If your menstrual periods arrive unexpectedly on a flight, and if the airline is Air India, be assured that no help will come your way. While the crew will not provide you with a sanitary pad, they may even have the audacity to ask you to de-board if you cannot manage by yourself.
I had a first-hand experience of Air India’s insensitive and ill-equipped crew on a recent Delhi-Chennai flight (AI42).
While on my way to the boarding gate at the IGI Airport in Delhi, I began getting severe abdominal cramps and went to the washroom to check. I panicked as I wasn’t expecting my periods. I rummaged through the contents of my camera bag, which usually has a sanitary pad, but couldn’t find one. I asked the bathroom cleaner but was told that I would have to go to the airport pharmacy. Surprisingly, the IGI Airport washroom is not equipped with a sanitary pad vending machine even as the Railways and some other public facilities have begun installing such machines.
I was bleeding, in pain, and frantically searching for the pharmacy at the airport. A 6-7 kg heavy camera bag and a tripod on my shoulder were adding to my torment. At that moment, I received a call from the Air India staff asking me to reach the boarding gate in five minutes or else I would miss my flight. I tried explaining that it was an emergency and that I needed to go to a pharmacy but the staffer insisted I show up immediately.
I had no option but rush to the boarding gate. I told the male crew member about my ‘unannounced period situation’. While he had a clueless look on his face, his female colleague told me, in an unsure tone, that the flight crew must have it in the first-aid kit.
Slightly assured, I boarded the flight and immediately went up to an air hostess to ask if she could help me. "We don’t have sanitary pads on board," she replied. I felt helpless and almost pleaded with her that it would be difficult to manage without one. Fearing that my jeans would have gotten stained by now, I was afraid to walk around, let alone ask my fellow female passengers and went to my seat.
A few minutes later, another crew member, looking somewhat concerned, called out to me only to say that they would not be able to help. Another female crew suggested-much to my shock-that I could deboard since it was a three-hour long flight. Of course, the unsolicited advice came with no assurance to reschedule my flight.
I couldn’t have afforded to miss my flight, so I chose to reach my destination without a sanitary pad.
The harrowing experience left me wondering about the precarious situation women who travel everyday face. If you get your periods outside home, and especially if you are one among those who have delayed or irregular periods, you will be left to your own devices.
Air India PR Praveen Bhatnagar said sanitary pads are always available onboard in all flights. In fact, it is part of the check-list before take-off, he insisted. On being asked how Air India would deal if a passenger finds herself in such a situation, he said, "Our cabin crew is medically trained, they are not just to serve the food but also help you in all kinds of emergency,".
Indigo and Spicejet PR did not respond to email queries if sanitary pads are kept onboard or not. While Spicejet customer care had no clue what a sanitary pad is, the Indigo customer care said they do not provide any but helpfully added that "you can carry it yourself".
A pilot friend told me that all Emirate airline washrooms have sanitary pads, there is no need to even ask.
Another friend told me once a crew member fished out a pad from her own bag. Another faced a similar emergency while travelling from Pune to Delhi in a Spicejet flight. She was flatly told they don’t have any sanitary pads.