I had to make a quick visit to Kolkata and had booked flights on AI 401 on March 19th and AI 701 on 20th. My experience on both flights left a bitter taste.
Flight AI 401 from Delhi was scheduled to depart 7 AM and boarding was to commence at 6.15 from Gate 34. Around 7 am announcement was made that the flight would take off earliest at 7. 30 am. The reason given “Unavailability of Crew”!! The flight left about 45 minutes late.
Worse was the experience with AI 701.
AI-701 was to leave at 5.30 pm from Kolkata and boarding was to commence at 4.45 from Gate 16 at one end of Terminal. About 5 pm one AI staff came around and said boarding will be from Gate 4 at the other end of the terminal and one floor below.
So everyone trudged along carrying their hand luggage with them to the other end of the terminal and down one floor. However, boarding could not commence as the Gate was already allotted to Indigo and the Indigo staff at the Gate insisted that AI could commence boarding only after Indigo. Some rankling went on for a while between the staff from the two airlines and finally Indigo boarding was moved to Gate 3. AI passengers left through Gate 4 and were bused in to the Dreamliner, which I noticed was parked near the Repair sheds and not on the tarmac.
What followed was atrocious!
When the flight was about to take off the Captain announced that there was some technical snag and we would have to return to the block for engineers to correct the snag. It might take 30 to 45 minutes, he said.
The plane returned to the block and the doors were opened. Some passengers alighted from the plan, which I though was quite strange. (Later I learned from news report it was to let off the Pakistani High Commissioner and some 50 passengers quietly)
Then came the announcement that it might take 15 minutes for the engineers to know how long it would take to correct the snag. After an hour or so Captain announced that the snag may not be corrected soon and that an alternate aircraft would take most of the passengers to Delhi at 10.30 pm. Remaining passengers would be given hotel accommodation (which to my knowledge did not happen).
Dinner was served around 8. Pm.
Around 9 (or was it 10?) pm all were told to deplane and return to the terminal building. No clear information was forthcoming.
At the terminal there was not a single IA official and the passengers were left in the lurch. After an hour or so two AI staff appeared. They could not give any clear information. One of them kept shouting in to his walkie-talkie “Coordination, coordination.”…
No news about the flight that was to leave at 10.30 pm.
After midnight, one passenger (who had been trying to make some sense of the situation from the officials and pacifying the angry and shouting passengers) tried to bring some order. He asked those who would like to cancel their ticket or fly the next day form one group and those who would like to leave for Delhi that night itself to form another group.
Those who wanted to leave that night were then told to go the check-in counters on the next floor to get new boarding passes.
But the computers at the check-in counters would not function for some time, adding to the frustration of the passengers. Then the computers worked for some time and a few new boarding passes were given. Then the computers failed to function again…. It took about two hours for all to be checked in.
Further frustration and distress followed after boarding the second aircraft. The flight could not take off because there was no Captain or crew to fly the plane! This resulted in some ugly scenes between the hapless AI staff and some very angry and frustrated passengers.
Finally at 4 am came the first official announcement (after the Dreamliner captain’s at around 8 pm) that the aircraft will leave for Delhi at 6.45 am and that breakfast will be served shortly.”
Until then from sinner served at 8 pm no water or refreshments had been served to the passengers among whom were several babies.
And the passengers waited…. and waited for the promised breakfast and the commencement of the flight….
Finally the flight (on an Airbus 321) took off with a full load, with some new passengers and a VIP politician who was ushered in solemnly with a number of AI officials in toe to the jeers of “Shame! Shame!” from some of the frustrated, weary and angry Dreamliner passengers at 6.45 and breakfast was served at 8 am!
Flight AI 701 scheduled to leave at 5.30 pm on 20th March finally landed in Delhi at 8.50 am on 21st March. During the entire drama senior AI officials were conspicuously absent, enjoying I guess a good night’s sleep in their cozy bedrooms or offices.
Returning to my office on March 22nd morning (I had missed my train on 20th night and had to scramble on to long distance bus on 21st night from Delhi) I sent off a “Feedback” to Air India, with the following:
“You are already familiar with events on CCU-DEL flight 701 on 20/3. The way passengers were treated was atrocious and totally irresponsible on the part of the AI management! There was unbelievable apathy toward the distress of passengers, especially of children and mothers.
A few questions for the senior management to answer:
1. Why were no official announcements made for several hours after the Captains announcement that there was a technical snag and that a flight would be leaving at 10. 30 pm and as many passengers as possible would be accommodated on that flight? Passengers were wandering from pillar to post to get some information. The only official communication was made at 4.00 am on 21st after passengers were left shouting and screaming at the uninformed staff in a second aircraft for several hours?
2. Why were AI officials not present at the airport when passengers were deplaned and returned to the terminal? The two officials who came later on had no clear information for passengers? Then only thing I heard them say was calling “Co-Ordination” on their walkie-talkie and giving no information to the passengers. This means they too were not getting any clear information? Or, did they get information and did not want to communicate the truth to the passengers? (There was a feeling among many passengers that AI knew their plans – that no flight would take off until 21st morning, and were deliberately keeping the passengers in the dark!)
3. Why was water and refreshments denied to passengers (including babies and mothers) for several hours - all the time they were left in the airport -- and until 8 am on 21st after the Airbus A321 flight took off?
4. Why was the flight at 22.30 announced by the Dreamliner captain not take off? And why was no further announcements made about that flight?
5. Why were passengers boarded on to a 2nd flight (boarding time 1.45 am) before captain and crew availability was confirmed and passengers left there until flight departed at 6.45am on 21st (that is for five hours!!).
6. From news reports I learned that a group of passengers along with the Pakistani High Commissioner was accommodated on a flight on 20th night itself? If this were true, what was the criteria used to select these passengers? And why was that a secret arrangement with other passengers not informed of the this flight? (Or, was it the 10.30 flight announced by the captain on the Dreamliner?)
There is much more I can say. However, the only thing I can conclude is that AI was totally irresponsible toward the passengers and unbelievably apathetic toward their distress.
I have spent quite a bit of time writing these. I do hope that those responsible will reflect on this and be more responsible and passenger-friendly in the future.
Quite a “Maharaja” treatment – promised us in the Dreamliner, I should say! No wonder the passengers shouted “Shame! Shame” when a politician VIP was escorted to the plane on 21st morning just before take-off!!
Dr. Jose Parappully