While I was still recovering from the bout of slamming doors and interconnecting rooms and disturbed sleep on my last night in Chicago, there is much more that was going to go wrong it seems than right. I arrived in time for my ORD-DEL flight AA292 which was boarding from gate K12 at O’Hare. I saw the plane arrive at the gate about an hour and forty minutes prior to departure (at about 2 PM for the 3:40 PM departure). Now I don’t know if it was the same plane that they use every day or rotate planes on the route. I’d assume everything was alright and I sat easy at the Admirals Club doing my final rounds of email before getting on the plane.
For a 14.35 hours long flight, if I were airline crew putting about 300 or so passengers on a plane, I’d most certainly start boarding an hour in advance. After all, there are so many passengers, and boarding has to be in order, with all sorts of priority passengers (read front cabins and frequent flyers and special assistance) being accommodated before we get the rest on board. However, AA seemed fine to put everyone on the ship in 30 minutes from ORD, so I arrived in time for the 30 minute cycle. Nothing was moving, duh!
At the station, AA kept announcing till about 3:50 PM that the flight was occupied by catering and hence they could not let us in. That got me worried, because I was on a DEL-BOM flight, booked to leave at 8:35 PM departure the coming day (you lose a day when you fly east…)
Now I am not sure if it was catering, or it was technical issues on the plane, but we did have a long wait to go home. At about 4:40 PM, the plane finally pushed back but went nowhere. I’d dozed off in the meanwhile but I was surprised to see we were going nowhere after I woke up from my 20 winks. Soon enough, this was going to be a long delay, we returned to the gate, and we were there for a full 1+ hours before we went anywhere.
Being on the plane also meant there was loss of connectivity since I was using wi-fi data and not the expensive roaming option on my phone. The crew only informed us there were navigational issues, whatever we could make out of it.
Eventually, at about 6 PM the captain came on the PA system to announce that there was a trouble with the navigation equipment, but everything was running fine now and the ground crew had rectified the problem and completed all statutory checks all over again. Thank god for small mercies I said, since it is always safety first
Eventually with a 3-hour delay or so in take-off, we were going to never make it on time to Delhi, and we arrived about 2 hours late into Delhi Airport. What had me worried more than the others was the ticket I had booked separately than the AA ticket on DEL-BOM, which meant the automatic rebooking was not going to happen. This was purely due to a technical issue on the AA website on the day I was booking, and I anticipated 3 hours to be more than enough to pass through the entire rigmarole before getting on my next flight. For the others who were going to BOM, BLR, MAA and other destinations, they were already booked by AA and were given their new boarding cards at the arrival gate itself for their new connections.
In the past, Jet Airways has tried to be of help in the case of these issues, but these have almost always been at Mumbai (BOM) which has been my home airport. With the amount of time on hand, I was not sure if I was going to make it to the gate in time after passport control, customs and domestic security checks. My original flight, 9W312, was delayed to 9 PM however it still did not sound like enough time. So, I tried reaching out to everyone I knew in Jet Airways, and eventually landed the number of the Delhi Airport Manager. He took down my details and told me “I was now booked on the next flight 9W 2067.” I almost felt warm and fuzzy inside, till the time I reached the ticket window to collect my ticket.
The ticket counter told me I had to pay the differential fare to get on this flight. I was going from full-service (9W 312) to low-cost (9W 2067). How it was working was that I was going to be booked in the same class (V class) from 312 to 2067, and the airline actually owed me some 200-300 Rupees back. Being a loyal and elite member clearly did not seem to impress the airline anymore. There went the fuzzy feeling.
They contacted the person I had already talked to on the same number, and what I overheard was this conversation in Hindi, “They’ve told me to accommodate without charge, but I won’t risk it and I’ll still charge a fee”. So, eventually, I was not going to fight but pay up for the time being just to make sure I get home and be with the family in time. By the way, the agent took a full 25 minutes to put me on the next flight, and the receipt of the differential fare does not even disclose properly the adjustments that were made and how the new amount was arrived at.
Moral of the story? Should I’ve bought trip insurance, or should airlines in India treat their flyers with more compassion, and perhaps empower their frontline teams to give the customer a moment of delight.
What is clearly not right with the current airline system is that when we screw up, we got to pay for everything, while airlines can go scot-free when there is an error on their part (delayed flights, mistake fares and what not)
P.S.: More delays, a 45 minute holding pattern on top of BOM at midnight, and the priority tagged bags come last on the queue. I just got home after what I can call a real ordeal!