Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Sir, your flight is not an option

I'm going to retool an old phrase: opinions are like flying nightmares in India - everyone has one. Here is my latest one - nightmare, not opinion.

I'm coming back from a super vacation in Goa with my eight year old son MotorSandal. And en route to Vadodara, I have a connection in Mumbai. The connecting flight to Vadodara was an Indian Airlines flight. When I mentioned this to people, I thought I saw concern in their eyes, but I didn't understand it back then.

The flight from Goa to Mumbai was uneventful if you are used to chaos - which I am. But I had already fought a battle with a woman cutting line in the baggage check over how invisible my son was next to our loaded cart that she thought no one was in line (Lady, how about the other eight people behind him? You think they were lining up for a swayamvar?)

Now I get off my much-delayed flight in Mumbai and run over to the Indian Airlines terminal feeling good about being in the nick of time and having outwitted the many porters who claimed I couldn't get to Departure with a cart.

A young lady in a starched saree smiles at me and asks if I need any info.

"Where is the check-in line for Vadodara, Miss?" I ask.

She smiles again. "That is not an option for you today, sir"

"Um, what does that mean?"

"It means we don't fly to vadodara any more"

I wave my ticket in her face. "But you do - it says so right here. Flight IC 149!"

She smiles like one would at an errant child "Sir, that flight stopped going to Vadodara a few days ago"

"Um, I wasn't informed! What do I do now!"

Another smile. "You could take the flight to Ahmedabad. There are taxis available there that can get you to Vadodara"

"Ok, can you help me get on that flight?" I ask.

"No sir, because we aren't flying to Ahmedabad today either"

At this point I decide to ignore her existence and turn and look at the crowd at the Wait-List counter. I elbow my way through a throng of people yelling and waving tickets and state my case to no one in particular because the counter isn't manned.

A Lalita Pawar-like woman in a purple saree and horn-rimmed glasses jumps on the baggage conveyor belt from the neighboring counter and waves a pen in the air. "We DONT FLY TO BARODA!" she says. "Try buying another ticket for tomorrow at the terminal outside!" Then she jumps off the belt and disappears. Everyone else at the other counters are busy trying to burn holes in the desk with their eyes.

After some more trying, I give up and make my way to the other terminal. En-route I chat with a staffer from another airline. "Can you show me your ticket?" she says, her eyes widening. "I have to see this - its crap even coming from Indian Airlines". Now I understand the look of alarm in the eyes of anya sajjans earlier.

Interestingly while buying new tickets, I note that the only airlines with orderly queues are Kingfisher and Jet. All the others have jhunds of people thronging the ticketing window and trying to insert their entire body through the small window cutout. Already having added Vibhishan-like wisdom to my self in the last hour, I decide to stand in queue at the Jet window (Kingfisher doesn't fly to the V).

I have to buy business class tickets for the following day because everything else is sold out. In between I get pummelled by a sweaty unkil who is late for his flight and having hijacked my space at the counter wants someone to stop the plane. My helper - a young girl with a dazzling smile - says: "Sir, in the time its taking you to argue with us, you should just run and miss your flight in person!"

I call my favorite cousin in Mumbai and tell her I will be home for the night. Then I fight with the taxi driver who is sorely disappointed that I am only a Rs 200 fare instead of the bigger fare he was trying to land. "Sahab" he glares at me "I was hoping to make more money off of you! Samajh ke de dena!" After some negotiations with Startlingly Honest Taxi Driver, I am instructed to lie to the gate officer about where I am headed so that the taxi driver won't have to stand in an 8 hour line outside the airport again.

Most of this I find highly amusing and educational except the Lalita Pawar character - who just annoyed me without providing much entertainment. Of course, I don't have to deal with this every day unlike the many other passengers who - when I chatted with them during waits - spontaneously unspooled their own tales of flight frustration.

And even a pool of mud can house a lotus or two. I was able to observe Mithun's highly personable son Mimo from close quarters at Goa airport and I got to hang with my cousin-sister - who I fondly call Abuleen and who is the only person in the world I've met who shares my befuddlement at the popularity of Jaya Bachchan. Much savage Bollywood bitching ensued at her rooftop restaurant not far from Santa Cruz.

