Why Jet Airways bashing may always not be right all the time!

Let me admit, I am slightly biased towards Jet Airways, but I do give them a piece of my mind on Twitter when they don’t operate planes with clean aisles, or chicken meals without the chicken and so on. They send back a polite email, no promise, no action, but we leave it at that.

Anyhow, this is about a blogpost that has recently gone viral, blaming Jet Airways for all their trouble. A couple of readers pointed me in this direction, so I thought it would be good to give some perspective on how airlines work, and why a lot of this looks over the top exaggeration.

First, the original post is here, but it relates to a recent sandstorm in UAE, which was pretty bad if I would believe my relatives and colleagues who live in Dubai, and Reuters. Visibility was zero.

In the light of this sandstorm, this couple set out on a Mumbai – Dubai flight, and they were diverted to Muscat airport where they were jostling for space. The poster says, and I’ve emphasised a few things:

Here is where our ordeal began. An hour on the tarmac and no ground personnel had boarded the aircraft. I put my window shade up and noticed an Air Arabia flight pulling up near us. Within minutes a Shell fuel tanker drove up and Oman air ground staff assisted in re-fuelling the Air Arabia air craft. This got me thinking, “ hey that’s unfair, we were here first.” Our captain didn’t seem to mind cause he continued to give us the silent treatment. The cabin crew had no information either. Two hours later, still nothing. Passengers started to get restless and hungry. Little children began to cry. Since this was a turnaround flight, lunch had been loaded from Mumbai for passengers who were to have boarded at Dubai. The captain asked for this lunch to be served to us, which immediately made us realise that we were to be here for at least another hour. As lunch was served, I was getting more and more unnerved as the Air Arabia flight was refuelled and ready to leave and the Jet Airways ground staff had not even approached our aircraft yet.

First, lets get to the facts. In my experience, Jet Airways and many other airlines choose to hand over ground handling to local companies in international stations where they operate 1-2 flights a day. This ways, the same ground handling companies can help many an airlines in a day and keep the airline costs low. Jet uses other companies for ground handling in Brussels, Kuwait, Paris and many other stations. Jet Airways does have a 1-2 person staff, largely a station manager of their own, but most of the work is done by these other companies.

So, the author’s expectation that everything would work as they see it in India will be not the correct one.

In a situation like this, almost all the airports in the vicinity, especially Muscat, was being used as a relief airport. Like the poster himself states, there were tonnes of flights diverted. This is a huge planning problem for the airport and the Air Traffic Control of the airport. You don’t just put the flights on your way as if they are on the road. Every one needs a clear runway, and there are already scheduled operations (arrivals/departures) for the airport which should ideally not be disrupted. Additionally, each flight is assigned to an Air Traffic Controller, who guides the flight on its way and then hands it off.

It takes time, and the first thing is that the air traffic control needs all the hands they can have to take charge of each flight. Even if they called up all the people they could on an urgent basis, it takes time for people to arrive and take charge.

Next, given Jet Airways does not have their own infrastructure on the ground, they depend on the ground handling company to service them. In such a situation there are lots of airlines landing up and same number of people on the ground, so, again, it takes time to get to your plane. There was no Jet Airways personnel on the ground.

What does not add up is the time the author states for refuelling the Air Arabia plane next door. I would assume this Air Arabia plane was a Boeing 737 or an Airbus 320 kind of narrow body jet. It takes about 20 minutes to fuel up these planes, so the author implying that after two hours of refuelling the Air Arabia plane was ready to take off is plain wrong information or exaggeration.

Further, to buy that fuel, someone has to authorise a purchase, right? It doesn’t happen that an out of turn fuel request will be just okay for the company to provide.

Further, the author states:

Anyway, we did finally taxi to a parking spot closer to the main airport, where almost four hours after touching down at Muscat International Airport, a mobile stairway was brought to our aircraft and the doors were opened. There was an almost immediate rush of passengers to breath some fresh air. A few passengers suffering from claustrophobia were feeling faint and begged to be granted permission to walk on the tarmac. They were brashly warned by the insensitive Jet Airways ground staff that the local police would be called if they put their foot on Muscat soil. At this time, word spread hastily through the cabin, on the prompting of one of the cabin crew that the flight was being sent back to Mumbai.

The airline crew may have been rash, but they sort of gave the correct picture to the passengers. Hey, you’re in a country where you don’t have the visa for. Letting you on the ground means the country takes your responsibility, which they can’t if there is no arrangement for Visas to be issued and so on for these passengers. Further, hey, it is a tarmac, not a park where you just go stretch and come back. A non-busy airport such as Goa’s old airport terminal would have been fine, but not when you are in a foreign land, without visa, and the airport is serving dozens of out of turn flights.

You just can’t open or close aircraft doors at will. If there is no instruction from the ground handling company that the doors can be opened after an international flight, they just can’t open the doors. In refuelling situations as well.

