Leaving on a Jet Plane, thinking they could have done it better


I am in Trivandrum Airport(Capital of Kerala,the southern most state in India – and also my hometown) now, at the domestic terminal waiting for the flight to Bangalore . There is no internet access here, so by the time I post this, I will probably  be in Bangalore, Frankfurt or even Boston.

I am on my way to Boston, MA to attend the SAP influencer summit, and this is the shortest of the 3 flights I have to endure to reach Boston. This airport now has a new international terminal, so they shifted the domestic flights to the old international terminal. Needless to say, the whole place has a big facelift now compared to any other time in the past that I can remember.

The security here is impeccable – they do a rather intrusive (by US standards) pat down before they let you in. And they seem to physically check about 50% of all carry on bags. In my childhood, they still used to do this to some extent – but used to let politicians, big company executives and the like go through without any hassle. Now they appear  very strict – and if you refuse the pat down, you can just leave the airport. No middle ground here !

The lady at the Jet Airways counter that checked me in told me – “you have 2 options to check in your bag. 1. I check it to Bangalore, and you take it physically to Lufthansa and check it again. Or 2. I check it all the way to Boston, but there is no guarantee it will reach there”. Hmmm…hard choices indeed. Seriously ? Is that even a choice to give a passenger? I appreciate the advice, and will keep it for future reference…may be 🙂

Air travel in India has been totally below par for me, and I am just very frustrated at the moment with how this Industry does its customer facing work.

Let me take it from the top – from the moment I landed in India few days ago, in Bangalore airport. The immigration guy asked me where is the immigration entry stamp in my passport for the last time I was in India. I said I know the approximate date, but no idea where the actual stamp itself is on the passport. He asked me to search and show him, before he lets me enter the country. I found it eventually amongst a million other stamps, and he solidly wasted 20 minutes of my life that I will never get again. On the plus side, I think I just found out a better game than sudoku for frequent fliers – it is called spot the random stamp.

I picked up my bag and tried to go over next door to the domestic terminal to catch a flight to Kolkatta, which was about 4 hours later. Well – no dice. The security dude won’t let me past the transfer area to the Air India counter for another 2 hours. He wouldn’t give me any reason – more like “because I said so”. So I hung around there, without even access to a decent bathroom. The one I had access to – well, let me just say I can’t describe it to you without both of us throwing up.

So two hours later, I go to Air India counter. There are 5 counters, and about 25 Air India staff there. As soon as they saw me – they said “Pls wait for 5 minutes – we won’t start till 4AM”. I waited, and then it just erupted in to chaos. They could not handle a queue – and all the passengers started jockeying for position and so on. Few minutes later, 22 out of 25 people manning the counters went over to help the lady in one counter who could not get her system to work. You can imagine the speed at the other 4 counters at that stage. It was a good thing I had 4 hours to check in.

Onward to the gate now and I will skip the minor inconveniences till I got into the flight. Well – maybe except the fact that it took about 10 people in uniform to board one flight (any wonder these airlines cannot keep their cost structures under control?). This was the first Air India flight I had taken in maybe 10 years or so. And it was as pathetic as the last time. Most of the seats had duct tape holding pieces together. The 3 flight attendants had absolute boredom writ large on their faces. Just looking at them made me yawn. They did serve a hot breakfast (of sorts) in the flight. After 2 hours of fog delay, we took off. The silver lining was the skill of pilots – amazing take off, cruise and landing despite the weather.

My bag was the first to come off the belt, thanks to the priority tag. And it had a big broken piece of what used to be a handle hanging from it. Par for course so fa, eh?.

The flight out from Kolkata – despite me being mentally prepared -was just as bad. It was Jet Airways this time, the modern airline – unlike Air India. I had higher expectations. I soon found out that Kolkatta air must be heavier by 3 KG than Phoenix Air, because they charged me for excess baggage despite me not adding any thing to my suitcase.

We took off on time, and arrived on time. Of course it took – again – 10 people to board passengers into this one flight. For a flight leaving at 6 AM and flying 2.5 hours to Bangalore, I expected it to have breakfast – either complimentary or for purchase. No luck again – and I just drank glass after glass of water till I landed. The flight attendants were all nice, but the pilot needs to go back to a simulator to learn how to land a plane without making passengers feel that their kidney and brain swapped places in 2 seconds.

I have been reading in the papers that the Airline industry in India is in some serious trouble, and that government is trying to help airlines become profitable. I know India generally has a socialist outlook historically about these things –  so I am not holding my breath on anything good happening to change this. But if there is ever a moment to let Darwin get his due, now would be it. Let the crappy airlines all die, and let more competitive, customer friendly ones take their place. Millions of passengers will be eternally grateful.

Believe it or not – I am now EAGERLY looking forward to flying US Airways flight from BOS to PHX on Wednesday. Now that is saying a LOT, as many Dividend miles elite members will agree.

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3 thoughts on “Leaving on a Jet Plane, thinking they could have done it better

  1. Oh…feel bad to hear this. Hope in coming days we see some improvement.

    I am following your blog sometime now and find it very interesting. The way you elaborate the things are visible when I read it. why you dont try to run some books..

    see another C.Bhagat on you…

  2. Vijay.. I feel your pain but your sarcasm cracks me up. It is pathetic that the service should suck this much and hence I am a strong support of opening up ALL service sectors to international players. I think partly this behavior is also because customers have a ‘Chaltha hai’ attitude (as well refusing to maintain any discipline to form a queue). That ain’t helping either. Scary that you think US airways staff and service is better than the best private airline in India. I will remember when I complain about the stale coffee US airways offers:-)

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