A Chat With Aashti Sindhu - Pilot and Vegan Activist

Flying a plane has always been her numero uno dream. Lately, it is her passion for veganism that has her focusing on consulting with restaurants and hotels that want to add vegan, plant-based and gluten-free options to their menu.

interview with aashti sindhu
Sindhu had wanted to be a pilot from the age of five

Meet Aashti Sindhu, a 36-year-old captain who started flying in 2007 with Kingfisher Airlines. Most weeks, she flies about 4 to 5 days. Over a career spanning 15 years, she has flown to almost all cities in India which&nbsphave an airport - Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Nagpur, Pune, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Calcutta, Raipur, Kochi, Trivandrum, Chennai, Patna, Dibrugarh, Male, Port Blair, Goa, Dehradun, and more. Some of the countries she has flown to are Singapore, Thailand, UAE, Qatar and Hong Kong.

Sindhu had wanted to be a pilot from the age of five because her grandfather was a flight engineer with Air India at the time. He would tell her the most amazing stories and that&rsquos when she knew that flying a plane and being in the sky was her dream.
We had a tete-a-tete with her about what it's like to fly a plane and the intricacies of travelling while vegan.
What is it like being a female pilot 
India actually has the highest ratio of female pilots in the world and I am really proud of that. According to an article published in March 2021, female pilots are at 13% which is higher than any other country in the world.  When I started flying in 2007, there weren't too many female pilots but it's&nbspsuch a  great feeling to see the number of women in aviation&nbsptoday. As a woman in a male dominated&nbspindustry it can get a little challenging because you feel like you have to prove yourself constantly. However I can say that the men and women in this industry are extremely professional and I have never faced any major issues being in the industry for so long. 
Tell us about the high point of your career.
I think the high point of my career was when I became a Captain in 2012. It was one of the happiest moments of my life to be able to sit on that left seat as a commander of a commercial airplane. I finally felt like I had realised my childhood dream and my grandfather would be proud of me. 
What do you love about your work
I love the amazing views that we as pilots are privileged to see. Magical sunrises, shooting stars, mountain ranges, full moon nights - the list is endless and witnessing these wonders never gets old.  I think being in the cockpit makes me forget all my worries and I'm transformed into a completely different person when I'm occupying that seat. I also love travelling to different cities and experiencing the culture, food and meeting new people if it's a long layover. 
A memorable incident&nbspas a pilot 
I love flying my friends and family - although it can also be nerve wracking when you're the pilot flying your closest family members. I vividly recall one incident where my aunt was travelling on board with me and my schedule had changed at the last minute so i didnt realise I would be flying her from Delhi to Mumbai. I was doing my regular walk around (inspecting the exteriors of the aircraft before every flight) and I bumped into her while she was boarding the aircraft. It was such a pleasant surprise since it was one of her first times travelling while I was the pilot. One I will always fondly remember.
Tell us more about your journey into veganism.
I started my vegan journey about 5 years ago. Initially it was for ethical reasons as I realised the horrors behind the meat and dairy industries. However, with time I also learned about the health benefits of this lifestyle and studied to become a plant-based nutritionist and health coach. I discovered that eating this way was actually the best thing I could do for my health. My doctors were also surprised to see that all the numbers on my blood tests were actually improving. I noticed I had a lot more energy, I could sleep better and recovered much faster after a workout.

I experimented with a lot of recipes and soon realised that vegan eating can be as delicious as you want it to be. Besides flying, I think this is my second biggest passion. I love guiding people on how to transition into a plant-based lifestyle knowing that the benefits far outweigh what you think you&rsquore giving up.

When you are working, as a pilot, on the field, how do you make sure your diet stays vegan What do you eat, do you pack anything from home
I normally pack most of my food for flights. The easiest would be some overnight oats with fruits, a tofu pulao and a plant-based raita. For snacks, I carry nuts and dry fruits. I try to keep my meals very simple and cook with very little to no oil.

How does the food available on flights and at airports stack up for a vegan
On most airlines, you can now prebook a vegan meal so that is a great option. In India, most airports have quite a few accidental vegan options like dosa, idly, sambhar, dal rice, etc. I just ask them to omit the ghee and butter.

Could there be any improvements in that (flights and airports)
I do wish we had a lot more healthier options available on board and at airports. It would be nice to see some smoothie bars or a fruit counter where passengers can pick up healthy snacks.

What&rsquos your advice for travelling vegan 

I think it&rsquos quite easy to travel as a vegan in 2021. You just have to do some research before going to the place. We are lucky in India to have a lot of plant-based options because most traditional Indian cuisine is very easily veganised. If you&rsquore travelling abroad, it might get challenging depending on the country you&rsquore visiting. South East Asia and Europe are also extremely vegan friendly. I think the only place where I have had a hard time has been the Middle East. My only advice to vegans would be not to stress if they accidently eat something that isn&rsquot vegan. We all make mistakes but we shouldn&rsquot dwell on them. Instead, we can learn and try to do better the next time.

As a vegan traveller, what difficulties do you encounter on holidays
I love travelling to new places and trying out vegan food in different cities. I think travelling to North India is a little hard because they add ghee and butter to every single vegetarian dish. So, I normally just try and find an Asian or South Indian restaurant. Cuisines like Thai, Asian, Sri Lankan, South Indian are very easily veganised.

Any interesting anecdotes and incidents while you were travelling as a vegan
I love exploring vegan restaurants in different cities and connecting with vegans in various countries. Even though I might not know them, it still feels like we have a connection because we are all working towards a vegan world. Singapore is one of my favourite places to have a layover. There are lots of vegan restaurants and I&rsquove met some really fun people too who are doing amazing things in their community by spreading this vegan message.

What is the idea behind your Instagram page
I started my Instagram page @aashtis back in 2018 to show people how easy it is to travel as a vegan. I think most people have reservations thinking that vegan food is expensive or hard to find. But, in reality, vegan food is the cheapest and easiest to find. Fruits, vegetables, pulses, grains and rice are things that are available in every country. I actually saved a lot of money when I turned vegan and stopped buying my weekly supply of meat and seafood.

Is there anything you are working on currently in relation to the plant-based movement
I am currently working as a Vegan Food Consultant with restaurants and hotels that want to add vegan, plant based and gluten free options to their menu. The vegan market has grown tremendously over the past few years and businesses are realizing this. I help restaurants become vegan friendly so they can confidently cater to the needs of the modern guest. Sustainability, climate change and health are now the driving factors behind&nbspdiet choice and my aim is to help businesses tap into this growing market of customers.

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