Friday, April 29, 2011

Of flying cattle and more..

During the twister and tornado season in the United States, you hear strange stories. A frequent tale is that of a flying cow, since the winds are strong enough to transport a few hundred pounds of moo from one location to another. And, we keep hearing these stories time and again. But, other than tornadoes, I am aware of only one other mode of air-travel for cattle. Air India.

Some time ago, an Indian minister, Shashi Tharoor, gained notoriety by calling the economy class of Air India, the "cattle class". He had been asked to make better use of taxpayer's money by traveling on economy class. And, at that time, I was reminded of an episode of  "The Simpsons", where Homer Simpson makes a trip to India. Recently, I found a cartoon from that episode. It depicts the deep love and respect we have in India for cattle. And so, if someone treats you like cattle in India, it is not necessarily bad treatment that you should look forward to.

Air India is India's flagship airline. It is owned and run by the government. The same government that does not know how to take care of cattle on land. So, how in the world would they know anything about making cattle fly? Right now, much of India's air-travel is paralyzed, because the pilots of Air India are on strike. One more time.  In the last few years, they have struck so many times that my neighborhood cobra, who was de-fanged recently, told me with renewed hope that he is going to work for Air India now, since the pay is good, benefits are great, and frequently, he will get to strike. And hurt people, which is what his karma is, on this planet.

Every time this happens, we go through the same debate. One more time. Should we let Air India go? Should we privatize this "white elephant" that never makes money, is not known for customer service, and has a pretty bad safety record? Last year, it made a loss of Rs. 5551 crores, or approximately, 1.23 billion US dollars! And all of that, was subsidized by the Indian taxpayer. If anyone in the private sector made that kind of loss, with that kind of money, you could hire ten Donald Trumps, to say "You're fired" for the entire financial year. Nonstop.

But, the taxpayer's subsidy does not just stop there. A friend, who works for the government, told me that they are only allowed to travel on Air India, while on business. That doesn't sound so bad, since a government agency can definitely help out another, right? Well, not if you can travel between the same two points on a private airline, for half the cost.  Yes, Air India flights are considerably more expensive than those run by private airlines. And the difference, is again paid by the Indian taxpayer.

To me, it sounds like a run on the bank. Or, daylight robbery. Or, if you have watched Sholay a thousand times like I have -- Gabbar Singh on a Sarkari horse, carrying a rifle stolen from the government armory, and shooting the police chief with it. That is what Air India is.

My solution to this age old problem is very simple. We should sell off most of Air India, and if we really need a national carrier for national pride and stuff, we can get a few gigantic gas-filled balloons, and fly the national flag on them. Air India has done so much damage to my national pride as an Indian, that I think I will be perfectly all right without it. Oh, and one last thing. Let us say that when the strike is over, and Air India is still around, is there a chance that I  will fly on the airline that makes cattle fly?  

Yeah sure, when pigs fly.


  1. Cattle and pigs??? Agriculture airborne??? HAHAHA!!!

  2. For someone who has stupidly decided to write a design history essay on Air India this was very amusing to read (!)