Air India: My Story

We were scheduled to leave for our hometown Guwahati on 4th May, 2011. It was my homecoming after more than year and of course some events and programs of Ragini fixed earlier. As I had very limited leave and events were fixed we could not afford to either cancel of postpone our trip. We booked or rather had to book with Air India (AI) long back because I , curse my decision, took the leave travel concession (LTC) offered by the Government of India every two years. With 8 days left for the journey the AI strike of greedy pilots began, but I never thought it would go on till then.

When the strike seemed to be endless I got a little tense because if it continued and our flight got cancelled in the last minute I would not be able to book due to LTC compulsions and exorbitant private airlines prices. So I started taking advice from knowing people, sought permission to no avail and finally on 2nd May decided to book refundable tickets on private airlines for safety. Meantime I kept on inquiring AI helpline and every time I was assured that our particular flight was running normally.

On 3rd May I again rang up AI helpline and the executive told me, ‘Don’t worry! Your flight is on!’ Even then I persisted asking if  it was hundred percent confirmed. The executive assured me again and even told me the terminal for departure. I believed them, curse my decision once more, and cancelled my private tickets paying a hefty cancellation fee per passenger. Then around midnight when we were ready packing up and about to go for a short nap before catching the flight at 6.10am I got a call from AI. The lady executive calling from a number somewhere in the north region informed me that our flight was cancelled apologizing and assuring full refund without charges!

I rang up AI helpline and shouted at them for misinforming me all the way. The executive on duty at that time told me that they get updates for flights continuously and admitted that the I should’ve been informed about that. Now I knew that every employee in AI is his/her own boss and they are bestowed with absolute power to tell passengers whatever they felt like. The AI website is also devoid of any useful information. So passengers are harassed as a rule, made to pay through their nose and I was subjected to the same treatment as I was hopelessly left alone to rebook my journey with avoidable expenditures increasing all the time.

A note about the booking syndrome too. Forced by LTC rules we had to go physically to the AI counter at Nariman Point where the domestic reservation counter looked worse than a railway one and the atmosphere was palpably unfriendly and frightening. Half of the booking counters were empty and it took hours for our token finally get a call. The domineering lady Booker took the basic details from me, went on tick-tucking on her computer and did not even bother to inform me which flight we were booked into—forget giving my choice and options.

I was horrified to witness that for one journey-Mumbai to Guwahati- and two passengers, four separate tickets were made! Per passenger and for Mumbai to Kolkata and Kolkata to Guwahati segments. In all my flight booking history I always got one ticket for one journey irrespective of number of passengers! Combined with my return journey I had a complete ticket file of 8 pages with an assortment of PNRs, ticket numbers and amounts! While canceling all these on wee hours of 4th May the harrowed helpline executive having to cancel each ticket separately and charging refund fee for each ticket separately expressed his opinion all the while,’ There shouldn’t have been so many tickets!’ Maybe more money is generated misusing the LTC rules finally giving an inflated bill to the government.

LTC must be delinked from Air India immediately so that hapless government employees could travel in comfort. For me personally, I have decided to avoid AI for the rest of my life even if it means foregoing my LTC entitlements. Isn’t this corruption too making wasteful expenditures to avail of a particular facility?

Air India should no longer be patronized by the Government of India. It should be left on its own either to survive or perish forever. Only professionalism must be respected and no emotions or sentiments or patriotic feelings must be associated with this degenerated giant.


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