Thursday, December 6, 2007


The title of this blog may sound like a line from Rod Serling as he introduced an episode of The Twilight Zone, but this story is true.

An Indian entrepreneur, Bhadur Chand Gupta, is selling tickets to his fellow countrymen on his “Gupta Airlines" Airbus 300 for $4 a ticket! However, there is a slight catch. The plane never leaves the ground. (Doing so would mean flying in circles because it only has one wing! And besides, the plane doesn’t even have engines.) Nonetheless, Gupta is selling thousands of $4 tickets to willing "passengers."

What gives? Gupta isn't selling airplane flights--he's selling fellow Indians just the chance to experience sitting in a real airliner. Fewer than 1% of Indians will ever travel on an airliner, so Gupta is cashing in on the mere desire of people to experience virtual flight.

Gupta bought the dismantled aircraft from an insurance company in 2003. He reassembled the plane (most of it) in a Delhi neighborhood and soon began offering his “non-flights” on his non-airline.

The plane has no lighting and the lavatories don’t function, but the passengers are seated in actual airline seats inside the fuselage which is cooled by a generator. Airline music is playing from the speakers, and the passengers are given a safety demonstration. They even hear “captain’s announcements” from non-pilot Gupta himself.

Gupta’s wife and other family members serve as a crew of six “flight attendants” who walk up and down the aisles with their drink trollies serving drinks and airline food to the passengers.

(Hold it! To have MEAL SERVICE on a flight isn’t very realistic today!)

During their simulated flight, the passengers hear Captain Gupta make several announcements such as “Prepare for takeoff” and “We will soon be passing through a zone of turbulence, please make sure your seat belts are securely fastened.” And, “We are about to being our descent into Delhi.” But the scenery never changes because the aircraft never moves.

Gupta reports his countrymen are traveling hundreds of miles across India just to have the experience that only 99% of them can only dream about. A $4 chance of sitting in a cramped airline seat for 30 minutes is as close to air travel as they will get--and they're happy to do it. When they leave the plane, they still have never flown, but they relish what it might be like to really fly.

When I first heard about this, I thought that anyone who’d pay money to sit on a grounded airliner couldn’t be very smart. But after thinking about it, I realize that these people are simply doing what millions of tourists do everyday at Disney World – they’re paying to experience what it’s like to have some of their dreams come true.

Of course, I couldn’t help but extract a spiritual analogy from this interesting story. To me, those Indians who pay $4 to experience “virtual flight” are like thousands of Americans who flock to our churches just to experience “virtual spirituality.” They listen to songs as if they are only piped-in, pleasant background music. They watch the ushers move up and down the aisles with offering plates – and they might even drop in a few bucks for the “show.” Then they hear someone deliver a message from the Bible. But they walk out of church exactly like those non-fliers in Delhi--their faith having never left the ground. They “experienced” a form of godliness, but they’ve never experienced the actual power of God. We shouldn’t be too quick to criticize those Indians when our churches are full of virtual worshippers!

It’s a yes or no question – “Have you ever flown?” Sitting in a dismantled aircraft doesn’t qualify.

It’s a yes or no question - “Do you know God?” Sitting in a pew and leaving unmoved and unchanged doesn’t qualify either.

Virtual spirituality may give a clue about what’s possible, but authentic spirituality can only be realized when you EXPERIENCE a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

For those of us who know, love, and serve God, we soar to heights unknown even without the aid of an aircraft! “For those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles.” (Isaiah 40:31)