A lament for Air India

Saturday, 20 January 2007

Three things happened this week to remind me of good old Air India.

Just the other day at a backyard barbeque dinner, I met an ex-Air India pilot and we were talking of the old days when I used to travel on (and he used to fly) the last remaining Boeing 707’s to Aden, Nairobi and Addis Ababa. These were the dying days of Air India as a credible international airline. By then it was well into government bureaucracy mode, sloppy, bumbling and uncaring. But this particular flight was a favourite of mine. Great meals were served on each sector, the crew were friendly and I got to know some of them over the years.

In cities such as Aden, the Air India office was a link to things otherwise not available in the then communist country- newspapers, magazines and books. In fact, one of the staff who worked there, a comely local girl of Indian origin, used to run an informal lending library for books that we could borrow and read. In return, we would leave with her the books we had brought in to add to the library.

Because I had got to know quite a few of the staff, I was often upgraded to business class.

Then I see Patrick Smith at Salon (subscription required) laments the changeover of Air India’s livery for its aircraft:

First, a sneak peak at the latest airline livery abomination. There’s been no shortage of these lately, but this one is particularly disappointing because it afflicts Air-India, until now wearer of my all-time favorite color scheme. Here’s the original, shown to gorgeous advantage on a 747. How can you not love it, from the Rajasthani palace window frames to the Nike-style fin flash? It’s exotic, classic, understated, refined. All airlines should be those things.

Now for the update, depicted here on what I believe is a pre-delivery Boeing 777 at the factory near Seattle. The window arches and striping look emaciated. That scrambled egg on the tail is a bastardized version of the carrier’s elegant Sagittarian centaur logo. He appears to have been electrocuted.

In an earlier post he also comments on why the airline chose the centaur from Greek mythology as its logo:

Air-India’s earliest long-range planes were Lockheed Constellations, the first one taking off in 1948. With the new planes came a new logo, and the plan was go with a constellation theme. The centaur, representative of Sagittarius, was a logical choice because it suggested movement, strength, and somewhat resembled the farohar, a Parsi heavenly symbol featuring a winged man, like a guardian angel. The Parsis are a Zoroastrian sect of the Subcontinent — of which Air-India’s founding family, the Tatas, were members — and their farohar is a sign of good luck. Furthermore, incarnation of the Sagittarius brings forth, in the mind of many Indians, images of the master archer Arjuna from the mythological epic Mahabharata. Whatever the exact reasoning, the emblem was adopted and has remained.

And lastly, I saw a recent documentary film about The Doors concerts in Europe in 1967-68. When they came to England they got off an Air India plane!

Alas, the Air India with the maharaja as mascot and the series of classic humorous ads the defined a carrier with some attitude is long gone, replaced now with younger brighter better airlines in India.

An article in a 1960 Time magazine relates how the club-footed ‘socialist’ politicians started hobbling the airline’s personality.

Here is a link to some of the older Air India ads and posters. And one to pictures of the covers of their timetables over the years, including the one pictured above.

And lastly, a link to some more recent ads.

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3 Responses to “A lament for Air India”

  1. […] Air India is finally ditching its antiquated look and jazzing up its graphics (via Desi Dreaming). […]

  2. adam Says:

    what air india could need is punctuality, reliability,
    a more rigorous application of safety procedures, new
    planes, cleanliness, warmth is good but a lax attitude
    is certainly not welcome, an attention to details,
    small details like dirty seats, nonfunctioning reading
    lights, a more organized inflight entertainment system
    which has a good user interface, even the menu cards
    (not food)look like they are from a 2 star hotel, the
    check in is completely chaotic, people have to stand
    in a queue for a long time, many times the computer
    systems crash, I know we Indians are flexible and will
    adjust to any situation, but many young indians will
    no longer keep up with substandard service, they want
    the best..that is the attitude of young india, we
    demand only the best…the airline has long lacked a
    personality, an identity..it shouldnt be converted to
    a postmodern airline which is purely functional and
    lacks an identity..rather it should celebrate
    diversity..an open india which being diverse is open
    to new influences in an everchanging world….a very
    big deficiency in air india is a lack of
    aesthetic…Are the people who make such decisions
    allrounders who are open to the many aspects of life
    such as arts and music, both indian and from the rest
    of the world. It would be fun if airindia flights have
    a flavour of the destinations to which they are flying
    from and to…say if a flight is from delhi to
    paris..then there should be something about the flight
    which incorporates a bit of the parisian…on the
    whole what the airline needs is attention to detail.

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