Poor Indians enjoy virtual air travel rides in Delhi for £2!

Book now for the flight to nowhere

AN INDIAN entrepreneur has given a new twist to the concept of low-cost airlines. The passengers boarding his Airbus 300 in Delhi do not expect to go anywhere because it never takes off.

All they want is the chance to know what it is like to sit on a plane, listen to announcements and be waited on by stewardesses bustling up and down the aisle.

In a country where 99% of the population have never experienced air travel, the “virtual journeys” of Bahadur Chand Gupta, a retired Indian Airlines engineer, have proved a roaring success.

As on an ordinary aircraft, customers buckle themselves in and watch a safety demonstration. But when they look out of the windows, the landscape never changes. Even if “Captain” Gupta wanted to get off the ground, the plane would not go far: it only has one wing and a large part of the tail is missing.

None of that bothers Gupta as he sits at the controls in his cockpit. His regular announcements include, “We will soon be passing through a zone of turbulence” and “We are about to begin our descent into Delhi.”

“Some of my passengers have crossed the country to get on this plane,” says Gupta, who charges about £2 each for passengers taking the “journey”.

The plane has no lighting and the lavatories are out of order. The air-conditioning is powered by a generator. Even so, about 40 passengers turn up each Saturday to queue for boarding cards.

Gupta bought the plane in 2003 from an insurance company. It was dismantled and then put together again in a southern suburb of Delhi. The Indian Airline logo on the fuselage has been replaced by the name Gupta.

Passengers are looked after by a crew of six, including Gupta’s wife, who goes up and down the aisle with her drinks trolley, serving meals in airline trays.

Some of the stewardesses hope to get jobs on proper planes one day and regard it as useful practice.

As for the passengers, they are too poor to afford a real airline ticket and most have only ever seen the interior of an aircraft in films.

“I see planes passing all day long over my roof,” Selim, a 40-year-old tyre mechanic was quoted as saying. “I had to try out the experience.”

Jasmine, a young teacher, had been longing to go on a plane. “It is much more beautiful than I ever imagined,” she said.

Matthew Campbell, The Sunday Times UK,September 30, 2007

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