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Saturday, March 13, 2010

On airline safety

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Perhaps the most embarrassing part of the job of a flight attendant is safety announcements. If a well draped, polished executive who is about to deliver keynote speech at podium is asked to recite ‘twinkle-twinkle’ before he can begin, that is how he would feel. This awkwardness multiplies because, one, nobody in audience pays attention, and second, they have to do it twice in Hindi and English, both. Their lackadaisical gestures are far too easily noticeable when drained steward or stewardess mechanically goes through the motions. I often dream about final exam of flight attendant’s school necessarily having a question on steps of safety demonstration. From what I’ve observed, stewards are more uninterested than stewardesses in moving their hands more than a foot away from their bodies. So routine this routine has become that process has lost its very purpose — for I believe that first time flyer will find these instructions too fast and too limited. It’s another matter that even after numerous flying miles, I am still not sure if I can find my safety jacket beneath my seat.

This brings me to the second point. Why must these instructions be relayed live? Most airlines, even those who have personal entertainment screen for every seat, conduct these announcements live: narrated by an on-board attendant and demonstrated by other attendants. I would imagine that having a tape recorder with instructions to be played could be simplest thing to have. If inbuilt tape recorder is expensive proposition requiring rewiring of aircraft’s public announcement system, I can imagine a steward playing a pocket tape into the microphone. Of course, alternative thought suggests that once in-flight crew is on board, they might as well do something to keep themselves busy.

Third point on this topic is about requirement of doing so at all. Surely, Government of India guidelines specify wording of instructions and usage of two languages*, but must those be followed to the letter? Could their be an AAI or DGCA official sitting in plainclothes among traveller who’d report the violation? Or perhaps the penalty of violation is large enough to dissuade airlines from taking any chances at all. Then there is something-to-do reasoning, again.

*God bless them for continued Hindi usage, for if left to airline and airport staff only, Hindi would completely disappear as it did from shopping complexes — richness often being irrevocably associated with usage of English and abandonment of National language. Note that any announcement which is not part of required announcement is only relayed in English, chief among them being Captain’s mid-air flight summary.
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