On Ethnic Pride (or lack thereof)

Our flight from Newark to London went off without a hitch. It took off a few minutes late but made up for it in the air. There were a couple crying babies as usual, but nothing out of the ordinary. Then after a 2.5-hour layover in Heathrow, we were back on a plane.

Any flight I’ve been on whose final destination is India is generally well populated by characters. This flight was no exception. Let us begin with the older gentleman who was unable to stow one of his many bags in the overhead bin above me both because it was too large and also because he only had one hand to maneuver it, the other hand occupied with preventing his pants from falling down [despite his having a belt]. My sister, safely distanced in her window seat, helpfully brought this to my attention. My immediate instinct to look was rewarded with a glimpse of underwear at my eye level, and I hastily averted my gaze until he sat down a few rows ahead.

All passengers appeared to have been boarded and seated but still we just sat at the gate. Was there a mechanical failure? Inclement weather? Was a connecting flight delayed?  No.  According to the captain, 4 passengers could not be located and because their luggage had already been checked through from Newark, for security reasons we could only leave either with the passengers aboard the plane or finding and removing the luggage from the plane. At 30 minutes, we were told it would take much longer to find the luggage to remove than for the passengers to get to the gate. At 1 hour, we were told the passengers had been located and were en route. 15 minutes later, this statement was amended to let us know they were still lost and that search parties (plural!) were on the case. Finally, 15 minutes after that, the missing passengers were being processed at the gate.

Now when one knows one’s boarding time is 8:30 and that flight time is 9:30, why would one wait any longer than 9:00 to ask for assistance if one has not yet managed to find the gate?  When they finally boarded and made their way down the aisle toward the back of the plane (I bet they wished they’d flown first class), they were greeted by several angry jeers and earfuls from their fellow passengers whom they had kept waiting for close to 2 hours. They didn’t even have the decency to look the slightest bit sheepish or chagrined.

There were, of course, at least 4 infants on the flight, one of whom cried throughout the 9-hour flight directly behind where my sister and I were sitting.  This was not our first rodeo, so that was not a surprise.  The child’s parents apparently could not find room in the overhead bin directly above their seat so were storing several bags in the overhead bin above me and my father [Pater], both in aisle seats. Again, understandable. What was infuriating was the fact that the child’s father, who ostensibly knew he was traveling with an infant before boarding, would fairly often get up and open the bin to retrieve something to bring back to their seats…but leave the bin open while he brought it back to his seat, did whatever he needed to do, and only close the bin after returning their bag to it.  So should the plane experience any turbulence, or really even slight movement in the normal course of flight, contents could easily shift and fall down.  But not on their heads — on ours.  About 6 or 7 hours into the flight, I couldn’t take it anymore and finally got up and closed the bin myself and told him, because apparently it was not an oversight as I generally excused it the first dozen or so times, nor apparently even common sense or courtesy, that he really needed to close the fucking bin every time because bags were threatening to spill out on top of his fellow passengers. I admit the language was harsh, and the offender [and offended] brought that up with Pater when he passed by their seat.  The baby’s parents tried to explain to Pater that their baby was sick and suggested I should have curbed my tongue or said something sooner [admittedly, both valid points, and my explanation though not excuse is that I’m from NJ and work on a trading desk].  Pater replied that he was sorry their baby was sick, but that did not excuse his not closing the bin each time for others’ safety. Pater also reminded them that it had been a long couple of flights since Newark and that their baby had been crying directly behind me and my sister most of that time except during our layover in London.  [Meanwhile, my parents did not think the baby sounded sick, but I know nothing about that].

And then a couple hours later, the guy sitting across from me, who had witnessed my previous heated interaction, did  the same thing.  And this time, a laptop bag actually did fly out the bin and would have hit Pater had he not had excellent reflexes and caught it.  This passenger actually complimented my father, “nice catch,” to which Pater explained, rather more politely than I had, that one should never leave the bin open on an airplane. Passenger’s response: “I didn’t see the bag was going to fall.”  Pater patiently tried again to teach this young man a rather basic physics lesson.  Instead, he repeated that he didn’t know it was going to fall and continued to rummage through the bag on his seat…with the overhead bin still open.

I wonder what kind of game or bet a flight attendant must lose to be assigned any flight that involves large numbers of Indians for over 5 hours. And much like I despair of people’s impressions of NJ from landing in Newark, so should India of any airport I’ve ever arrived in or departed from in the country (not to mention the rude, uncouth natives on the flights themselves).

They clearly have much to be embarrassed about, though…

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