Saturday, December 22, 2007

Air India: Protest, Review and Evaluation Pays Off

Story Thus Far
This web site was created after a 20 hour delay of Air India Flight 747 in the Delhi airport in which all passengers were stranded in the airport with inadequate food, water, seating and no hotel accommodation. Here is the full story.

What’s the Use?
Even when we were in the airport some passengers said, “What’s the use of protesting? You will never change the attitudes and practices of Air India, the national carrier.”

There are glimpses that Air India has responded to our cry for hotel accommodation as a more recent flight that was delayed for 11 hours was granted hotel accommodation.

The other aspect of the protest is that of public service. By posting reviews, good and bad we notify prospective passengers. Here is an example that was posted today:

“I flew with Virgin to Mumbai after changing my mind to fly with Air-India (thanks to all the reviews).” Virgin Atlantic Review

Protest in the Long Term
If you still have queries about whether protest pays off over time read the story about the flamingo principle.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Flamingo Principle.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Air India Masks Its Rottenness with Old Spice

The story thus Far
* Air India Flight 747 (Dec 13-14, 2007) passengers are delayed not only because of fog on the tarmac but a fog of information inside the terminal. For twenty hours there are no hotel beds offered and only food and water when passengers asked for it. Officials hide in their office unwilling to communicate openly with passengers.

* The articles in the last month illustrate consistent customer abuse by Air India.

* A medical doctor on Flight 747 says that Air India’s sickness is terminal.

Masking the Smell of Death
Passengers checked in by 5.30pm on Thursday evening and the plane did not leave for Dubai until Friday after 4.00pm. How long had people been traveling before they reached the Delhi airport?

You can imagine the smell in the airport as almost 200 passengers try and find a place to sit, lie down and some of them, take off their shoes! By the time passengers board after being stranded for 20+hours with no opportunity for taking a shower you can almost catch the whiff inside the Airbus.

If there had been passengers traveling first class (and there were none) they would have been complaining of the obnoxious effluvium. If there had been passengers traveling business class (and there were none) they would have detected the unpleasant aroma. All passengers, packed like sardines in the economy section, were confronted by the dirty rotten stink.

The Air India airline stewards found the smell so unbearable, the first thing they did when passengers were all buckled up was to walk the full length of the aircraft in both aisles with upturned bottles of Old Spice, soaking the carpets to sweeten the putrid atmosphere.

When it came time for passengers to disembark the stewards were not standing at the door giving their usual smile and ‘Thanks for flying with our airline.’ Instead stewards were standing sideways towards the flight crew cabin, holding their noses and looking for some pegs.

One can’t blame the stewards, as they are pawns between the airline’s inept management and the angry frustrated passengers.

Protest Effective?
Since Flight 747 on 13-14 December the stories are still being posted concerning Air India’s delays but it is heartening to see that the company is starting to offer hotel beds (at the Grand Delhi) to passengers who recently have been delayed for 11 hours.

It looks like the concerted protesting at the terminal, the establishment of web sites, the newspaper articles and the many airline quality reviews are starting to get the message through to Air India.

Passengers on Flight 747 are still waiting for a formal response to their letter from Air India's management.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Old Spice. Air India’s most creative answer to its own rottenness.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Doctor Says Air India’s Sickness is Terminal

These are the thoughts of Dr Dave, one of the hundreds of passengers who were disrupted and treated appallingly in the IGI Airport in Delhi on December 13-14 2007.

The full story can be read at this link:
Air India Customer Service—Fail

If you think that Flight 747 was a one-off case of AI inefficiency, read (at the next link) the summary of articles in major Indian newspapers over the last month that chronicle an airline that is in its dying stages:
How Does the Indian Government Let Air India Get Away with Customer Abuse?

Like most medicos, Dr Dave’s analysis is cryptic and to the point.

Medical Diagnosis
“Pathetic, disastrous, undignified, indifferent, callous, non-communicative and absolutely disgraceful services by the national carrier of a country.”

“I lost money, missed my hospital duty and hung around the airport like a beggar to AI officials.”

Doctor’s Prescription
“The airlines should be closed down and our tickets /money refunded.”

Dr Dave, Passenger on Air India Flight 747.

Image: Some Flight 747 passengers trying to get information from an AI official.

Monday, December 17, 2007

How Does the Indian Government Let Air India Get Away with Customer Abuse?

