View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Getting to ‘Can Do’ Dubai by ‘Can’t Do’ Air India

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 information 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. The 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.

The new web site upon which will be posted further stories and reflection on this flight and airline is:

Air India Flight 747 Passenger Protest

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Air India Airbus--on the ground.