Monday, December 20, 2010

This is The Dhali (Delhi) Part 1: “Thank you for flying Air-F**kin-India, Bitch!”

It all started with Jamshed, my rickshaw driver. That’s a lie. It started a while before that, but Jamshed played an integral role. Actually that’s a lie too. Jamshed had nothing to do with it. I don’t even know what “it” is. Whatever “it” is, Obama doesn’t get “it”, and neither do I. Okay, none of that made any sense. This is supposed to be the monumental story of my recent trip to India, and I’ve started it like a mummer’s farce.
It was supposed to be simple, land at Delhi, change a plane and fly to Kolkata (formerly and better-ly Calcutta), but no, Air India couldn’t keep things simple. That just wouldn’t be the Indian experience. You have to earn your satisfaction here.
To prohibit myself from reliving this horrible experience, I shall simply reprint the letter I wrote to Air India:

Dear Air India,
Although in all likelihood, you don’t care what your customers think of your service, I wish to lodge a complaint regarding the atrocious and inhuman treatment of Kolkata bound passengers on AI 102 from JFK to CCU via DEL on the 14th of November 2010 by the Air India airport staff at Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi. The PNR number of my ticket is JBVJ1.
When flight AI 102 landed at IGN Airport Terminal 3 at 4.45PM on the 15th of November 2010 after a 16 hour non-stop flight from New York, all Air India transfer passengers were made to go through another security check and moved to the international departure lounge. There was no information regarding AI 680 which was to take all Kolkata bound passengers from Delhi to Kolkata on the departure screens nor was there an Air India representative to shed light on the matter. Most passengers found out from the grapevine that AI 680 had been cancelled! No announcements were made or information posted on any screen. I was also told that these events are now frequent with Air India, and happen almost every week.
The information desk unsuccessfully spent two hours trying to get an Air India representative to come and provide us with more information, but no one came. Eventually, the passengers, 34 Kolkata bound, and 17 Chennai bound (whose flight had also been cancelled without notification), caught an arbitrary Air India employee to try and get more information. This Air India employee tried to escape the passengers but some of the passengers, including myself, doggedly followed him, till he eventually called out the Duty Manager claiming some passengers were harassing him. Finally, after three hours of waiting, at 8PM, the duty manager came and said that the flight was cancelled and that we would be given hotel accommodation for the night and put on the 7AM flight to Kolkata. He asked us to be patient till he organized everything. And what a fantastic job he did (I’m being sarcastic here in case you didn’t understand).
At 9PM, we were asked to go to the food court for dinner where we were served beggar’s ware of some watered down yellow daal, paneer, rice, and one roti from Curry Kitchen. I ate better food in boarding school. After feeding us this pathetic dinner we were made to wait another hour before being told to head down to immigration. At the immigration counters, the Duty Manager disappeared and left us in the hand of some Air India peon who had no idea what was going on and started a row with the immigration officers. The immigration officers wouldn’t let us go through and the peon was sent to find some qualified Air India personnel to explain the situation. Now we had 51 people, mostly elderly folk and families with little kids standing in the middle of the immigration section with nothing to do but get frustrated by the Air India’s apathy and lack of respect for their passengers.
Finally, after another hour of waiting, at 11PM, we passed through immigration, and picked up our baggage. Unfortunately, the baggage of one family was also lost. Some other Air India person with a mouthful of paan came and reassured us that everything was under control, and the coach to take us to the hotel was waiting outside. So we took our bags and went outside the airport but there was no coach, bus, or any other transport waiting for us. Then this Air India representative disappeared. An hour went by, and there was no sign of the bus or the Air India representative. Finally at 12.30AM, 8 hours after we landed in Delhi, two shabby coaches showed up and parked a hundred meters away from where we were waiting. We were instructed to go and load our baggage in the coaches and get in. The coaches were so small, that our entire luggage did not fit in the two coaches, and some people were left stranded behind while the first two coaches went off to the hotel. After a forty minute drive in the rickety bus, we arrived at an equally shabby hotel called City Mark somewhere in Gurgaon. This hotel didn’t even have rooms ready for us and asked us to wait while the rooms were being prepared. It was past 1 AM by now. After another twenty minutes, the manager informed us that there weren’t enough rooms in the hotel so he was sending some of us to another hotel a few minutes away. He promised us that this hotel would be equally shabby, if not worse. By the time we checked in and hauled our luggage to our room in this third class hotel called DDR Residency, it was almost 2 AM. That left us with little more than 1 hour to sleep because the bus to take us back to the airport was going to come at 4AM, so were to assemble in the lobby at 3.30AM. Apart from a couple of hours of sleep on the flight, the last time any of the passengers had slept was more than 24 hours ago.
After a relaxing stay of 1.5 hours in the hotel (FYI sarcasm again), where we found a used condom and a cockroach in the bathroom, we assembled downstairs to wait another hour for the coach to show up. Luckily all the folks at DDR Residency and their luggage fit in this coach. Unfortunately, the hotel did not have staff to help us load the coach so we (by we, I mean three unmarried young people including myself and the driver) to load the bags into the coach. After reaching the airport, we unloaded and found that there was no Air India staff to help us. The guards at the gates would not let us in since we did not have any ticketing information regarding our flight from Delhi. Finally, I went to the ticketing office and asked if seats had been reserved for us on IC 401. The gentlemen at the desk said that there were no reservations in any of our names and that we should speak to the duty manager. The passengers staying at the other hotel still had not arrived at this point.
We went to the duty manager who didn’t have any idea what we were talking about and asked us to go find out if there were any vacancies in other airlines since IC 401 was fully booked. The Chennai bound passengers were in the same boat. Finally some lady in-charge of reservations sent a message saying that she had blocked some seats on IC 401 and only then did a staff officer grudgingly process our boarding passes. By now it was already 6.30AM, and we had thirty minutes to clear security and get to the gate. As we were going through security, we finally saw the remaining passengers from the other hotel come in… they had been waiting outside trying to get in! It was sheer luck that we all managed to get back to Kolkata.
I have never experienced such apathetic and horrendous service by any airline. The lack of organization and random cancellation of flights aside, the unapologetic and downright rude behavior of the airline management staff was frustrating and simply unacceptable. As a regular Air India flier from the US to India over the last 6 years, I am insulted by the way you have treated us. No word of apology was ever given and every question was met with exasperation as if we were burdening the staff with unnecessary requests. It is a small wonder that Air India is doing such terrible business and losing customers to Jet Airways and Kingfisher.
I am flying back to the US on the 19th of December from CCU to DEL on AI 681 and DEL to JFK on AI 101, but I promise you that it will be that last time I fly Air India. Rest assured I will advise everyone I know, never to fly by an airline which regards its passengers as baggage instead of human beings. The way Air India treated those 51 people was testimony of Air India’s ineptitude, incompetence and total disregard for its passengers. I can offer no thanks, only insults and demand that you compensate these 51 passengers for the inhuman way you have treated them.
If you are an Air India employee and reading this letter please know that you are working for a company doomed to fail due to poor management, and I advise you to get out and get another job as quickly as you can.
A begrudging former customer,
I am yet to hear back from Air India.
Next week, we continue with an exciting new installment of “This is The Dahli (Delhi) Part 2: The Wedding of The Kunj”
Till then, fare thee well.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Back and Mature... Probably Not

This blog died with my job. Now, with a new project in mind this blog returns to chronicle my endeavour to do something new. Starting with my recent trip to The Dahli (Delhi) and my friend Kunj's wedding... and all the shenanigans that ensued...
Stay tuned...