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.
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!