Sitting in the Aircraft


Southwest is the launch Customer for the new seats represented here on the new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.

(cover image sourced from

You can judge a person based on the seat he or she chooses in the aircraft.

Some travelers choose window seat – because they want to be aloof and private and look outside the window during take-off and landing. Some take window seat because they want to take pictures two thousand feet above and put on the Facebook.

Those who choose aisle seat want to stretch their legs in the galley and visit the loo more often.

Some choose a window seat mainly to work. They work on their laptops without any disturbance. These are typical business executives who are finishing their PowerPoint before reaching the next destination.

And there are some letches who want to take aisle seat just to brush their shoulders with the air hostesses who are busy walking around. The girls do their best to avoid these kind of aisle seat passengers but it’s so difficult at times, especially when the travelers consider this lugging as part of the price of the ticket.  You see them pretending that they are sleeping. With their eyes closed and bodies leaning towards the galley, they look like crocodiles.

Those passengers in the middle seat are clearly not the frequent travelers. They get these seats because they don’t book the seat in advance or don’t know that booking a seat in advance is possible. So when they check in late, they get the middle seat allotted and travel with passengers on both sides. They sit with elbows squeezed. For long haul flights, middle seat can be a pain and requires a mind-set that can accept the situation.

Then there are passengers who like to take the first row. This has some advantage of getting out early, have a bit more leg space and face no inconvenience when you dine. Sometimes, you land up with someone insensitive in the front row who reclines the seat when you are eating, jamming the tray on your stomach. For people with big tummy like me, this is rather irritating and you have to make request to the front seat passenger by tapping on the shoulder.

But smartest are those who book the emergency row. This row provides the maximum leg room space. Passengers sitting in the emergency row look most seasoned and professional travelers. The only pain is that they have to listen to the one minute talk by the air hostess on how to open the door during emergency.  It’s a pity that most of the times, these passengers don’t listen to the instructions.

Seats in today’s modern aircrafts can be pretty sophisticated. It takes a while sometimes to figure out what happens when you press a button as something contrary happens especially while handling the footrest.  You feel stupid when you have to ask for help from the air hostess, especially to make your bed flat. You see experienced business and first class passengers who seem to know everything about the secret of maneuvering the seat.

The exciting part of the travel is however the passenger sitting next to you. That makes your travel interesting and sometimes memorable.

I recall I was travelling from Bangkok to Mumbai on Air India. I got into the aircraft, took my seat and was immersed reading the reports that I was to review. I didn’t even look around and bother who is sitting next to me.

I soon realized that many passengers were queuing next to my seat and were kind of peeping. I wondered why. It was bit annoying too. I turned to my fellow passenger sitting on the next seat and asked what was happening. The man said “Indians love cricket”. I looked at the passenger again – It was Sir Vivian Richards!! No wonder. Sir Richards smiled and said “You don’t seem to be the cricket type”

As we got into conversation, it so happened that our aircraft engine developed a snag (typical of Air India!) and we were asked to deport and move to a hotel  As Sir Vivian Richards and I got into the bus, all passengers stood up and gave him a standing ovation. That was really touching and so warm to experience! Sir Richards and I were allotted a room to share for few hours during this wait. Sir Richards educated me on the subject of cricket and did so gladly!

I remember a flight to Delhi. I was on a window seat.  The aisle seat next to me was not occupied and the aircraft was about to depart. And just then the last passenger entered. He was Amitabh Bachhan in a white kurta and red tripunda on his forehead that we typically put after a pooja. He looked amazing.

He then reached me and spoke in his trademark voice if I could switch the seat due to security reasons. Of course I gladly did and we switched the seats.

We chatted then during the two hour journey. I gave him a bit of a discourse on environment. And poor him listened to me attentively and showed a lot of interest. Don’t know whether it was part of his acting skills or his genuine interest! but he was extremely warm, polite and sophisticated.

Sophistication reminds me of my ride with Mr. Ratan Tata. I was on a flight from Zurich to Mumbai and was booked on business class. Due to some hitch in the booking, I got upgraded to the first class with a seat next to Mr. Ratan Tata. When Mr. Tata asked me what do I do – I answered that I work as an environmental consultant. He exclaimed ‘An environmental consultant flying first class – you must be doing very well”.  (I wish that was true)

The Swiss airhostess came with a trolley with some of the rare wines with platter of cheese. I was thinking of making best of this upgrade by sampling some of these wines. Just then Mr. Tata said to the airhostess “Oh, not for us, Dr Modak and I are really tired of the wining in the flights and we would rather have some still water instead”. I was speechless, shocked and frustrated with this kind of sophistication.

After half hour, Mr. Tata went to sleep. I promptly called the airhostess and said that I have changed my mind! And the airhostess obliged – generously.

I was in the lounge at the Bahrain airport, on my way from Cairo, heading towards Mumbai on Gulf Air. I saw a very handsome tall person in the lounge with a lady on the wheelchair next to him. Both were noticeable. I was wondering where they were heading to. I was just curious. I left the lounge early to do some shopping.

When I got into the aircraft, I saw that the man and the lady were already there. I had a window seat and in fact the tall handsome man had a seat right next to me.  The lady was sitting in the aisle seat in the middle row.

As soon as I sat, the Man held my hand and said “Nothing like sitting next to the Doctor – I am so relieved”.  I was surprised and was about to clarify that I am Doctor of Engineering and not Doctor of Medicine! The Man however continued “I insisted to the Gulf Air that we get a seat next to a Doctor and they found you in the passenger list. My sister who is sitting next to me is suffering from a brain blood clot. She fell down from the stool while drying clothes and the fall led to a head injury. She now needs to be operated on emergency as the Gamma Knife facility is available at the Hinduja Hospital in Mumbai.

I understood the gravity of the situation.

“Doctor, do you think my sister should raise her feet?“The Man asked. I did not know what to say!

“Let her do whatever is comfortable” I muttered. And the lady obeyed and raised her feet

The aircraft took off. We chatted for a while and the Man told me more about the accident. I was simply counting time to Mumbai and praying that no emergency takes place.

I tried to sleep. The Man wouldn’t let me. Please Doctor, can you stay awake for me? For my sister. He urged.

He then said “I suppose you know who I am”. When I said No he was surprised. All know me he said. I am Captain Raju.

[Captain Raju is one of the famous and successful Malayalam actors in India. I don’t speak Malayalam and nor see Malayalam movies. I later learnt that Captain Raju saw my name in the passenger list as Dr M. Prasad (not Dr Prasad Modak) and thought that I was a Malyali]

We landed Mumbai without any untoward happening. I rushed out of the airport and saw banners of welcome to Captain Raju. Hundreds of his fans waiting to see him…

After this episode, I gave strict instructions to my travel agent not to put my name as Dr Prasad Modak while booking. I thought – Prasad Modak was just enough!


  1. Enjoyed reading every bit of it. One of those rare readings where you can’t wait to read what happens next

  2. Wonderful simplicity and flow in the language exhibits an excellent teacher! So many things said without saying anything!! Congratulations!!!

    1. Many thanks for your kind words Professor. Like you there are very few readers who see the “invisible”. I am slowly learning this “technique” and discovering myself through writing these blogs. I value your encouragement. Warm regards

  3. I’m not surprised that you bumped into such luminaries!! It must’ve been a lovely experience. An even lovelier experience for me just reading the article. Those are people whom we still adore as idols.

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