Planes are revolutionising the way we travel. They take us across continents in hours and some even travel at speeds faster than sound.
But airline operators across the world — from Hawaiian Air in the US to Air India and Vistara Airlines in India to Thai Airways International in Thailand and Druk Air in neighbouring Bhutan — make sure that these sleek machines are blessed by the divine before they are inducted into their fleets.
“Prior to launching any new planes into service, we invite a kahu (Hawaiian for reverend) to conduct a traditional Hawaiian blessing at the front entrance of the aircraft,” a senior official of Hawaiian Airlines tells BusinessLine in an email interview. In addition to the traditional blessing, each aircraft in Hawaiian Airlines’ fleet is given a unique and special name as well.
The Thai Airways’ website too is full of photographs of monks blessing the nose of aircraft which one assumes are new ones being inducted into its fleet (the airline did not respond to questions). In a statement issued last year when its 51st aircraft joined the fleet, Thai AirAsia had said that it invited an abbot who anointed both the front exterior and cabin of the aircraft for its good fortune. Thai staff members and their families were invited to be part of the ceremony.
Common practice in India
In India too, many airlines follow the practice of doing a puja when an aircraft enters service.
Air India has a simple puja at the airport with generally the Chairman and Managing Director or Director, Finance or Engineering, performing it. “A coconut is broken in front of the plane and prasad distributed amongst the people present,” says a senior former Air India official.
Earlier, Vijay Mallya, the promoter of the now defunct Kingfisher Airlines, insisted that any aircraft joining the fleet first had to fly to Tirupati where a special puja was performed before it entered commercial service. And a spokesperson of Vistara confirms that the airline performs ceremonious rites under the nose of the aircraft every time a new aircraft enters its fleet. Incidentally, KLM, the Royal Dutch airline, also broke a coconut at Delhi and Mumbai airports when its Boeing 787 Dreamliner landed in India, to herald the launch of the service with this new variety of aircraft.
Divine intervention may seem at odds with the thoroughly cutting-edge science that aircraft use for flying but airlines don’t think so.
Monks play a significant role in all things auspicious and new in Thailand so they are also involved when a new plane enters service. Most Thai-registered airlines, Thai airways, Thai AirAsia and even Thai Lion Air (owned by Indonesian parent firm Lion Air group) maintain this practice. The Druk Air website also shows that the airline began with an 18-seat Dornier 228-200 that touched down at Paro airport in January 1983 to the chant of inauguration prayers, cymbals and conches with maroon-clad monks blessing the occasion and the plane.
In India too, many ascribe airlines’ decision to perform a puja before inducting an aircraft into the fleet to the age-old tradition of seeking divine blessings when anything new enters the house — in this case, a new aircraft entering the fleet of an airline.
The practice is also not new. For instance, Hawaiian has been conducting blessings for new aircraft since its inception in 1929, according to the senior official.