Walking up to the check-in desk for Maldivian’s inaugural Mumbai-Malé flight, it is immediately apparent that this is a big event. Amid dozens of red, white and blue balloons, and a group of chatty Gujaratis discussing their luggage with great enthusiasm, a ribbon is being cut and hands are being shaken and everyone is grinning. Everyone, except the lady checking me in, her face impassive even as she slides a complimentary box of chocolates across the counter with my boarding pass, wishing me a pleasant flight.
And very pleasant it is. The new Airbus A320 has a wonderfully bright cabin, and seems lighter, roomier and less clunky than most single-aisle aircraft. The seats are surprisingly comfortable, especially along the back. I had none of the usual trouble trying to fit both my feet and my camera bag under the seat in front of me. The seats don’t recline quite as much as in some other crafts, but surely that’s forgivable for a three-hour flight.
The onboard staff was friendly and well-groomed. My appeal for a blanket, even before half the passengers were seated, was promptly attended to, and little freshening wipes distributed soon after. Although it took some investigation to find out precisely what it was — only one member of the staff seemed to know what meat they were serving — the non-vegetarian in-flight meal was surprisingly good: a simple chicken curry with bhindi and pulao. Indeed, I can’t remember the last time I had such a good Indian economy meal, even on an international flight. Of course, I’d been awake and unfed since the crack of dawn.
The flight was smooth and uneventful, save for one mildly hysterical announcement, warning of turbulence, which turned out to be largely unnecessary unless its objective was to send aisle-loiterers diving into their seats. In any case, nobody got up again, for soon we began our descent, and as we dipped under the clouds the chorus of gasps began. A constellation of islands, lagoons and reefs in astounding marine hues was looking up at us like benign neon bacteria floating in some vast, magnificent petri dish. I was convinced we were landing on water until the last second, when land suddenly appeared beneath the wheels.