London Hotel picks on Air India for removing food for buffet, AI picks on Flight Crew unfairly

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File this in the cabinet of those small things that Air India made a big mess out of. It seems, from various news reports, all originating from the Times of India, that the airline has received a complaint from the Renaissance London hotel near London Heathrow about some crew packing up boxes for later consumption of the breakfast buffet. They state:

Titled, ‘A buffet is not a takeaway’, the warning note was sent on Monday by an assistant general manager (AGM) of the in-flight service department. It said: “We have received an unfortunate email from the management of hotel in London stating that some AI crew members regularly come down for breakfast with empty boxes into which they fill food items from the buffet, presumably to eat later.”
The letter warned that AI would be forced to take serious disciplinary action against the offenders, adding that “we are aware that this could be a very small minority indulging in such a behaviour”. “This may include, not being scheduled on international sectors, as we have no desire to allow the reputation of Air India to be tarnished by a handful of such individuals,” the note warned.

Now, I see a wide variety of press on this which has mindlessly picked on this report and published it perhaps because they needed the masala. I reached out to some AI crew hoping I could see the letter first hand, but no success so far. But this letter seems to be unfair on the crew for a whole lot of reasons. Let me explain:

  • To an extent, everybody does it. I frequently see people bring a fruit or two or some cookies back to the room for later. If there is a lounge in a hotel I have access to, I’ve always brought about my water from there, unless it was already provided in the room. Unless the hotel really saw steel or plastic boxes being filled up from the buffet en masse for a party later, their note was not required. They could have just put a note at their restaurant asking people to consume what they want at the buffet but not take it out of the restaurant.
  • The hotel does not have a fancy buffet in the first place. I’ve stayed at this particular Renaissance back in the day, and I have to admit it is a trashy hotel. That is what costs 70 GBP in London after all (retail price). I’ve partaken in their buffet, and it is just the usual continental stuff. Breads, Salamis, Cold Cuts, Juices, Coffee/Tee and Fruits. They did not have the spreads of a Taj or a Ritz Carlton or a Park Hyatt anyways last I checked. So if someone carried a couple of slices of bread to their room, I don’t see how it makes a difference. Someone paid for it, and it was not the hotel.
  • The Airline acted way out of line. I don’t know who outed this letter to the media, but if it exists, it is in poor taste. Period! Writing demarches is not in the best interest of staff moral, specially when an airline such as Air India already suffers from the lack of credibility. Everyone’s eyes should be on the goal to improve credibility, not doubt the credibility of their staff just because someone wrote a letter or an email, and you had to do something about it because you are sarkaari and you had to show you took action. It is one thing to sit in a seat everyday and type such emails, but it is a totally different thing to be on your feet for 12 hours or more and be in a different time zone trying to rustle up an appetite at the right time.
  • Air India needs their people to build their image, without them they are nothing. We all poke fun at Air India. It is a case of an airline which was world class at a point of time but has lost its ground because of the bureaucratic attitude of the people at the top and their political masters, and the non-accountability that percolated down the line. How about the airline puts them up in a better hotel and pays them well enough from the money I pay as taxes to the government of India and boost their morale rather than shove these missives down their throat.

There are tonnes of things wrong with Air India, but I don’t think this deserved the coverage it did, and deserves the juicy bites it is getting. Come on guys. Grow up!

Moreover, all that food is anyways going in a waste dump if not consumed. There is no reason to go on a hyperbole about it and say if an Air Indian did it, it must be wrong!

What are your views on this? I was not going to write about this but I’ve heard from enough people to laugh over it because it’s Air India involved. Like I said earlier, Not Cool!

What do you think the airline and the hotel did were right? Or was it the crew in the right place?

About Ajay Awtaney

Ajay is a financial services pro, working to bring order to the chaos of the financial industry on an everyday basis! Beyond that, he dons the hat of India's favourite frequent traveller, trying to help people elevate their travel experience via tips and tricks they never knew before, or introduce them to the world of miles and points. Armed with an MBA from MDI Gurgaon and graduate degree in computer science from the University of Delhi, Ajay brings a systematic and objective approach on the table for his audience in dissecting travel and loyalty programs in India and around the world, and how to benefit from them. Ajay has been quoted in various reputed traditional and online media including The Hindustan Times, Inside Flyer, Bloomberg, DNA India, Conde Nast Traveller, The Telegraph, Mumbai Mirror, Mint, MoneyLife and The USA Today.

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Comments

  1. Totally agree with everything written here. Glad someone finally decided to take up for the crew. The hotel is petty and small minded. If a few muffins were bothering them so much, they should have just told the person taking them not to do so discretely , rather than issuing a letter to the airline. Shame on the management for not standing up for their crew.
    I have often seen people taking away food from the buffet ,I wonder if everytime ,their employers are contacted.

  2. Taking to-go boxes for breakfast is not big deal. Sometimes, you don’t have luxury of time to have proper breakfast due to some early morning meeting or work. I have personally done this couple of time at Park Hyatt & Holiday Inn where I have asked hotel staff if they can help with To-Go boxes for carrying croissant and fruits. I never received weird glances or negative reply.
    Even if some Hotel have strict policy around this they can simply inform the person then and there rather than sending an email to their employer.
    Embarrassing customer is never a good option in hospitality industry and it can be worst if it goes online.

