Monday, January 15, 2007

Air India - National Airline or a National shame !!!

Posted verbatim is a hair-raising experience of Subhayu! I thought I should share it with everyone ... it could happen to any one of us!

This is a absolutely true & horryfying experience that I just went
through with our national airline - Air India. It was so traumatic
for me that I couldn't have imagined in my wildest dreams. I have
heard of stray incidents of various
types happening with different people, just couldn't believe when
ALL of those happened with me in 2 days. Here's my experience. I
walk into the Mumbai airport at 12.15 pm for a 14.55 pm flight to
london. (AI 131). After about 40 minutes, AI counter representatives
just start walking around and chatting amongst themselves. Maybe 15-
20 minutes after that, someone raises some noise about their
behavior and then they come out open stating that the flight was
full and that the flight was overbooked. Now overbooking as AI puts
it is a very common action that most airlines resort to, even in
peak seasons such as the one I was travelling in. To my outmost
surprise, they had overbooked a flight of 210 passengers (they fly a
Boeing 767 for this flight) by 40 odd passengers. Absolutely
ridiculous !!!. Thats when this whole saga of trauma began.

We fought with the AI officials to come up with a reason and tell us
what they were gonna do for us. But they refused to budge and did
not give any reasonable explanation. After about 30 minutes of
screaming and fighting the duty manager arrived at the scene and the
very second statement he made was that we r going to put you guys in
a 5 star hotel. The next possible flight that they could put us on
was AI 101 which would leave at 7.10 AM the next morning. They
couldn't arrange for any other flight citing that they were all
full, but they did not confirm with anyone before making that bold
statement, just because they wanted to save the buck for AI. My case
was a bit complicated cause I had to make it to the US the next day
on a American Airlines (AA) flight. So they promised me to rebook me
on a different flight and also provide me a hotel accomodation in
London since I wouldn't make it for my original flight. After that
around 14.00 pm, there was a change of shifts, which meant a new
duty manager was to arrive and be briefed about the situation. Some
passengers like me, decided to take the lead and explained him the
situation. He promised us that he would take care of us and would
assign a hotel and boarding passes ASAP. Before that he had to head
to a small meeting for 15 mins. That 15 mins, took him 2 hours and
then he comes and states that out of great difficulty he could get
us to the next flight at 7.10 AM, which we should have always been
given priority to board since we were bumped off our original
flight. But he refused to check in our luggage and give boarding
passes, asking us to come to the airport some 6 hrs in advance. We
refused and decided not to budge, and maybe after an hour he agreed
to check us in. Still no hotel and it was 5.00 pm. One of the fellow
passengers lost his head since he was travelling with his 80 year
old mom who was struggling to sit through this trauma. Another
family with an infant just wanted to know if they r going to get a
hotel and still no action on AI's behalf. Finally around 6.30 pm,
they come out and say that they cannot find hotels for us and offer
to put us up in the airport area, where they have some facilities.
Some of us went and checked the facilities. There were some beds
with some dirty linen, no bathrooms, no TV's, no kind of
entertainment and full of mosquitoes which would definitely give you
malaria before leaving india. One guy mentioned that he wouldn't
even let his dog stay there in that room. Such were the facilities
offered to passengers who paid full fare, after being promised 5
star accomodation. Little did we know that this was a beginning of
what we had to go through. After that we all went to the duty
managers office and sat there and he refused to give us priority.
After forcing him to give us his attention and forcing him to inform
his seniors of our position, he negotiated with us. After about 2
hours of this, AI made another offer to us. Find a hotel on your own
and get us the bill tommorow and we'll reimburse you. The ceiling
limit was set to Rs. 5000 / passenger or Rs. 7000/family, which is
really a small amount given the costs of hotels in mumbai. Anyways,
we tried hard to negotiate with them to give us a reasonable limit
since we would never get a decent hotel around the airport for that
kind of money. Sensing that we weren't making much progress with
this issue with AI after an hour of debating and they still looking
or acting to look for hotels for us, some of us decided to take the
offer and share rooms. To our surprise, AI said they would not give
us cash and we would have to produce a bill after paying it on our
own. Some of the passengers had no indian currencies, some students
have very limited credit card limits which blocked them from taking
this limit. So we again tried to negotiate, but with no success with
the thick skinned inconsiderate AI people. Also at this stage, AI
managers told us that turn up at the aiport only around 6.30AM next
morning since AI 101 is delayed to 8.00 pm. That would give us an
additional 1 hour of sleep. By then the next shift came into work
who again argued with us that every airline rebooks and they are
justified with their hostile behavior and actually gave us a hard
time to even dispurse the mininal taxi costs to us. Finally, around
10.30 pm in the night after spending more than 10 hrs at the
airport, some of us decided to take a cab and give it a shot to look
for a hotel on our own. Found one at around 12 in the nite and spend
the next couple of hrs trying to get some sleep.

