From College Dorm to Grandma’s House and back


Yumi, the young flight attendant in Qatar Airways flight from Doha to Chicago, is the closest I have acknowledged anyone to be similar to both my late grand mothers ! I didn’t tell her that though since I was not sure she will take it as a compliment 🙂

I was practically raised by my paternal grandma, Vijayalakshmi. She passed away when I was ten. The only other person I remember as fondly is my maternal grandma, Sankari . My own name – Vijayasankar – is a combo of both their names !

Growing up – the best part of my life was visiting grandma . And the part I enjoyed the least was going back to my engineering college dorm every Monday after spending the weekend at home. I knew I had to do it and never really fought it – but I couldn’t wait to get out of college and never do this weekly commute again . I had to clue the universe would just replace train and bus rides with plane rides !

A week ago, I had to do a last minute trip to India with my client. I took a combo of American Airlines and British Airlines to get there. I landed at 7AM in Bangalore airport and by 10AM I was in the first meeting of the day at the IBM office. Now, on the way back it’s Qatar Airways to Chicago and then American to Phoenix . I am typing this from the Qatar flight with about an hour left to land in ORD. And my mind is racing back to 1992 to the dread of catching Parasuram Express to Kollam every Monday morning from TRIVANDRUM central station.

While I had no bad experience on my way to India, I have not a single memory of what happened in the American and BA flights. I don’t remember the staff , or food or anything. It was a workhorse experience – totally efficient, and yet not memorable in the least . I wanted that flight to land early. And I can’t believe I am saying this – I really don’t mind that this Qatar flight that will land 30 minutes late will put my connection to Phoenix at risk.

I don’t drink alcohol on flights and I don’t like plane food all that much. But Yumi and her colleagues convinced me in the friendliest way possible to try their assorted non alcoholic drinks . Her supervisor who is apparently a foodie herself gave me quite a lot of insight on how they choose dishes to serve, how they take time to learn customer names and how to pronounce them correctly before they see us.

The bar for customer experience is the last great experience one has had . And having enjoyed the over the top service in the hotels in Bangalore and Delhi – it would have been impossible to go over that high bar . And yet that’s precisely what happened . The Qatar staff didn’t overwhelm me with attention like the hotel staff – they had a balanced approach of being there when I needed their attention , but leaving me alone for most of the time.

I also witnessed a teaching moment earlier in the flight. A fellow passenger asked for a cup of sparkling water and unfortunately they had run out of bottles . That is partly because of me – I must have had half their supply in the last 15 hours 🙂 . The young flight attendant seemed to panic when she got the request .

I saw the supervisor who was about 10 feet away calmly walk up to the customer , apologize and offer another beverage and then slipped a cookie from her pocket to the older gentleman . From his face I knew he was happy ! Her supervisor who saw me watching quietly told me “She will learn soon that the trick to thriving in this job is to ALWAYS stay calm . When you are calm, you will always find a quick solution”. I nodded in agreement – this is obviously true in my line of work too 🙂

I take something like 120 flights on average every year for work – and have been doing it for 20 years or so . After the first million miles – I completely stopped looking forward to getting into a plane . I try really hard to not fly for vacation – I would rather drive a car for 12 hours a day instead . Which is ironic, given my big goal while in college was to get a job that lets me get into a plane and travel the world frequently 🙂

Thanks Yumi, Leizel and the Qatar team for reminding me of the joys of flying – and for reminding me of my dear Ammoomma in the best possible way. And how I wish the other airlines sent their executives and staff to check out how you do a world class job and learn from you ! I absolutely look forward to enjoying your hospitality the next time .

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