Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Travail Travels

I was travelling to Delhi and back by Indian Airlines/Air India. Of course, all government employees have to travel only by IA/AI.

As normally done by me, I took the earliest flight out of Bangalore at 6:15 am and planned to return by the 8:15 pm flight from Delhi. IA, in its own wisdom, has cancelled its most popular flight in the evening at 8:15 pm and changed it to an AI coded flight. If you are wondering what the big deal is because AI and IA have been merged and both depart from a single terminal, read on.

After landing in Delhi and attending the meeting, during lunch at 2 pm, I get a “pleasant” phone call that my AI flight leaving Delhi at 8:15 pm has been cancelled and they have rebooked me by the flight leaving Delhi at 4:30 pm. Of course, they did not bother to even think whether any meetings (especially in the government sector) start before 11 am or end before 5 pm. I told them that I have no way of returning by the 4:30 flight and they should rebook me to some other flight on the next day or cancel the 8:15 pm booking. The person on the phone gave me a toll free number to call. When I called there, I was told that I had booked online on the IA website but was flying AI flight, so the PNR number of the ticket changes and they can not do anything about it. So, they gave me a toll free number of AI. When I called there, I was told that they do not know the PNR number for the ticket. After calling IA and AI back and forth, I finally get the two PNR numbers of my ticket, as noted by IA and AI.

But the fun does not end there. Armed with multiple PNR numbers, booking numbers and IC/AI coded flight numbers, I call the IA website office, which is NOT a toll free number, to cancel the booking for my return flight. They say that they will charge me cancellation fees because, according to them, the AI flight has not been cancelled. She even helpfully informs me that I can report by 6:15 pm and board the AI flight. Just to be sure, I call the AI office and find that the flight has indeed been cancelled but they have not informed IA and they have no online mechanism to do so. So, I call back the non-toll free number, tell them that the AI office has confirmed the flight is cancelled and they should go ahead and refund my ticket. However, the person refuses because, according to her, the flight is still on. But the person on the helpline helpfully tells me that I can charge the cancellation fee to the government because they can mail me a receipt for the cancellation. Apparently, they do not understand the irony that they are charging cancellation fees for a flight they cancelled and assume that everyone who travels by IA/AI are government employees. Maybe if they behave like this, it will soon become a reality.


Anonymous said...

AI/IA are surviving on government bailouts and they don't seem to have mended their ways.

Is there any way government employees can protest through official channels that it is neither cost effective nor productive for us to waste taxpayer money by forcing government employees to travel by AI/IA?

Tirthankar Bhattacharyya said...

I have a similar but much less traumatic experience. As Giridhar noted, the 8:15 PM IC flight was such a convenient one, it was very popular. I wanted to take it on 1 Nov. That was the day beginning which that IC flight was cancelled and was changed to AI. it finally left Delhi at 00:39 hrs the next day. So we waited and waited and waited at the new Terminal 3 with no AI personnel in sight. They apologise profusely when a certain type of meal is not available for example, and disappear altogether when a flight is delayed for four hours without any information.

Skeptic said...

Ha ha! You guys should put a caveat in your faculty recruitment adverts that all travel will be by AI/IA only!

Niket said...

My experience with AI has been infinitely more harrowing. A colleague of mine, Tanmay Basak, came two days earlier and another colleague, Ramanathan, came a day after me. All three of us faces EXACT same problem. Clearly, AI/IA cannot claim this is one-off and that they were caught off-guard.

The duty manager was Mr. C, and the sales manager was Mrs. A. I can give names here, but haven't. They only SOUND reasonable, but really aren't.

I was to travel from MAA-DEL-JFK-SLC for conference on Nov 5. I had originally a 1 hr 40 minute stopover in DEL, flight leaving MAA at 8 pm (timings are approx). They cancelled the flight and put me on IC-539. On the website, the time is 6 pm... but I was told flight leaves at 8:10 pm.

Nonetheless, when I reached airport at 4:40 (yes, I reached that early because I don't trust AI), I found that the flight was scheduled to leave at 9:10 pm! That would leave me only 30 minutes for international flight. Not to mention possibility of delays.

I told them, but they said they will send a message to AI to hold the flight. [There is much more to the saga... I asked them to transfer me to Spice Jet/Jet/KF... but that is immaterial now.]

At 7 pm, I saw they changed the time to 9:30 pm on the gate, though the screens showed 9:10.

So, I came out of the security area. After 1 hour of arguing, I was finally booked on Emirates Air.

That was the ONLY good part of my travel to US.

I reached JFK. The flight got delayed by 30 minutes, I took too long for immigration and customs and missed my onward Delta connection (9:20 am). Delta confirmed me on their 4 pm flight to SLC.

BUT the ticketing had to be done by AI. When I called AI (since there was no soul to be found), I was told that they only have my return itinerary. The AI person could not find my India to US itinerary. People from Emirates, Delta, and travel agent told me that AI had to book me since it is AI's ticket.