Soon after the 20 hour delay of Air India Flight 747 from Delhi to Dubai this web site was established—Air India Flight 747 Passenger Protest—and the introductory story of this ill-fated flight was posted, entitled, Air India Customer Service—Fail.

The marathon delay could not be blamed on the Delhi fog or the airport renovations but on Air India staff inefficiency, the shortage of planes and the scarcity of pilots who are qualified in CAT III B instrumentation (to fly at low visibility). The hardships experienced by the passengers on Flight 747 were compounded by a fog of information and non-existent customer service, in which no hotel accommodation was offered and food and water were begrudgingly given when they were requested.

Government Intervention Needed
The inefficiency of the national carrier reflects badly on the Indian Government. How ever is India going to stage the Commonwealth Games in 2010 if the inefficiency of its major airline is allowed to continue and reflect on the government’s ineptness?

Catalogue of Errors
One might be forgiving if the Flight 747 episode on December 13-14 2007 was a blip on the screen. However, a quick look at the Indian newspapers and web sites indicate that this was only one of many chapters in the tragedy of Air India.

Here is a summary of articles from the last month:

Air India to use CAT III B to overcome fog-induced delays, The Times of India, 18 November 2007.
This report indicates that Air India is extremely slow off the blocks to train up its pilots in the latest low visibility instrumentation. This is the reason why many planes took off by mid-morning on December 14 from the IGI airport while Flight 747 did not get away to Dubai until 4.00pm (20 hours late). This article expresses the hope that this training will be given to Air India pilots but they had not been trained by 13 December.

Delayed Flights Cause Agony to Passengers, The Times of India, 18 November 2007.
This article reports the delay of 6 Air India flights sparking anger and protests by more than a thousand passengers. The problem was caused by ‘technical difficulties, shortage of pilots and flight duty time limitation’. It continued: “In Delhi, the passengers had a harrowing time since Saturday without food, water and sleep following hours of delay with Air India officials ‘hiding’ to avoid passengers’ fury.” It also reported a lack of information from the staff and information that was skewed.

Passengers Protest AI Flight Delay, The Times of India, 18 November 2007.

Air India Passengers stranded in Delhi, The Times of India, 18 November 2007.

Never Fly Air India Even if they Offer you Free Tix, Mouthshut.Com, 19 November 2007.
A report on the nightmare of flying with Air India.

Trouble Flying Air India? Blog It, The Times of India, 20 November 2007.
A blog has been established to post the woes of Air India passengers, a decision that has been supported by the Campaign for Public Accountability in India.

Readerspeak: Indian Carriers are Incompetent, The Times of India, 21 November 2007
The heading speaks for itself but spreads the blame beyond Air India. Many passengers vent their anger and express constructive suggestions.

Today’s Editorial: Ground the Maharaja, The Times of India, 22 November 2007
An opinion column that calls for Air India to be renamed ‘Ground India’, as the aircraft spend more time on terra firma than in the skies. The article highlights the problem and presents the solution: Ground Air India and privatize the airline. Here the Indian Government is blamed for turning a blind eye and doing nothing.

Shortage of Pilots, Ground Staff Plague National Airline, The Times of India, 27 November 2007
More details on the staff problems. I talked to several pilots from other airlines in the Indira Gandhi International airport and they all said they would never work for Air India.

We are Ready for Fog, say Airlines, Hindustan Times, 13 December 2007 [not posted online]
Wishful thinking!

250 Flights Delayed by Fog, The Times of India, 15 December 2007.
The reporter wrote of fog but also airside management, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation for terminal congestion. This article reported Flight 747 which was delayed for 20 hours. No report on staff inefficiency and lack of communication and service.

What Future for Air India, Economic Times, 18 December 2007.
This article charts the financial decline of Air India and its worsening image problem.

Response Requested
The passengers of Air India Flight 747 (December 13-14, 2007) are awaiting a response from the CEO of Air India or the appropriate representative from the Indian Government.

Letters explaining the chaos have been sent to Air India, the Commonwealth Games Federation, the Commonwealth Games Delhi Organizing Committee, The Times of India and the Hindustan.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Air India or Ground India?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Air India Customer Service—FAIL

Air India passengers were greeted at the Indira Gandhi International Airport on Thursday 13 December 2007 with the welcome news that Flight 747 from Delhi to Dubai, scheduled to depart at 8.50pm, was on time.

