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In India air travel has never been so popular or affordable, an estimated 100 million traveling aboard this modern antithesis of the traditional bullock cart last year, but yogic flying and astral traveling aside, only a few of India’s 1.1 billion masses ever make it into the air.
Which gave retired Delhi aircraft engineer Bahadur Chand Gupta an idea. Why not bring the air down to ordinary Indians?
When he became an aircraft engineer, Gupta was flooded with requests from friends and neighbours who wanted to see inside a plane. “I was the first aircraft engineer in my village.” he said. “Back in 1980, I was treated as if I were the prime minister by the village folks who all wanted to see a plane.”
Security concerns made their wish impossible, so in 2003 Gupta had a very big Christmas—he bought a decommissioned India airlines jet—a 280 seat Airbus A300 cut into four pieces to make transportation easier—and mounted it on concrete blocks almost literally in his own backyard, the plane grounded between residential buildings and farmyard beasts, a final home in a suburb near Indira Gandhi International Airport.
Now every week hundreds visit, and the experience—deep vein thrombosis, dehydration and bad movies aside—is just like flying.
Plane-struck youngsters, eyes firmly, dreamily on the clouds, get to check in their bags without three levels of security, and are welcomed on board by smiling, pranam offering air hostesses—21st Century goddesses from a higher world, but conducting emergency drills and serving drinks in regulation airline skirt and jacket.
The entrance fee to board the plane—for which you receive an actual ticket and meal—is 150 rupees, and flights—over-enrolled with children bound on the flight of their dreams—depart five times a week. The trip into near thin air is free to charities and the poor.
Seatbelts must be fastened before the in-flight meal is served—whether to protect from turbulence or over excitement of little difference.
Says Gupta’s wife of the near endless stream of elated, infrequent flyers: “They may not have shoes on their feet, but when they come with such a happy face, the moment they enter in the gate and they see such a huge plane standing in front of them, and they just climb the stairs with such a big smile, their happiness gives me the uttermost pleasure.”
And the final call before departure? One awe-struck child-passenger, an afternoon spent in heaven instead of a nearby slum: “I used to wonder would I ever get to sit inside one. Today my life's dream is fulfilled”