And if you think I'm being harsh on IA - I haven't even gotten to the Drift Memsaab's story about trying to get a refund for a cancelled flight.

One of these days, I expect to pick up a newspaper and read the following headlines: "Indian Airlines actually run by Gabbar Singh. Heads nod with enlightenment"

Also:

18 comments:

indiequill said...

Don't be silly. Gabbar Singh was a perfectionist - heads would have rolled if they'd pulled something of this sort if he was in charge. Plus yours coz you complained. Have fun in Modiland. I hear its not so different :p

Beth said...

1) Please tell us more about this savage Bollywood bitching!

2) I call my laptop Gabbar Singh when it misbehaves, especially if loud grinding/whirring noises are involved.

SkD said...

Aspibhai, i wholeheartedly sympathise wid ur experience.....and i cnt help but quote a silly govinda song here....."It Happens Only In India!!!!"

Joules said...

I think its like the queue you are not in moves faster. Last time I flew Sahara they cancelled the BBSR to Delhi flight at the last moment. Engine trouble is what they said, my guess was that it was not enough customers. IA and Jet were flying fine.

Now I account for these things and wear my Indian patience when I am travelling in India.

anu g said...

Ha, good to be back here on Driftland.Here are my phaltu thoughts on the subject.
1. Firstly it was great fun reading about all that u have experienced. I can only say 'Welcome to India'!!!
2. For ur info, Indian Airlines has been rechristened as 'Indian' last year.I know it sounds odd!
3.I am quite surprised that u have had such a bad time on Indian.My husband travels very often, and his experience has been that Indian is one of the more punctual and reliable airlines. of course the difference is that he books just a couple of days in advance so the flite cant be cancelled and all that.Now I can see u saying 'Lord, if this is reliable, then what about all the other airlines'
4. Well, the news reports have been that flights are overbooked this yearend cos everyones using up their LTC and other perks. If u have noticed with the flites becoming cheap,the airports have become akin to bus-stops. My husband caught a flite two days ago in Mumbai, and he was asked to report 2 1/2 hours in advance cos the airport was jampacked.!!He was grumbling that he could as well have caught a night-train instead.
5. U r lucky u managed to visit Goa. We have just dropped plans to visit Goa next week, cos the 'Save Goa' guys are planning a revolt against all tourists.We could take a chance, but not with our kids.
6. U have to be more forthcoming about the Bollywood news.This is just the right forum! I have a friend who used to live in Mumbai, and whenever we met, she used to give me such explosive news on Bollywood, it was almost unbelievable.
7. I know things are disorganised in India, but there r also so many lovely things happening here, that if I may use a tacky flop-movie's title: " I, proud to be an Indian ".

Aspi said...

Amrita, I'm sure there IA is organized as well. But the amount they care about their customers reminds of Gabbar's concern for the villages who paid his roji-roti (so to say).

Beth: awesome name calling!

Joules and anu g, I usually enjoy my time here so much its very rare for me to get ruffled. But I've seen the difference between someone like IA and say Jet, which I consider to be among the best I've flown on, and its too huge to put in words.

Now with airlines like IndiGo and GoAir, the whole cheapo airlines value prop for IA doesn't fly either.

Aspi said...

About the savage Bollywood bitching - most of my cousin's comments are unprintable, she's pretty ruthless especially when describing someone's looks in person (like say Dimple, or Rekha).

Priti said...

Aspi, I empathise with your exasperation with IA, or “Indian” as Anu G’s informs us. With so much out-of-sorts in our country it is natural we evaluate things with a reasonable yardstick.

I used to crib my guts out at our domestic airlines, until I experienced some abroad. Was appalled, with some experiences in the most developed country – read that as N. America (mostly, US of A). Share some of these?

Here goes –

1. I was traveling United Air on a VUSA from Canada. On reaching Canada, and planning the itinerary, I called up customer care to confirm departure dates for the US. To my horror I was informed that the validity for the entire travel would conclude in the next 15 days, when I was to fly out of Canada only after 15 days. Frantic calls got various responses – from cold, insensitive to very helpful ones. Only problem - they were very helpful but had got all their facts wrong. Local customer care insisted the ticket was valid for 15 days, but Delhi insisted the tickets were valid as printed on them. But all calls made to customer care in Canada kept refuting it. Finally I decided to chuck the VUSA out of the window, only to be deal with it on my return, and booked fresh tickets to complete the itinerary.

