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Fasten your seatbelts, your flight is cancelled
Sidin Sunny Vadakut

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September 25, 2007
Nothing expresses the economic progress of our nation more than our airports bustling with domestic air passengers looking forward to their flights, most of which are delayed due to "Unavoidable reasons outside the company's control. So don't blame us! Hey! You wanted to save money!"

There was a time when the common man on the street merely dreamt of booking a ticket, going to his nearest airport and then traveling across the country in a gleaming, modern jet airliner. It was a luxury only a few could afford.

But today that dream is a reality. Anybody armed with a credit card and an internet terminal can now book a ticket online at any of the two dozen Web sites out there that offer rock-bottom process and special offers ("Get one plus one ticket absolutely free!!! -- conditions apply).

(Condition: If and when we complete purchase of jet aircraft.)

All he needs to do is choose his flight, enter his credit card details and click "Pay Now!" at which point, due to the marvels of modern computing technology, he will download a virus by mistake and his computer will crash.

But fret not. It is keeping in mind just this occurrence that airlines and Web sites have established large call centers manned by expert customer service executives who are all, at this moment, busy on other calls and not ready to speak to you.

Half an hour later, by which time you have memorized the entire Best of Kenny G collection, you will miraculously get through to a polite lady who listens to your problems in detail, apologises for the inconvenience, puts you on hold for a brief moment, and then goes home for the weekend because her shift is up.

Finally, a day or two later, an email with the flight details and PNR number is sent to you and you are all set to enjoy the many conveniences of air travel.

First, you need to place your baggage in the X-ray machine. It is without doubt a blessing that our national security is in the hands of the uniformed gentleman who sits in front of the x-ray monitor and, with great concentration as befits the job, does a Sudoku puzzle in a local language newspaper. Thankfully he has colleagues to watch over him and ensure our safety. But they are all on tea break.

But, of course, I am joking. They do seriously look at your baggage and ensure that nothing remotely suspicious ever passes through.

If you ask me, there is absolutely no way you can get an iguana through our security people.

Surprised at my sudden mention of a large, arboreal lizard found in Central and South America?

Let me briefly update you on recent developments from the world of iguanas, a topic that, I have always observed, gets very little coverage in the Indian media.

Last week, at the British resort town of Blackpool, policemen at the local airport apprehended a woman carrying a live iguana in her bra. And to be very clear and unambiguous about this, I will add that the lady was wearing the above-mentioned bra at the time.

I will give you a moment to let this sink in.

An iguana. In your bra. (Assume, momentarily and for academic purposes only, that you are the bra-wearing type.)

Apparently one of the officers on duty noticed a strange motion under her dress and immediately thought: "Wait! That looks like an iguana in her lingerie!"

They immediately made the women take her off clothes, took several videos and photos of the same, and that's when they found the reptile upon her. They then asked her if the iguana was her's. (A most amusing question if you ask me. "Hey! Where did this come from in this completely unsuspected fashion?") Thankfully, she said yes.

The UK police immediately informed higher authorities who in turn informed the US authorities who, in turn, immediately shut down all air traffic and placed the armed forces on high alert in case they had to invade a crude-oil exporting nation as a precautionary measure against iguanas who were threatening the American way of life.

I kid, of course. The lady donated the iguana to the local zoo and the police raised no charges against her in exchange for letting them keep the photos. The iguana, as may be expected from a diurnal, herbivorous, oviparous and most of all polygynandrous reptile, made no comment.

An event of this kind would never happen in our airports, of course. And even if it did, it would be against our culture to ask a woman to ask what was wriggling inside her lady clothing.

Back home we proceed towards check-in, obtain our tickets, pass through security check-in and then proceed to the waiting lounge or, as people who fly Air Deccan call it, home.

Here you finally get a bite to eat. Most lounges are equipped with excellent food and beverage facilities, at prices that are extremely economical if paid in yen. Being a newspaper columnist, I often eat full meals at airport lounges and then, thanks to my copious income, pay them off in easy monthly installments.

Hours later, when you are finally giving up hope, a petite member of the staff runs to a mike in a corner of the lounge, and to your extreme relief, announces that the flight will be here in a matter of hours. The joy in the lounge is palpable. Security is summoned to hold some of the more joyous people down with rifle butts.

When you land at your destination, you are more than a little relieved. You have actually managed to last through a most harrowing experience. Now all that remains is to pick up your luggage from the revolving conveyor belt and you are on your way home. (Ominous background music...)

At this point I would like to mention a real set of announcements I was recently subjected to by an employee of an airline I will only refer to as 'Opposite of Come'.

"Passengers are requested to pick up their baggage from belt no 3. I repeat passengers are requested to pick up their baggage from belt no 5. Thank you."

The looks on people's faces were like nothing I had ever seen before.

Finally the baggage arrived on belt no 4.

Truly, we have advanced as a nation. With this growth in airline traffic and domestic air travel, it is only a matter of time before one day someone in India too carries a reptile in their underwear. Till then we wait, trying to fight the temptation to do it ourselves.

Earlier column: The Incident of the Columnist at a Disco

More adventures of the Vadakuts, mister and missus, can be found at Domain Maximus.

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