This decision defied logic and questioned the safety standards of Jet Airways. The crew had possible been up since 730 am and were in service since a little after 10:30 am. We had flown for over 3 hours and were on the ground for almost five now. And another 3 hours back to Mumbai. Was it safe for the captain to fly us back. When we had met him, his eyes looked bloodshot convincing us that he may have dosed off in the cockpit while awaiting news and some action from the Muscat ground staff.

While I am not aware on how much is the crew’s operation time for a flight like this, there are situations in which crew’s time can be extended. The captain is the boss, and he takes this call, and works with the airline’s dispatcher and control room back home and local authorities to make it work. If he did not find it right enough to fly the plane back, he wouldn’t have authorised the decision and would have perhaps cancelled the flight. That would have had worse consequences for the passengers who could be stuck in a foreign land with no visa, perhaps spending time at the airport, which does not have facilities as well.

He complains about the fact that the crew was not helpful. Hey, always be nice to the crew, you don’t know how hard it is on them.

The post also comments on the fact that a landing slot was missed and another one was going to be expensive to get. Oy! The airline was not at fault, it was nature at work, and sure in such a situation the airport is working its backside off to make sure every one reaches their destination.

As we readied to leave, what disturbed us was the fact that Jet had failed to load any food for the passengers in Muscat while the toilets and cabin were also not cleaned.

I kind of disagree with this whole statement. This poster sort of wants food to be loaded on an unscheduled flight, and wants the full service experience in times of distress. Does he know that it would usually require 12-24 hours to request food from a local airline food kitchen? As for servicing the plane inside, should I go back to stating how so many planes were on the ground and the janitors would have to be called from home to service the plane maybe.

Bottomline: While the passenger complains again and again and again, he does not understand the technicalities of how an international flight is different from a domestic one and he continues to expect everything as if it is a scheduled flight. Further, I don’t even think Jet Airways would make any money on this whole operation, so rather than being thankful for being back and getting a full refund, he goes on to blame everything on the airline, in this case Jet Airways, while in truth it would be a lot of circumstances and not just the airline to blame. This one, is just not fair!

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Comments

  1. Hi Ajay,

    Some of your points make sense. But not all of them. You just appear to be trying to find a way to make excuses for the airline.

    Moreover, I noticed what you did there stressing the focus on “Please point me to the page where it says for Oman visa is on arrival” but then totally ignoring the TRANSIT option for passengers who will NOT be exiting the airport.
    It’s humanitarian to be allowed passengers to get off the flight and into the Transit area of the airport to stretch their legs. All DECENT airlines do this all the time. Air India included.
    I’ve had flight delays with Qantas, Singapore airlines & Air India all the time & they have all managed to come through for the customer.

    At one time an Air India flight was delayed whole we were still in the boarding area, and they managed to bring trays of sandwiches to the boarding gate for us.
    And no one is implying that the flight crew have to get off the plane & go grocery shopping. You yourself stated that there are normally 1 or 2 ground staff at the airport, who could easily have made calls to have some form of emergency snacks delivered at least for the children and elderly.
    Given the restrictions for taking liquids on board, what if the flight had infants that required formula? Did you expect that it is not the airlines responsibility to cater for this & that they should just be allowed to faint.

    You have glossed over the fact that a lot of this is probably due to Jet Airways cost cutting measures.
    And as for walking around the tarmac in Goa, I sincerely hope that you aren’t considering this. It may be a small airport with a lower frequency of flights as compared to other airports, however it has a much higher security patrol due to the fact that its is being run by the Indian Navy.

    Not saying that Jet Airways is at fault. But they surely did not make any attempts to make the best of a bad situation. And while the author of that article clearly does not have all the information & possibly was not thinking rationally after so many hours of having to just sit, it was the Pilot’s responsibility to keep the passengers well informed and the airline’s responsibility to ensure that they do their best to make amends and at least be empathetic to the fact that the passengers were already tired & possibly hungry (given that Jet Airways food service has degraded quite a bit) . Factor in that ssome of them would have taken leave to club to the Easter break to go overseas.

    I have had a 12 hour flight delay on Qantas once where we were stranded in Singapore due to engine failure on an A380. Qantas not only put us up at hotels, they arranged for the transit visas to exit Singapore airport to be stamped on our passports, had us taken to the hotel in a combination of taxis & minivans. They then had a wake up service to make sure we were ready for our alternate flight And a coach bus to bring us back to the airport with a speedy entry back into the airport. All this and after I got home, they still managed to send a $100 apology voucher for any inconvenience caused. The whole time the Qantas ground staff at the airport were very courteous & apologetic. Something which was clearly lacking with Jet Airways Mumbai ground staff.
    Whichever way you look at it, Jet Airways needs to take lessons from other airlines.
    I’ll admit they were great when they first started & during the days of Kingfisher when Kingfisher gave them reason to worry. But what they dont seem to have realised is that now, it is Air India who have stepped up thier game, so it is time for Jet Airways to worry again.