Next morning when we got to the airport at 6.20 AM, we noticed the
same story being repeated with the AI 101 passengers who were dumped
thanks to us. Similar shouts and screaming and determined AI
officials fending off all allegations of mismanaging reservations.
Infact funnily, the AI desk officials kept blaming AI reservation
ppl for messing things up and telling us that they couldn't do much
about it since thats how its been since the past couple of years.
One of the AI officials mentioned that the whole overbooking saga
was going on for the past 7-8 days, but surprisingly they still did
not have hotels booked and they just kept using their strategy to
hold passengers in the airport until they got frustated and left on
their own. Suddenly we get rushed stating that we were delaying the
flight. To our surprise the flight is stated to be on time. So we go
thru immigration and then identify our luggages and finally make it
to the flight. It leaves as stated - i.e. at 8.15 AM. During the
flight, I fell sick with the previous days food. The moment we
landed, I was throwing up and had a very hard time keeping myself
hydrated. Go to the luggage claim area in london and after about 1
hour, AI official comes and says that they did not board some 20
passengers baggage. Guess what .... all the 20 ppl were from AI 131
flight. It was so ironic, that they did not board things like the
old lady's wheel chair. Can u imagine that ? After all this ....
they do that. Also, with AI, something else we learnt is there is no
compensation for your baggage if they do not arrive with you. I
tried to negotiate, but one of the AI london officials mentioned
that they would not entertain any requests unless the luggage was
lost for more than 48 hrs. Nice !!!

Thot I was done and so I went to the AI customer service and asked
for the 1 nite hotel stay that I was promised in bbay. AI flatly
refused stating that their responsibility ends in London. They do
not care anything beyond that. Infact this one lady in the AI
customer service was so rude and so insulting that I was amused if
this is what "Customer service" meant for AI. No other airline
counter had such rude officials. I decided to wait and speak to the
duty manager, who also refused but after he heard my traumatic story
asked me to stay there for a bit. This is like 3 hours since I
landed in London still trying to get something I was promised.
Finally, he took pity on me and decided to give me a room for a nite
and he was perhaps the only AI official who had backed his words
with some real action. I went to the hotel & crashed thinking I was
done with AI for good ....I was dreaming .... yes, I was. Next
morning, I reach Gatwick and presented my booking details to AA to
take my flight to the US. They see my booking and ask me for a paper
ticket. AI did not give me any paper ticket. They just gave me a
piece of paper and thats it. The reservation was a no go and they
asked me to buy a new 1 way ticket to Raleigh. At that stage, I
couldn't think of anything to do. But i remembered that my original
booking was a refundable, changeable ticket. So AA looked up my old
reservation and the lady at the counter did some magic and I made it
to the my flight to Raleigh. AA tried to trace my luggage, still no
information and I am still waiting for it after 40 hrs of my flight.

In this whole experience, the thing I was surprised (or rather not)
was the sense of accountablity in the AI employees. Its a true
government organization where there is no accountablity and everyone
is trying to push the buck onto someone else and run away from the
responsiblities. I pity the old parents, families with infants and
foreigners who get screwed and swindled with this kind of treatment.
The saddest part of my experience is the AI officials behaviours and
no sense of urgency to deal with our issues. It just seems to be a
every day issue at AI and I personally noticed so many people losing
their heads at the AI counters. After this experience, I have
decided that I am going to pay additional money and travel any other
airline but AI. They simply do not understand a passenger's or a
paying customer's plight after making them go thru such hell. Not to
mention how bad the AI website is to dig out any details. A nation
like India which is the world leader in IT, our national airline's
website sucks and doesn't get me any reasonable information.I just
felt that after this experience I need to let every Indian whom I
know in the US know about this. AI will not get off the hook this
easy. They need to learn a lesson and I am gonna put every effort in
trying to do so. I have refrained intentionally from naming
individual AI officials since I dont think that would help cause I
believe its an organizational issue and the attitude needs to change
from the top to bottom, just changing some officials will not make
this airline any better.
So adios AI .... national airline .... my ass.


1 comment:

De-Silva said...

MAN! That sucks!!
I've heard of other guys going through some crappy conditions....but so far, (touch wood) my travel with AI has been excellent! After seeing this account, not sure if I want to push my luck anymore though...