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On par in the air, classed on ground

March 06, 2013 13:40 IST

The move by Mumbai airport to have the drop-off point for autos at a distance from the terminals reeks of class distinctions, says Mahesh Vijapurkar.

Competitive airline business and the cheap tickets have democratised flying. When Captain G R Gopinath started his Deccan Airlines, he had the entire population as his target. He often spoke of the one billion Indians as his market. He, one assumes, also thought of the cheap-ticket flyer coming to the airport in an autorickshaw.

Apparently the private operator of the Mumbai airport thinks differently. The airspace could be congested by aircraft circling to find a landing window but the approach to airport should not be. The autorickshaws congest the place, they think, so keep them away, ensure the alighting point is the farthest. Just like the bus stand is.

It would seem that when the airport was redesigned, the operators assumed that passengers would come only in cars. It is a wonder that they did not segment the alighting points by class -- limousines, AC cars by sedans and hatchbacks, then non-AC cars, then AC taxis, non-AC cabs before they virtually tossed the autorickshaw user away.

They forgot that someone may walk to the airport from the close by string of hotels around the airport to bar him entirely for he has no vehicle carrying him. It is fortunate that there are no human-powered three-wheeled rickshaws like the one on Patna’s roads. In the operator’s mindset it could well be just out of sight.

If the VVIPs can have direct access in his car, amber lights flashing atop the roofs, right up to the aircraft on the tarmac when probably the hoi polloi amongst the other sections would have to step back, then why pepper the approach with the ubiquitous but lowly form of transport?  When the VVIP drives in, the drive itself may be cleared of the common category.

Of course Mumbai has taxies as an option unlike other cities, the rickety black-yellow cabs to the sedans from fleet cab operators but the last mentioned are a risk. The kali-peeli cabs are not available everywhere at all times -- north of the airport they are scarcer -- and the fleet cabs can and do cancel their bookings during peak hours saying one was not available. The autorickshaw is then the natural choice.

Frankly, it is a class thing. It has nothing to do with the logistics of managing the space outside the arrival gates. It is like not having the great unwashed at your dining table because he is poor, and also, he smells. P G Wodehouse had another description for them because he mostly looked at the world from the prism of the aristocracy: the robust English peasantry.

It so happens that regardless of what mode of transport one uses, they all end up, from airport to airport, flying in the same aircraft though those who pay more get to sit in more comfortable business or executive class. When they are served their refreshments, if you noticed, the stewardesses draw the curtains.

It is much like the time when in the past, homes swathed in traditions and caste-based discriminations which also ran parallel to economic segmentation, you ate your meal, your maid who scrubbed the vessels clean was not to see what you are consuming. After all, she only got the leftovers, if any, so better not to let her salivate. That was a way of curbing even aspirations to a good meal, perhaps.

But here, being dropped off at the farthest point is not going to inject aspiration in autorickshaw users. It is only going to add to their gripe about how, while at one at one end, in this case, democratisation in the sky divides the people at the ground into various classes. It is also going to give the airport operator such a bad image that the expensive PR machinery they have would not quite manage to hire it.

Mahesh Vijapurkar is a Thane-based commentator who plugs the common man’s concerns

Mahesh Vijapurkar