My recent experiences traveling by Air India have ranged from the pleasant to the infuriating. Does traveling by Air India have to be unpleasant? Can’t the airline try to do a better job to make passengers feel welcome and comfortable?

What makes for a good flight experience? A spacious, well equipped airport terminal, fast service, courteous personnel, a reasonably modern aircraft with comfortable seats, decent food and no delays? Well thereabouts, most of us would agree. A lot of this is taken care of for our state owned National carrier Air India (earlier variously called Indian Airlines, Indian, Alliance Air and now finally amalgamated into Air India).

The aircraft are fairly good and are equipped with personal entertainment systems for each seat. As most frequent fliers would testify, Air India has the best leg space and its good not to have to pay exorbitant sums for barely edible food as one has to with budget airlines. Also Air India flights typically operate out of the best and most modern terminals so surely it should be easy to offer a good flight experience to passengers? Not so, I’m afraid.

My Experiences with Air India

I recently traveled with my two children by Air India. While much of the air travel was without incident and reasonably pleasant, there was much that was terrible (and that doesn’t even include the long lines for check-in and security that are routinely to be found at most of our airports now). Much of what is said in that stodgy, sarkari-looking, wholly insipid TV advert above is a lie!

My flight from Ahmedabad to Delhi was to have left at 8.15. PM. However it was going to be delayed by half an hour and I was informed of this in the morning – this was good of them and I appreciated it. However that was all I appreciated.

The Delays

When I arrived at the terminal, I was informed that I was at the wrong terminal – the flight would take off from the international terminal though I was on a domestic flight. Fair enough – I should have taken care to find out about this. But having arrived at the wrong terminal (and many make this mistake surely) there was no way to get to the other terminal except to walk in the dark with heavy bags; kids in tow. It was either than or shell out to take an auto or taxi. Nothing provided by the airline.

And then there was the check-in process to contend with. The counter was manned by a trainee who was fumbling with the keyboard, evidently completely at sea about the entire check in process. Just for extra fun there was only one counter for my particular flight and it was manned by a complete incompetent. There was no supervisor around to oversee this. It took a good 45 minutes for me to check-in and that happened only when personnel from another counter took charge.

Air India has Become Stingy about food

The flight was further delayed and we finally took off at about 10 PM. Having been at the airport since 7.30 I was hungry. Expecting a decent meal I was dismayed to be served a cup of tea and precisely two Marie biscuits! In fact out of 4 recent Indian Airline flights I took, I was served a proper meal on only one (and that was no great shakes). I got a packet of peanuts and box of juice on two of those flights. Air India is supposed to be a full service airline I thought? I must be wrong!

The Cancellations

I am not whining about the weather. Fog and mist is a reality of winter in the North and there is little man or machine can do. I get that. I get out of a cozy bed early on a bitterly cold morning to huff and puff to the airport to catch my flight from Delhi to Chandigarh. I arrive at the terminal and check-in (fast and efficient this time) and proceed to security. That done, I check the flight timing and find that the flight is delayed by an hour. I take it in my stride. I am already informed that visibility in Chandigarh is poor so I settle down to some time-pass at the splendid T3.

I do some window shopping, browse books and have a good breakfast. From past experience I now know that I should expect to be fed nothing substantial. Then I take a good long trudge to the boarding gate (there is a lot of walking to do at T3 even with the profusion of Walk-alators; just as well I enjoy walking) When I get to the gate, confusion reigns. Passengers are crowded around the desk; after much effort I find someone to talk to and I am informed, without a hint of apology or regret that my flight is canceled.

Another endless walk to the baggage claim – I collect my bags and then wait. After what seems like an age, I muscle my way to the desk where I am told that either my fare will be refunded or I can use the bus provided by the airline to get to Chandigarh. In the latter option, there would be nothing refunded. A bus ticket costs about one-tenth of a plane ticket, but apparently that is just something I have to lump. And lump it I do – I sit cooling my heels for the next few hours until the airline people get their act together – the bus finally left at 1 PM. I arrived in Chandigarh at about 6.30 PM instead of at 10.30 AM. I could but fume at the loss of an entire day.

What is infuriating for the traveler

Rank incompetence is something no one should have to tolerate. Yet when faced with this, I was offered no explanation or apology by the staff for this. In general Air India personnel lack the courtesy and politeness that other airline officials seem to offer – I don’t see any reason why they need to be this brusque and unsympathetic – surely courtesy costs nothing? Surely some empathy and the willingness to do that little bit extra to offer information and allay anxiety is not too much to ask when your travel plans have gone horribly wrong? Why doesn’t Air India get this?

By – Reena Daruwalla

See Also

My Wagah Border Experience – The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Making the Case for Wanderlust

Video Courtesy – YouTube

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