Little did the passengers know that after check-in, immigration and security they would be subjected to a horrendous experience by Air India of Kafkaesque proportions.

Information Fog
If a plane had been on time and available, passengers would have departed 2-3 hours late but the descent of the fog began to look like a longer detention was in store.

The fog on the tarmac, however, was nothing compared to the fog within the terminal. At first the plane was delayed until 10.00pm and then this was extended to 3.00pm. Apart from this notice appearing on the video monitors no information was given and when an Air India official was cornered and asked to explain, what followed was a series of false statements and a story that was made up.

No information was communicated via the public address system. Questions were met with a blank face, some failed attempts to get information from Bombay where there was a plane being readied and a massive passing of the buck to the next official who was higher up on the Air India ladder.

Health Risks Ignored
With every waiting hour caused by the delay, the prospect of not showing up for work responsibilities in Dubai and the news from anxious relatives who were waiting, the passengers were getting stressed.

While other companies like Kuwait Airlines were accommodating their stranded passengers in nearby hotels Air India said that there were no hotel beds available in Delhi.

Many sleep-deprived passengers on Flight 747 admitted to feeling dizzy and suffering from claustrophobia as they were not permitted to move from the terminal. Mothers with infants were seeking to calm their children and were obviously not prepared for such a marathon wait.

Customer Care Nonexistent
Hours passed and no customer care was initiated. When bottled water was requested an Air India official came, dumped a carton of bottled water on the floor and quickly departed. Customers were treated like animals. The quantity of water was totally insufficient and its availability was also not communicated via the PA system. Passengers on other airlines were given boxes of food to tide them over.

By 5.30am, when Air India passengers said they were hungry, they were given a cup of tea. Only when Air India was told that breakfast was desired did they make some food of sorts available in one of the airport cafes. Every action by Air India was a response to customer pleas. The airline was totally lacking in initiative and feeling for how those under their charge were faring. As the national airlines this was an absolute disgrace and it reflects badly on the Indian government and its citizens.

Fog Lifts Outside but Thickens Inside
By 10.00am planes from other airlines were arriving and departing but there was no sign of action by Air India. Public announcements to inform passengers of Flight 747 were non-existent. Calls for the Duty Manager to come and explain were rejected but after several hours and further requests the Duty Manager cowardly said he would see two passenger representatives.

Indifference and Defensiveness
The two representatives told the story and communicated the points where Air India was negligent. However, all they encountered from the Duty Manager and his minions was nonchalance, indifference and a total defense of their actions. Only when their lack of customer service was highlighted did one of the Air India officials begrudgingly admit an apology. For Air India it is obvious that the customer is never right.

When the Duty Manager was asked to come and explain to the passengers the reasons for the delay and to make an apology to everyone, he refused on the basis that people can get violent. He obviously had not walked around the airport and seen the armed police and security guards that could accompany him on such a mission.

It was almost 3.00pm and the representatives demanded that the passengers be given a meal. This was disallowed on the basis that the plane was on its way from Bombay and the food would take too long to prepare. Air India did not have a simple system whereby they could issue food vouchers so that stranded passengers could show their boarding pass and get refreshment from nominated food outlets in the terminal. Instead, the representatives were offered two free passes to the Maharaja Business Lounge as an attempt to appease them but this invitation was declined because of the total disregard by Air India of the basic needs of all the passengers.

Passenger Protest
After twenty harrowing hours a plane appeared, passengers were called on board and Flight 747 departed for Dubai, arriving three and a half hours later.

During this 24 hour ordeal the passengers turned their anger and boredom into constructive avenues such as calling media outlets and giving interviews.

This web site is one practical response and it has been established to collect the stories of the passengers. This site, Air India Flight 747 Passenger Protest, seeks to be one way of making their voices heard to Air India. It is also an attempt to inform the public of this company’s negligence and to warn prospective passengers to avoid subjecting themselves to Air India’s treatment of customer abuse.

People considering visiting India, especially the thousands who hope to arrive in Delhi for the Commonwealth Games in 2010, are hereby warned to avoid Air India at all costs.

Flight 747 passengers are demanding from Air India a formal apology, a complete refund of their fares and financial compensation for having to endure such disruption, suffering and inconvenience.

Dr Geoff Pound