Sunday, October 16, 2011

Air India continues to bumble

I don't fly Air India. I have suffered enough already, but if I needed any more proof, today's incidents in Gatwick added to the already dismal record of the airline. It proved again that bureaucrats, particularly the Indian ones, are absolutely hopeless in running a customer facing service. I am no lover of privatization, but it is absolutely certain that something drastic is needed in Air India.

So this is what happened: Due to fog, this morning's Heathrow bound Air India flight needed to land at Gatwick. If this was any other airline, this would have been fine: The passengers would normally be taken on a bus to Heathrow, a 45 minutes journey. Not for Air India: Surely the Babus could not decide what to do with such an 'unusual' situation.

Their idea, therefore, was to fly the plane from Gatwick to Heathrow, about 30 miles away. The problem indeed is that the EU regulations demanded the crew had to be changed, as the original crew had already flown from Mumbai and couldn't undertake another flight. So a new crew had to be found and dispatched to Gatwick, and reportedly, this new crew lost their way in the Gatwick terminals.

Chaos, thy name is Air India, indeed. So the passengers had to wait in Gatwick for 8 hours - yes, eight hours - between 8am in the morning to 5pm in the afternoon, when, finally, a new crew took over and completed the 20 minute flight to Heathrow. And, all this while, characteristically for India's national airline, no one spoke to the passengers: No one knew what was going on and when they would be released. Reportedly, a passenger got frustrated and took his bag and walked off, only to be escorted back to the plane by Sussex police as the airline had not made an arrangement for disembarkation at Gatwick.

There are many lessons to be learned here, but I am certain that Air India does not learn lessons. It exists to be a plaything of Indian ministers and supply occasional leisure flights to them and their cronies, but it is absolutely hopeless in serving fare-paying passengers. I decided not to fly Air India ever again after one return trip to India where my flight was delayed, without announcements, for 5 hours at Heathrow and cancelled on my way back: I remember being treated like a hapless citizen dealing with government bureaucrats as if they were doing me a favour allowing me to take a flight I have already paid for. I also remember the chaos at the airport, where no one knew what they were doing, and the fact that they left the wheelchair bound passengers unattended when finally the flight was called and the mad scramble for the gate began. To enhance the drama, one wheelchair bound passenger left that way that day was Russi Mody, a past chairman of Air India, who possibly had to endure the drama with a certain sense of irony.

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