Incidentally, on return I applied for a refund - (actually I wanted to sue the airlines). I was informed that 100 dollars would be deducted as processing fee (for services rendered?!). Had to use the “sue act” to get the money back.

2. Was flying from Houston to Seattle on Continental. The aircraft was about to take off when the skies opened up. So heavy was the downpour that we couldn’t take off for two hours. Cooped up inside, it soon became hot and stuffy. I requested the air hostess for some water. Her response, “If I give you some, everyone else will also ask for it!” Geez! Some service – that! The airline – Delta.

3. Various flights did not take off on time. In one instance – no announcement was made till 20 minutes before the scheduled take off. On asking them if any announcement had been made, people behind the desk scurried to get things together, thanked me, and soon after announced the departure. Airline – NW.

4. In an Air Canada flight to Toronto from Delhi a hot meal (veg) was refused because they had run out of it. Only minutes later a kindred spirit thought the journey was too long for me to stay hungry, and fetched a veg meal!

The list could go on...

Sounds familiar?

Well, seems we, passengers are meant to suffer. Country immaterial!

Priti said...

Oopss...mention of Delta in #1 is a mix up. That was another story ..sigh!

Aspi said...

Priti, Indian Airlines has by far the worst administrative staff I've encountered with airlines.

And in my limited travels, the direct American flight from Chicago to Delhi has the worst flight attendents - they are just terribly rude.

Blue Bike said...

I read somewhere "Travel teaches tolerance" and it seems the worldwide travel operators are taking this dictum pretty seriously !!!
They are hell bent on teaching us how to tolerate even the worst service.
I had a similar experience with Kingfisher and IndiGo, both cancelling flights on last minute.

Maybe its time we "outsource" domestic air travel.

Priti said...

Oh abs, Aspi. I agree totally with you about IA staff. When ever one has to travel, IA is not even considered - dismissed mentally! Your experience seems to be amongst the worst! Shudder to think what I would have done to find in a similar predicament.But one is really stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea.

On a more optimistice note, Kingfisher most definitely, and Jet to quite an extent have been impressive. Is it because of comparisons or on absolute terms, dunno yet!

Blue bike has a good idea - what if even outsourcing fails?!

Aspi said...

blue bike, welcome to the drift.

I haven't flown Kingfisher yet, if I get the opportunity I will. I heard they are headed to make a big loss this year although Jet has had a turnaround year.

The big airline boom is over :)

Malz said...

Hello Everyone,

I agree IC is one of the worst Airlines I have flown in..and I also think from experience that their Domestic flights are better than their International ones...lesser torture time! and the rechristened name "Indian" sounded quite funny to me when I went to their Office in Singapore to get my return date changed..the token paper on which they print the number in queue had the words "Welcome to Indian" printed on top! However now that they have merged with Air India all their flight announcements go like " announcing the arrival of Air India flight IC945.." which also sounds funny to people from the Travel Industry atleast cos they have retained the 2 letter code (IC=Indian Airlines)but go by the name Air India now.

Personally I prefer 1-Kingfisher 2-Jet Airways for Domestic Travel.

anu g said...

Bluebike, outsource domestic airlines to foreign airlines like Delta and Continental whose service Priti described?

anurag said...

This is hilarious. Won't forget this one in a million years. Coming to the US airlines, it's a common gripe. Fly any other major US airline besides Southwest and Jet Blue (Continental to a certain extent) and you are on your own. American is the worst, specially if you ever get on American Eagle - getting bags lost is their core business. Not that Delta is better - I had a flight from the West Coast cancelled by Delta. Their reason - not enough crew to operate the flight. If you are flying in Canada - fly West Jet not Air Canada.

Aspi said...

anurag, sounds like you fly a lot!

Mind Rush said...

Deep Thoughts by Mind Rush...
The destination becomes more meaningful when the journey itself is a learning experience. Aspi, please thank "Indian" for opening up your universe to possibilities and scenarios you had not imagined previously.

(This is piggybacking on the "lotus in mud" quote.)

Seriously, will someone please forward this link to Indian Airlines customer service? They should totally pay for your Jet tickets AND refund your original fare.