At the airport

“Perfect systems are process-dependent, not people-dependent.” ~ a 5S training instructor in the manufacturing plant where I worked previously

I was at my hometown’s airport recently, to catch a flight back to Hyderabad.

As I sat waiting for the boarding to begin and looked at the passengers, most of them engrossed in their own world, I marveled at the progress in recent times.

Since the time I left my home up till that instant, I hardly needed to speak to anyone. (The security personnel did make some grunting noises during the security check, but I wouldn’t qualify that as human interaction.)

Everything was nearly automated. Minimal human intervention required. That too in India where regardless of whether you are a tourist or a local, in a new city or in a new place in your own city, you always have to interact with people!

Then a harassed looking old gentleman and his wife came by hurriedly and asked me in Telugu if I knew which gate the Hyderabad flight was expected. I told him that since I was traveling on the same, I would help them out.

There are 5 gates for boarding – 2 on the ground floor and 3 on the 1st. Now this airport has a slightly funny characteristic. You don’t find out where your flight will come till the last moment.

Time trickled on. It was 5 minutes past boarding time and still no announcement.

The gentleman decided to check an electronic board nearby. I followed him and found him standing in front of it, scratching his bald head trying to make sense of what was written.

Guess what. During this critical time, instead of having the flight destination displayed in both English and Hindi, it was only in Hindi. I explained to him that boarding would begin on ground floor and that we had to rush. (For the uninformed – though Hindi is most spoken language in India, only ~40% are native speakers. English is recognized as the official language along with Hindi; and public announcements need to be in English, Hindi and the state’s language.)

And we ran. Lugging our bags across the huge hall and down the stairs, the 3 of us couldn’t help laughing at the absurdity of it! A perfect system which didn’t work. Did I mention that this international airport is considered the 9th best in India?!  God save travelers in India!

Having grown up in India and having spent a lot of my time and energy on the forced interactions on travels – talking, checking, bargaining and debating for everything from auto rates to directions and what not, I have always wished India would become more efficient and less irritating. 🙂


But in the 3 hours since I had left home, I laughed for the first time. With completely unknown people.

An efficient system gone haywire paradoxically revealed to me a fact – Efficiency meant to reduce errors caused by human intervention was also reducing something else.

The brief contact with strangers. The unexpectedly shared smiles and laughter.

And for that one moment, I disagreed with my 5S instructor.

2 thoughts on “At the airport

  1. Wonderful reading your very insightful observations about the well administered systems of airport and your finding the human touch! Have had the warmth of companionship from total strangers on trains, airports, airplanes and always believed in the Family of humankind… no caste, no creed, no language bar only the human touch… Your blog certainly connects us in laughter, sharing suble yet ordinary experiences – insightful and rewarding. priti


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