The last thing you want to see before boarding a plane

It’s 6am on a Sunday morning and Delhi’s international airport is jumping like Grand Central Station. After battling my way through the teeming masses and procuring a life-saving “emergency aisle” seat, I decided to celebrate with a cup of coffee. As I sat down to enjoy my addiction, I was delighted to view a Sunday paper sitting on the empty seat next to me.

What I saw next belonged more on a Monty Python or Mr. Bean comedy skit than in a departure lounge. The front page headlines shouted out; “Fear of Flying With Unfit Pilots“. The article advised me that “the next time you take a commercial filght in India, do not forget to say a prayer. If lady luck is on your side, you should have nothing to fear most of the time you fly”.

I knew that my departure tickets were dated the 2nd of December so there was no way that this was some kind of April Fool’s prank. I read on. “If you are unlucky, you could be flying on an aircraft whose pilot is either half deaf, a drunk, someone proclaimed medically unfit, has only one kidney, suffers from cardiac problems, or worse, someone without adequate professional flying experience”. I looked around the waiting area to see if I could see any hidden cameras. Surely Ashton Kutcher was about to jump out from behind a pile of luggage to tell me that I’d been “punk’d”. According to the article, I was probably better off trying to fly the plane myself.

Apparently there is such a shortfall of qualified pilots in India, that airlines are recruiting those who have been let go from other airlines due to serious medical conditions and those who are too old to fly in their own country. The ironic part of this story is that I was supposed to fly with Air India, but their issuing of a paper ticket did not suit my 48 pre-departure purchase. Instead I flew Qatar Airlines on an e-ticket.

As if flying has not become difficult and stressful enough this past six years, now we have to worry about the pilot being deaf, or drunk, medically unfit or just not having enough professional flying experience (at least they don’t give credit for video game experience). I am grateful for an honest Indian Press and can at least be somewhat prepared when next flying to this exotic land, but what do we do if we need to get around the country once there? The Darjeeling Express is starting to have a good ring to it.

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