow things down, but your surroundings don’t give away any clue as to which airline on you’re on. Even the crew fail to give the game away.
It can’t just be me that finds airlines have lost so much of their individuality and sense of provenance as to be virtually indistinguishable. Once a symbol of internationalism and national pride, it now seems that great lengths have been taken to strip airlines of their character and identity.
I still remember – as a relatively young child – arriving back at Heathrow aboard a long haul British Airways jet. As the roar of the aircraft’s reverse thrust subsided and the airliner quietly turned 90 degrees and departed the runway, a calm, measured voice came over the intercom. In short, clipped tones and an upper-middle class Home Counties accent, the Chief Purser welcomed us to Heathrow. The announcement seemed almost choreographed and perfectly contrasted against the roar and drama of the engines.
Even then, aged all of nine or ten, I remember thinking this was classy; a lesson in how an intercom announcement should be made. It gave flying a sense of occasion and feeling that British Airways was in a different league. Airline cabins were different then and crew had a sense of identity. It was perhaps the last time I felt genuinely proud to fly on the national airline.
Now most of the intercom announcements are recorded. So routine you can almost quote them verbatim. The Chief Pursers are long gone too. Replaced by younger, cheaper, less experienced crew. Underpaid and undervalued staff are no more interested in looking after customers than the airline is in looking after them.
That sense of occasion is now all but missing when you fly anywhere. It’s probably why I love flying through turbulence, or landing during a storm; anything to lend the flight a bit of drama and a break from tightly prescribed routine. Give me a mid-flight lightening strike or engine failure and I’m all smiles.
Despite my love of flying, as it has become so routine, I’ve found myself increasingly looking for other ways to travel.
So now I started a rule inspired by the Tom Waits song Long Way Home.
Whether travelling for business or pleasure I’ve started taking the boring option and flying direct to where I need to go. But now, I always take the long – and more interesting way home.
I’d flown from Mumbai to Goa’s Dabolim airport on a flight so uneventful I can’t even remember the airline. Perhaps it was Beige Airways or Bland Airlines, I honestly couldn’t say.
After an uplifting week in Goa – wine, wedding, beach, sun lounger – I was looking forward to the more interesting long way home.
I took a cab from the hotel to the nearest station at Madgaon junction, just outside the small town of Margo. There, later that evening, I boarded the aged Konkan Kanya Express for the 12 hour ride back to Mumbai.
The train’s crew weren’t some homogenised mix of nationalities, they were Indian, and proudly so. And so was the food. It wasn’t bland.
As I drifted off to sleep on the top bunk of my sleeping compartment, somewhere deep in the backcountry of Maharashtra, the words of that Tom Waits song came back to me with a smile.
I put food on the table
And roof overhead
But I’d trade it all tomorrow
For the highway instead
Or, the railway in this case.
The video below is my trip on the overnight Konkan Kanya Express from Madgaon Junction in Goa to Mumbai CST station.