Vantage point

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The 'Indian' Nightmare

I finally traveled in our venerated national carrier – Indian Airlines….nope, I won’t call it just ‘Indian’ because even its staff hasn’t started calling it that. In spite of being a habitual PSU-basher, this experience ended up disgusting me even more than I expected. The total and utter disregard for the customer is evident at every step of the way.

The stewardesses were brusque, bordering on rude. There were one or two polite ones, but most of them had dispositions a lot less sunnier than my high school history teacher. I wondered if they had been sold into slavery or something. This was in stark contrast to the courteous, helpful and ever-smiling stewardesses in Jet, Spicejet and Sahara.

To make matters worse, circumstances arose that portrayed the airline in an even poorer light. As the plane was waiting at Delhi, apparently a technical fault was detected. There was a squeaky and confusing announcement made, an announcement that would have made the announcements on Central Railway’s platforms seem as lucid as Harsha Bhogle’s commentary.

My co-passenger, an employee of the railways(I kid you not, he seriously was!), managed to decode that the announcer was telling us to deplane, since there was something wrong with the aircraft. I started moving towards the door, but not all passengers had the benefit of sitting next to a railways employee, and were looking around, bemused. That is when the stewardess, with an expression on her face not unlike Steve Bucknor, barked “Can’t you people hear? Please deplane!!”

One man barked back “But what do we do after deplaning?”. The stewardess, assuming his bark to be worse than his bite, ignored it.

Soon we were in the bus heading for the Delhi Terminal. Inside the terminal, we were informed that they would arrange for another plane, and it would leave in an hour. Meanwhile we were supposed to collect fresh boarding passes from counters number 6,7 and 8. I was at counter 8, where a sleepy dude was working too slowly even for a government employee. The dude at counter 6 was trying to go even slower. There was no one at counter 7. After 5 minutes, the guy at counter 5, definitely poached from a private airline, told the folks at counter 7 to go to him. The entire queue, backed up, went around queue 6, and stood at counter 5. One guy was given the boarding pass when suddenly the counter 7 guy came wiping his face with a tissue. He looked irritated that counter 5 had stolen his ‘business’, and yelled at the passengers to return to his fold. Counter 5 disagreed. There was confusion.

Eventually it was a senior looking guy with the homily of Asrani-from-Sholay that came to the rescue with ‘aadhey idhar jaao, aadhey udhar jao, aur baaki mere saath ao’

The ‘baaki’ being the rest of us, who, after getting our boarding passes were rather mysteriously instructed to go up. It turned out that ‘up’ meant a restaurant where we would be given a complementary meal. That is where the gentleman took us.

There was just one buffet counter and about 10 tables in the restaurant, whereas we were almost hundred. You can imagine the confusion, frustration, etc.

A couple of hours later, we finally managed to get into the replacement aircraft. The Delhi-Mumbai flight took 3.5 hours! I assumed there was a lot of air traffic over Mumbai, and we were waiting for a clearance to land, but it would have been nice to be updated about it by the pilot. What’s more, all the stewardesses had disappeared, and they stayed so for almost an hour. I rang for them several times, but to no avail. I finally had to get up, go to the back of the aircraft, and ask for some water.

I object to renaming ‘Indian Airlines’ as ‘Indian’ because I hate to have my nationality described with the same term that is used to refer to such a shoddy, callous and mediocre company.