Treating People Like People

By the Editor: Siddharth Sehgal

How low, unimportant, worthless and mistreated can you feel as a customer of Air India was something that I’ve heard only in news outlets  and magazines, only few days ago I experienced this first hand. I was made aware that as a consumer, as an Indian how it feels like to deal with a corrupt, abusive, non-responsive and non professional Sarkari department that treat its customers as its liability.

On Feb 26, I was supposed to take an AI flight on an official trip from IGI airport New Delhi. It was a week long trip along with a colleague, I had a confirmed ticket and given the rush that IGI is infamous for, I reached well ahead for check in. I reached about at the same time my colleague reached there and joined him in the queue for the boarding formalities. There was something out of place because the line was not moving, the counter was surrounded by these European tourists along with AI (Air India) staff who were looking at their documents then looking at their systems and then at those passengers, doing this back and forth which didn’t made sense. All the while, one AI employee was trying to be too polite to the fair skinned female customers.

No one seemed to care that there were other passengers in the line and it was growing, so I stepped forward and asked the guy at the desk what was going on. Seemingly disturbed at my question, he told me to wait but I tried telling him that I’ve been doing that for almost 30 minutes and if this continued I may miss my flight. One passenger from that European group said they all were trying to get a seat in the plane for which I had a confirmed ticket. So I went back to the same AI guy and asked him if I can have my boarding pass as I was loosing precious time and I still had security and immigration to clear.

Without even looking at me or lifting his head up, he said that I cannot take the flight. I was kind of surprised on hearing this as my ticket said differently but he said that flight was overbooked and I was the unlucky one. Just as he was saying this, my friend, who had joined another queue after waiting for more than 45 minutes, was given his boarding pass, labels were applied on his luggage and deposited by AI. Now it was both baffling and outrageous. When I asked why I am not being allowed to board and my colleague was, I was given the excuse that my friend had done a web check-in which is totally optional for passengers. I, my colleague and passengers who stood nearby were surprised at this bizarre reasoning, it was now an hour before my flight was scheduled to leave. I was worried and pleaded to AI staff to help me out but no one listened, they simply shrugged off and told me to talk to manager or some random supervisor who was either not available or simply too busy to pay any attention.

I ran from pillar to post but hardly anyone bothered, I was a passenger, an Indian passenger at that, who is the least in the list of priority of AI. I called home, office and company’s travel agent in desperation but no one was any match for the behemoth that is AI. I tweeted to civil aviation minister, Air India and even external affairs minister but like I said, I am just one from the crowd, just a nameless face whose voice doesn’t matter.

Long story short, I missed my flight and stood there at AI desk for more than four hours pleading AI officials to give me an alternate option for the same day as it was an official trip, which I feared would be canceled if I didn’t reach my destination in time. Despite having a valid, confirmed ticket I wasn’t allowed to travel and no one cared to show even basic courtesy not even a glass of water. To them, I was not even a human.

Finally at the end, knowing that I didn’t had any option, I took the boarding flight for next day and to rub salt in my wounds, I was told I’ll be offered accommodation in a five star hotel for my troubles but was give a sub standard one. It was AI’s way of showing me my place and when I reached the hotel, tired and hungry, I got the mail from office that it would be pointless to go now as I have already missed the crucial time. What I have written here is a much digested form of a harrowing AI experience, like every story there is more to it but the problem with our system is that it does not care?

This was my first experience with national carrier and I don’t think I’d fly with it again but I think perhaps this sort of don’t care attitude is the reason why our system is rotting from the inside, no matter who sits on top, the base has withered away to a point that it’d require no short of chemotherapy or even amputation to save the patient. This is why our banking system is in perils, this is why SSC, like so many public service exams, is riddled with graft and nepotism. Government will loose its popular support if this disturbing trend continues; its high time Saheb wake up to what’s happening on ground.

One Comment

  1. O K R Sivagnanam says:

    Really a sad affair, quite unbecoming of one from no less than the national carrier!
    That a customer is a king has lost its meaning quite long back that we have to practice tolerance to an extent unbearable!
    Lack of care and attention for the helpless lot speaks ill of institutions that swear by prompt service to the clients!
    That they lack the basic courtesy of seeking excuse, and coming out with an alternative solution, will make one ever keeping a comfortable distance from the public sector organisations, which should never be so!
    Failing to learn a lesson or two is nothing but arrogance to the core being delivered to the VALUABLE CUSTOMER!

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