  3. An unnecessary hype by the hotel. At best they could have put up a placard REQUESTING guests to cooperate. Confrontation of guests at individual level is also considered rude.
    AI should consider a change……

  4. Copy pasting what I wrote on another blog, please note at the airliners link a copy of the actual letter is posted. Key bit though I would say is both the hotel and AI have managed to screw what I would call marketing level basics and opportunity. This was an opportunity to earn both goodwill and revenue:

    So I did a double check on the story, here and on mashable as well as at airliners.net which seem to have some more info along with the ToI original.

    It seems like AI issues a meal coupon to its crew members, which they would rather use on the buffet and instead save their meal allowance instead. This bit seems to me rather a nominal behavior for people on a per diem allowance. It happens.

    http://www.airliners.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1355169

    That said again I think both AI and more importantly the hotel has approached this issue wrongly. The hotel could simply have offered a “goodwill” package to AI by having no tray charge for air crew and again simply looked the other way for the most part if a few of the crew are packing up extra food in boxes (or better yet offered to those crew on quick turnovers a To Go box breakfast). Said package can be negotiated into higher prices/extra revenue via bookings with AI. The AGM too who appears to be new at her post should have contacted the hotel to get more details and prepped a set of options on responses that AI could offer to take. Note she may have jumped the gun in authority as well as she didn’t seem authorized to issue the notice that she did. This was an opportunity squandered by both the hotel and the airline imo.

  5. Between an overreacting hotel and an empathy lacking employer, the cabin crew have been subject to insult and injury in a metaphoric double whammy. Let’s look at this objectively, firstly painting everyone with the same brush implies that a vast majority does it while there is no data to prove it. Second, the complete lack of understanding of the circadian rhythm and the body clock vs stomach vs jet lag shows up like sore thumbs here. To imagine that someone steals food from a hotel also begets the question of why they would do it, clearly a 7PM dinner buffet in London to a body clock of 3.30PM in India means nothing to the profiteering hotel who only care about their rules and lack empathy towards airline crew. If they had half a brain and a heart, like most crew hotels, they’d have a crew lounge which is well stocked with fruits and ready to eat meals (even if it’s just a Ramen bowl). If I were Air India, I’d black list this hotel, saurabh Sinha, times of India and anyone connected to the whole episode and move on to treat the crew with a little more respect and make them feel wanted and loved within their organization. But having seen the letter sent by the Ops to the crew, sad luck to everyone hoping for a sympathetic ear.

  6. If it was a good buffet the hotel would have a point but as you say unless the crews are filling carry out boxes with deli meat it doesn’t seem like a big deal.

    Do not agree with the statement that AI should be paying a fair wage out of your tax dollars. India has multiple aviation options and air India being taxpayer supporter is a big reason why the problems with their operations exist. I’m no Tory but if airlines have the public Treasury to fall back on profitability is always going to be elusive. There is a reason you don’t see many private airlines run like AI

  7. Totally agree with your views and feel that the hotel is the one to be blamed here , for raising this issue up in the first place. I doubt they would have done something similar had the crew been from an airline in the States / Canada / etc. But , we all know that staff at some hotels in Europe , love to fit every South Asian in a pre-conceived stereotype.
    I surprisingly faced something similar in 2009 , at the Intercontinental Grand Stanford in Hong Kong ( yes , in Asia !! ) , whose staff used to blatantly ignore EVERY brown/black guest , while they were busy swooning over their caucasian patrons. But , I guess they had saved me for the worst display of their behaviour.
    One day , I had just entered the restautant , but had to leave as something urgent came up. On my way out , I grabbed just ONE TINY APPLE. This is what a lady staff member shrieked from the other end of the jam packed restaurant :
    ” INDIAN guy , no taking of food from restaurant.”
    This was uncalled for , and ironic , considering that she and the rest of the staff used to openly ”pack” muffins / cakes / etc. , from the same buffet , for ‘esteemed’ guests from the US / Europe , who just “innocently” wanted some for their “kids” upstairs.

  8. i have been in the airline industry for more than 40 years and have flown a lot internationally at most times being part of the crew. i say that this hotel is a “cheap” hotel – crying about their buffet food considering that the airlines had paid for it !
    being a member of the crew- there is practically no time to eat a breakfast- mostly considering that the breakfast buffet does not open early enough for a flight crew to take their breakfast. Everything from the moment you wake up is a frantic effort to be at the plane to prep it for flight. if it happens that the buffet is already open at that hour , why not ? pack it and go ! you paid for it !
    addressing the management of air india – listen : even as you may be wearing the coat and tie- makes you no better to make judgement calls on your staff. they are the same “paid” workers as you are ! Flight crews have dignity and are professionals ! Packing food that you paid for is not unprofessional. I have been in your position as a manager…and I would stand up for my crew. Go and castigate the hotel management and ask them to apologize for making this public !
    More power to all the flight crew of Air India and the rest of the airlines !

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