Monday, January 19, 2009

India trip I - The Airline Edition

After a bit of a delay, here is my very first India trip post. I feel severely jet lagged, so the next post might see the light of day only tomorrow.
For readers who do not want to read this huge post, you can directly scroll down to the summary paragraph at the end, for the meat of the post.
Our India trip started with a United Airlines flight from Washington, D.C. to Dubai. The air hostesses(AH) and stewards were portly, old and rude. One of them said 'Welcome aboard' without a smile. No surprises there for me. Come meal time the AH informs us that there were no special meal requests for us(even though we requested vegetarian when we booked the tickets) and tells us there's no vegetarian main course left. All we get to eat is a salad and a rock hard piece of bread. I was mad. You spend thousands of dollars getting tickets and do not even get a decent meal. And the AHs are rude, as icing on the cake. Fortunately, the 13 hour ordeal to Dubai ended. The next flight was Emirates from Dubai to Mumbai. This one was pleasant. The AHs smiled when we were boarding. They served food with a smile(by this time I was almost dead with shock). The flight actually had steel cutlery as opposed to plastic ones. The food was decent. The only sad part was that this was a 3 hour flight. I would have loved a longer journey under these circumstances. The one thought in my mind was, here is something for the United crew to learn from the Emirates crew. True, United might not be able to afford expensive cutlery and good food like Emirates does, but a pleasant staff is not very difficult to acquire. It seems like United specifically trains its crew to be rude.

In addition to flying to and from India, this trip involved a lot of domestic traveling as well. And bulk of the travel was by air. Indian air travel has changed a lot from when I used to live there and travel a lot. Our first domestic flight was on Spice Jet from Mumbai to Delhi. Although it's a low-cost airline, its crew was remarkably polite and helpful and the whole experience was joyful for us. The journey back from Delhi to Mumbai was another experience with Indian airline customer service. Our originally scheduled flight was canceled due to fog(I have another post lined up on fog in Delhi) and we were given seats on the 9:30pm flight to Mumbai. 9:30pm approached and the flight was delayed by 2 hours. Finally we boarded the plane at 12:00am and it taxied and stayed on the runway for a better part of an hour, during which time we were fed and the crew tried to make us all comfortable. Finally at 1:20am, the crew announced that we were going back to the gate and will try flying again when the visibility improves. When we reached the terminal, the spice jet customer service desk was swarming with rude passengers shouting at them, like its their fault that the fog was so thick. Even then, the crew was very helpful and asked the passengers to remain calm. We were helped by a few people. One spice jet guy walked with us to the other terminal to help us find abother flight. When we said we wanted to cancel this ticket and get one on another airline departing earlier, he helped us do that too without much ado. One person from the airport customer service desk actually walked with us in the heavy fog, to find out which flights are at what time and suggested we stick to either kingfisher or Air India to ensure that the flight actually takes off. We then took a shuttle to departures in order to purchase either an Air India or kingfisher ticket. The AI counter had 2 men who did not respond when we asked if there were any AI flights out of Delhi soon. So we went over the the kingfisher counter and the lady there was as expected very helpful and polite and she got us 2 tickets to Mumbai. The 6:20 am flight eventually took off at 8:00am and we were finally in air, going away from dreadful Delhi. We were dead tired of walking from terminal to terminal and were by this time starving. The food was great and we had a good nap before the place touched down in Mumbai.
We had another pleasant encounter with Kingfisher crew on the Pune-Hyderabad flight, and by this time, we started taking the politeness of the crew for granted.
Our last encounter with airlines began on our way back from Mumbai to the US. The first flight we took was Emirates from Mum to Dubai. The AHs were nice as usual. The united flight from Dubai to Washington DC brought our 'polite airline crew' honeymoon to a screeching halt. The AH almost shouted at me when I tried to get up to go to the rest room. As expected, they were out of food by the time our turn came, we again ate some stale non-food and slept.

All in all, I think the airline hospitality in India has improved by leaps and bounds from my working days. I used to frequently fly by Indian Airlines or Jet Airways and rude airline crew was a given. The only international flight I took those days was a Swiss air and its crew was nice and polite. Cut to now, 4 years later, I find that most International airlines crew are rude and uncaring. It seems like airline operators know that customers are going to fly even though they are treated badly. Most old people are treated badly. People with special needs are not cared for. Most Indians are treated badly as well. The only people who seem to get some smiles are the 'gori chamdis'. Even they are sometimes treated like us. There is no hope for the International airline industry customer. So far, the only airline crew that comes close to being polite is Emirates. All the domestic Indian operators are polite(I did not have a chance to travel by Air India but from what my dad tells me, even they have improved a lot from early flying days.) There is a lot that operators like United Airlines can learn from the Indian model. Most airlines employ fairly young staff who seem motivated about their jobs. The average age of the staff seemed to be late twenties to early thirties. They were all good looking(men as well as the women) and spoke good English. The airlines were clean and well maintained. Kingfisher takes the award, in my book, for the best airline experience of all time.


  1. For more detail please view the url for the same .
    More Spicejet >>

  2. @who is Bunty?

    Anyways Singapore Airline provides pretty good service. Supposedly one of the best in the world. I know their food is pretty good. You know which other airline surprised me.. China Airlines..they had topnotch service. their flight crew was really helpful both on and off flight.

    PS:Maybe they are nice to me,because they dont want 4 kids getting hysterical.:)

  3. asaaan - oh really? maye good service is an Asian thing??
    You know, I saw quite a few families traveling with kids having a tough time managing them. Hats off to you for that.


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