I said I was willing to pay; they asked me to check with AI that this is OK... else my return journey will get cancelled. When I asked AI person by phone, he replied that the ticket says that "no shows" may result in "cancellation"... but he cannot confirm anything since he can see only my Nov 12 return ticket!

Finally, the Emirates guy called me and told me that AI people will arrive at 12:30 pm. The lady who sits in the booth next to him is a nice lady, who may be able to help me. So, at 11:10 am, I pay $45 and go to a lounge for shower, breakfast and rest.

The lady from AI took 2 minutes to rectify my situation. When I told her this is what happened, she said that this could not be true because see can see my entire itinerary. She also agreed that Delta has not authority to change my ticket.

LESSON 1: Service staff in AI are clueless A$$ES.

My friends, Tanmay and Ramanathan, who reached the next day, had similar experiences. Due to the lethargy of AI folks, they had to take the 7 pm flight to SLC (Salt Lake City).

This was nothing compared to what happened on return journey. After a 28-hour journey from SFO to DEL, I was made to wait for 19 HOURS (nineteen hours) in Delhi Terminal 3, before I could catch the flight to MAA.

Reason: the A$$ES at AI just cancelled my DEL-MAA flight. Cancelled. Just like that. Without any alternate booking.

Niket said...

Return trip... I boarded flight at San Francisco at 10:30 pm on Saturday night and reached Delhi at 4 pm on Monday.

I was to catch 8 pm AI-642 from DEL-MAA. Of course they had to cancel their flight because they are just clueless buggers. They cancel the flight without informing passengers, without re-booking them, without taking care of their overnight stay, without even informing them what to do. Worse still, there is no AI person around to speak to.

I don't think I will go into details... because I still get too angry just thinking about it. But think this: there was a 80-year old lady whose husband had a heart attack and was therefore returning to India. There were at least three 60+ couples. There was a couple with <2 year old and a lady with 3 year old. We were ON OUR BLOODY FEET CONTINUOUSLY FOR 2+ HOURS because of CLUELESS AI EMPLOYEES. Actually, we were on our feet from 4:15 pm (when the flight landed) to 11:15 pm except for brief moments when we sat. A 40-year old guy mentioned multiple times to AI folks that "I am afraid if this continues, my mom won't survive". It was this bad.

When we reached airport next morning at 5 am (we were assured we will be transferred to IC flight and given hotel acco at 3 am... YES THAT IS HOW LONG THEY TOOK)., it was hell all over again. NO TICKETS WERE BOOKED. We were asked to go to check-in counter, which we couldn't because our tickets said 8 pm on 14th when it was 5 am on 15th.

IN WORDS OF ONE T3 EMPLOYEE: I HOPE AIR INDIA SOON BECOMES MR. INDIA (i.e., disappears). I will celebrate the day this happens.

Niket said...

And all three of us, Tanmay (returning on 13th), myself (returning on 15th) and Ramanathan (returning on 16th) faced the EXACT SAME SITUATION.


Giri@iisc said...

"They apologise profusely when a certain type of meal is not available"

When was this?? I have twice been refused vegetarian food by IA/AI during my Delhi Bangalore flights. Once the air hostess asked me why I was a vegetarian and why I could not be more accommodating. My colleague, sitting next to me, was very upset hearing this and wanted me to file an official complaint. On arrival at Bangalore, there was no complaint forms because the official at the counter said that "We do not keep those forms here. If you are aware of something called internet, do it there" I did file a complaint and, of course, nothing happened. I am not making it up; you can check with my colleague who traveled with me.

The second time that they ran out of vegetarian food, they were more accommodating and gave me two desserts and two coffees in lieu of the actual meal.

Best wishes,


PS: I was told that IA is restoring the IC flight at 8:15 pm effective Dec 1 due to large number of complaints.

balaji said...

Unfortunately, several govt agencies force people to use IA/AI for travel(DST etc). This is a true incident which happened last month. I was flying Bangalore to Pune via Hyd. After half hour of take off from Hyd, the plane went into a free fall for about 30 seconds. People starting puking and I honestly thought it was the end. After al most half of minute of free fall, the plane rectifies itself. No announcements are made by the pilot about what the issues are. I asked the air hostess what had happened and she says "Oh, the autopilot much have switched off" or something to that effect. It was an utterly callous reply considering how tense everyone was. AI is just messed up.

Anonymous said...

I am not a government employee, but I travel by Air India. Why? Because tickets by this airlines is always available. Sometimes, I come to the airport to buy tickets and the only tickets that are available are by Indian airlines. The last resort for a busy traveller.

Movers Packers said...

I have a similar but much less traumatic experience. As Giridhar noted, the 8:15 PM IC flight was such a convenient one, it was very popular. I wanted to take it on 1 Nov. That was the day beginning which that IC flight was cancelled and was changed to AI. it finally left Delhi at 00:39 hrs the next day.