19 July 2022

Middle-Class Dreams

Remember this picture of Neeraj Chopra? He had posted this on social media saying a small dream of his had come true, that he was able to take his parents on their first flight. 

Why is it so hard to go on an airplane? 

As an 80's kid, an airplane was my ultimate fantasy. I was your typical middle-class kid, fascinated by strange objects, unfamiliar people, and far-away places. Cities and their modern gadgets had a particular pull. 

I was growing up in a village 450 km from the state capital (Bangalore).  It is an 8 hours drive, by today's driving standards and road conditions. The nearest airport (Mangalore) was 75 km away. It was a 2 hours drive from my village. The airport itself was 13 km away from Mangalore city. Today, it costs around Rs 1000 just to come to the city from the airport. Multiple options for airport transfers are still not available. You either take the prepaid taxi or be at the mercy of the drivers outside. They are waiting for return passengers to take back to the city as they drop off the others at the arrival point.  

THAT is the extent to which an airplane was a "far-away" thing for us. Forty years ago, it would have been easier to die and go to heaven than go to the airport.

No wonder, the mere sound of the passing airplane was enough to make us stop whatever we were doing. We would rush out, look up at the sky, catch a glimpse of this wondrous modern invention, and wave at it vigorously. I really thought people inside could see us and were smiling or waving back at us! Also, sometimes, this flying machine made thin, white lines in the sky. We were told that chocolates were given to all the passengers on board and that it was free and unlimited. Can you imagine the power of the two words - Free And Unlimited? We love these words. Even separately they were great and here, they were together!

For those of us, who went to Dharmasthala on an annual temple trip, in a 'rented-for-the-day' Ambassador, an airplane was mesmerizing. I remember the moment when I looked at the airplane for the first time. It was on our school trip to the Mangalore Airport. 

The plane was huge. It was long. It was white. It was slim. It had tiny windows. I wondered how people could look out of those windows? Did they have to stand? 

My only references for windows were, those on our local, private buses and the 'big-as-a-door' Ambassador car windows, in which you could slip a child in and out with ease. 

I dreamt about the tray the air hostess would bring to my seat and I would choose the chocolate I wanted. Those dreams, those little wishes, those nights thinking of the airplane - it was haunting. It was haunting because I knew very well, that I did not have the money then or perhaps, worse still, never have the money in the future either, to actually be "inside" an actual plane and go from place to place.

Many years later, during one of my training sessions, I remember a girl saying, her only dream was to take a flight from Vishakhapatnam to Hyderabad. This was in 2020. I knew exactly how she felt. I knew, without saying anything more, exactly what her dream meant to her. But at the same time, I wondered how a dream of a villager like me, from an unknown village, from a bygone era, was still a dream of many, in better jobs, better cities, and in the year 2020! For a middle-class person, these are what dreams are made of - irrespective of where we live. Hum aur hamare sapne!

So, did my airplane dream come true? Yes, it did. It was from Hyderabad to Bangalore in 2003. It was an Air Deccan flight. The low-cost airline of the 2000s. It was the cheapest flight available back then. It was famously said, at the time, that traveling by Air Deccan was as good as traveling by AC first class train, almost the same fare. Captain Gopinath's dream to make flying accessible to the masses had certainly made it possible for many like me to fly. 

I do not remember now the fare we paid. Or where we bought the tickets. Can't be online, right? Most likely it was through a travel agent. 

We were sweating inside the cabin and I was thinking, "Come on now, the machine of my dreams cannot be this uncomfortable, can it?" Someone told us it was so hot because the AC had been switched off. They were waiting for everyone to be on board and the flight to take off for the AC to be switched on. 

Fortunately for me, many of my subsequent flights were paid for by the companies I worked for. 

As a family, paying for an air ticket is something we still go back and forth on, for days on end. I just cannot digest that it still costs so much. I remember our trips to Orissa, Gujarat, and Assam. A large part of the expense was just the flight. Sometimes, 50% of the total travel expenses! 

No wonder, flying is one of the most treasured middle-class dreams.


  1. Nothing has changed for people at large, unfortunately.

  2. I dreamt about airhostess would bring Scotch bottle to the seat and thought that drinks was free and unlimited

  3. I enjoyed the annual holiday flights from Delhi to Cochin and back. They were dreams come true for a person who had spent too big a part of his life on Indian Railway.

  4. My pet peeve is with the outrageous prices charged in the shops at the airports.

  5. Very nice and true write up. Even now a major part of travellers are from companies, government or politicians entitled to free travel. With more airports and modernization, the travel cost can only be upwards

  6. A true depiction of the state of air travel for a common man

  7. Very true! All middle class people have same dreams..Renu