  2. Dear Ajay,

    I agree with your version of explanation and I also completely agree with the fact that it is not easy for cabin crew to be at their best in terms of communication on an unscheduled place. The author of original post fails to underatand that the crew itself was also stuck in that very plane and with what I know, the crew seats are definitely no more comfortable than any economy seats. With so much tiredness they made sure that the passengers are atleast in their home country rather than an alien one. The author should understand that it is not easy to get full ground support at oman for food and all.
    However the only thing jet could have done better in this case is ground support after returning to mumbai. Whatever happened earlier was act of god, but in mumbai jet could have done much better as it is their hub. People on flight were not beggars who should thank jet for giving full refund. In fact passengers can’t travel to dubai with that refund, as last minute new bookings would have cost them a bomb. Ground staff in mumbai must definitely have known atleast 3 hours before that the flight is coming back. They could have started planning for alternate travel options for passengers. The lack of proper co-ordination and communication on ground is the part which I think jet was completely at fault.

    Regards,
    Pratik

  3. Hi AJ,
    Your post seems to be unfair and tilted towards the airline and also exaggerated. If there are delays due to weather etc, airlines are supposed to make reasonable arrangements like food/ toilets and even hotel. Trying to wash off your hands saying that it was a foreign country/ visa etc is not acceptable. Anyway for Oman visa on arrival is available atleast for Indian passport holders and transit visa is not required – then why create all this hassle. If regular food was not available, atleast wafers/ biscuits/ other packaged foods could be arranged?

    • @Sumeet my post is an attempt to show the other side of things. Like I’ve said before, ATC, nature, airport ops are not the responsibility of the airline. When you have tonnes of flights being diverted, solutions need to be express. The clock is always ticking and the decision taken I assume would have been in line with the crew timeouts and so on. You may choose to not accept my arguments, and that is your choice. Please point me to the page where it says for Oman visa is on arrival because in my 2 trips there I’ve always had to organise a sponsor letter and then a visa before I leave. Any of the food items you point out to, involve crew leaving the plane. If they are not entitled to, just like the passengers, then they can’t go out. It is a 100 moving parts, and a lot more things happen behind the scene than those that meet the eye. These blokes should be happy they were grounded given the worst sandstorm in 25 years hit Dubai that day. They can be disappointed, but here they are putting all the blame on 9W, while there is more to it than just 9W at play here.

  4. I am sorry but can anyone please explain to me this business of not being allowed to get out of the plane due to absence of visa. People TRANSIT through airports all across the world without any visa. Yeah, some countries require a transit visa but I don’t believe Oman is one of them – because I myself have made an unscheduled transit through Muscat (Once my flight from Milan to Mumbai via Brussels was cancelled due to bad weather in Brusells and I was thus booked on a different flight which can via Dubai and Muscat – and I got off the plane and even shopped for some Arabian dates at both airports). So the fact that passengers were threatened with the police for getting off the plane on the basis that they didn’t have a visa is plain ridiculous. Also, I don’t really agree with all the safety, the cleaning, the food and other issues raised in the original post but, sorry, being forced to sit on a stationary plane for 5 hours with no communication is not satisfactory by any standard. And nobody needs to be “thankful” to receive a refund here – doesn’t matter if it was an act of God, if the airline doesn’t get the passenger to their destination then a refund is the passenger’s basic right. The reason for an airline failing to get the passenger to their destination matters only w.r.t to compensation – not for refund.

  5. Everyone loves bashing, Ajay, so does the author of that blog and so do you!
    I have to agree with the story that there is a lack of empathy from the airline staff, who obviously have not received proper training. for pax( children + seniors) to sit on the Tarmac for 4 hours for a total of 10 hours unplanned is not normal. So airline employees should behave in a specific way.
    When u pay for an airline ticket, you pay to go from A to B on the scheduled time. It’s a professional corporation, not some folks running airplanes. They’re responsible for getting you to your destination and should be sorry they could not get you there and do whatever they can to make it right. Looks from the story & personal experiences that they just don’t care.

    • @Varun, I do not disagree about the function of an airline corporation. However, I dislike the way the whole blame has been put on the airline while there are a 100 moving parts in this game, including airports, ATC, nature, politics and so on. On a good day, everything works. This was a situation where there were ULH planes which were being redirected to Iran of all places due to fuel emergencies, so, they should have been thankful that they were safe and sound rather than that they did not get this vacation.

  6. Ajay – While the entire narration may be exaggerated. But I will concur on one thing, Jet’s service standard have become terrible. In the last 6 months that I have flown with Jet, there have may been major slip-ups. Repeated complains to their customer service has yielded nothing but a standard apology email.
    I am glad Vistara has arrived!

  7. Ajay. Big fan of yours and Jet Airways. But I think you’re being too kind to the airline here. Passengers don’t, as you’ve pointed out, know the full picture but it’s the airlines and the flight crew’s duty to communicate it to them. Clearly they haven’t in this case. Also, the ‘it’s too costly’ story did seem strange as surely the flight back must have cost more.

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