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My torturing Air India experience… the worse flight in the world....

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Home Back to SVO: Personal My torturing Air India experience…

L Objective: I believe it is probable that people would find link to this article while googling around and be forewarned when they are deciding an airline. I had the worst traveling experience ever (even Indian Railways is far better!), lost over $ 500 and had to bear talking to the highly irresponsible and rude staff at Air India! As for me, I’ll not recommend Air India to even my enemies… Beware! Caution: This is a long article. Please bear with me! ------------------- Well, this is how it all started… I had planned to go to India in Fall 2006, after completing my Masters. Being a patriotic graduate student, I purchased a round trip Economy class ticket through Orbitz to fly by Air India (AI 124) from Chicago to New Delhi on September 29, 2006, with a stop over at London. The connecting flight from Pittsburgh to Chicago was US 991. My main excitement about the journey was owing to the anticipation of meeting more Indians on the AI flight and also some nice desi food! However, things with Air India were in a mess right from the beginning… While even the smallest of airlines had 4 or 5 check-in counters open at the Chicago O’Hare International Airport (with hardly any queue!), Air India stood out with just two check-in counters open, manned by one of the slowest people in the business! I had to wait in the 400 feet long queue for almost 1 hour before my turn came… Nevertheless, once on the flight to London we were served Haldiram’s Namkeens every time there was a ‘snack-time’. When I enquired about any other options with the air-hostess, she empathized with me saying that being a public carrier, the airline sucked! That was the last thing I needed to hear from someone representing the airline. Anywayz, the food was good, but the movie shown was Yaarana (a movie older than me), definitely a big disappointment. On top of it, the headphone socket in my seat was defective, meaning that I had to endure breaking audio all through the flight. I did what any passenger would do: call the air-hostess and ask for assistance. And lo, there was a repeat performance: “This (public) airline sucks… Can’t you afford a better airline?” L The arrival at the Heathrow International Airport in London seemed like the most pleasant experience for me in a long time, as finally I could get out of a frustrating journey. However, thanks to the terror alert, the re-boarding was slow and the flight got further delayed by 1 hour (It was already late on arrival in London!) Somehow we took off from London for the final leg of the journey (with a new crew!), but surprisingly the LCD display was switched off during the safety drill by the air-hostess. There was also no movie shown for almost 3 hours into the flight that gave me mixed feelings… Come on, I was being ‘saved’ from the torture of breaking audio. In spite of this, when I got too bored I asked the stewardess about it, to be told that the display was malfunctioning! I informed her that it was working okay in the previous half of the journey and perhaps she should try switching it on… Fortunately she agreed to my request and the display worked alright! But just when some of my enthusiasm was about to return, Yaarana started playing yet again. Apparently, there were no other movies to be shown! The other complaints were still there: The same Haldiram’s Namkeens that we had been served all along as ‘snacks’! On arrival in Delhi I found my luggage missing, along with that of at least a hundred other passengers. The terribly slow AI staff at Chicago had not loaded my luggage and it was said to arrive by the next scheduled flight 24 hours later. Used to the courteous and efficient staff of airlines in the US, I decided to give my address to Air India so that it could be shipped to my home. That there was only one counter and a long queue again didn’t surprise me any more: I had started getting used to the inefficiency that is Air India customer service. However, I was in for a bigger surprise: as a matter of policy, Air India does not ship the delayed luggage to anywhere other than its own warehouse. This meant that since my small home-town did not have an airport, I was supposed to come again the next day and collect it in person from IGIA! The manager responsible for entering the consumer’s description of the luggage into the system (another Air India exclusive!) was typing with only the index finger of his right hand and had to look up the correct key on the key-board (and check it on the monitor after pressing it!) every time he had to enter something… Finally, I got my turn and after 2 hours since the delayed flight had landed, I was able to get out of the airport. It was early morning and my parents had been waiting all night (for more than 4 hours!) outside the airport. My young cousins had got tired and finally fallen asleep! I was disgruntled with the experience, but felt happy to have met them after so long. Hardly had I known that there was worse in store for me… The next day I called up the Air India office at IGIA and was glad to know that my luggage had arrived at last. I had to cancel my plans to visit grandparents and went instead to get the luggage. I was asked to fill an application form to get my luggage and get it attested by at least half a dozen officials. It was a ‘mini-tour’ of the airport as I went from one place to another searching for the right office. 45 minutes later, I returned to the Air India office, got my luggage from the warehouse and a nominal compensation for my travel expenses in coming back to the airport. But I was repeatedly harassed by the peon (who had accompanied me to the warehouse) to bribe him for the ‘help’! I refused and he started misbehaving in full public view in a hope to embarrass me… Luckily I got out before he could gather more of his peers and make a public ‘free-for-all’… Two and a half months later… I got an e-mail from the Office of International Education at Carnegie Mellon around the first week of December informing that my renewed I-20 will take more time than expected earlier. Apparently, there were some technical issues and our nice Student Advisor at OIE had taken pains out of the way for me… J The bottom-line was that I should postpone any travel plans for the end of December, lest I should lose money on the tickets. I was grateful for the update and immediately called up the Air India Customer Service at Gurgaon to cancel/postpone my return ticket. The representative at the other end had no idea about what to do with tickets purchased online through Orbitz in US and referred me to the Air India Yatrik Cell at Mumbai. I complied and was told cheerfully by the person at the Yatrik Cell that I’ll be refunded the return ticket fare (originally about $ 550) after a $ 100 deduction as the cancellation charges. Since he had said so after going through my ticket details (when I provided him my PNR number and he confirmed back my name and other flight details), I felt relieved and happily cancelled the ticket. He also told me to collect the refund amount from the Air India office at Connaught Circus, New Delhi. Since I had no immediate plans for going to New Delhi, I requested my maternal aunt to collect it on my behalf, after sending her a Letter of Authority for the same. She had to take half-day off at her work-place to go to the Air India office, only to be told that there was no provision in Air India for refunding money for online tickets anywhere in India. Interestingly, the person at the counter did confirm that my ticket had been canceled and suggested that I contact the US Office of Air India as that was the country where the ticket was issued! How can an airline be so ridiculous was something that repeatedly crossed my mind…I had started sensing that something fishy was going on, but kept my fingers crossed hoping for the best. Soon after returning to US, I called up the Washington DC office of Air India. My call was received by one of the ‘regular AI employees’ (and not the call center people) who heard my case impatiently, interrupting me repeatedly. He asked me the name of the person at the Mumbai Yatrik Cell who had answered my call and when I told him that I wasn’t aware of it, he snubbed me saying that he couldn’t have cared any lesser for people as ‘irresponsible’ as me… I was enraged at this baseless blaming back and rather asked his name so that I could quote it in my future communication to AI. In response, his exact words before slamming down the phone were: “You know what, I don’t exist!” I immediately called back to talk to the Area Manager, Mrs. Tara Naidu who acknowledged the misbehavior as routine [“Yeah, he is having a bad day…”], apologized for the whole episode and told me that the ticket was non-refundable! When I asked why I wasn’t told about it earlier, her standard response [on behalf of Air India] was that she could not do anything about somebody misleading me in India, even though he represented the same organization… So here I am, feeling cheated after bearing mental and financial harassment at the hands of Air India’s highly unprofessional staff! Moral of the Story: Air India service and customer care are horrible, to say the least. If you don’t trust me, I hope you’ll believe in the words of the Air India stewardess: “This (public) airline sucks… Can’t you afford a better airline?” In case you can afford one, please do so…

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