Thursday, December 07, 2006

Book early, pay less, and fly late!!!

It was a Friday morning and after making my mind up – contemplating on the notoriety Air Deccan had on its back in keeping time – I reached the airport ‘well on time’ fearing that the flight will take off without me or that the flight will be delayed if I failed to turn up or even more simply, I wanted to be in Bangalore on Friday morning before 9.00 to meet my friends. We had plans to proceed to Mysore on an extended weekend. The carrier’s outrageously low cost lured me into booking a ticket on their flight to Bangalore – plus I could save some time since the flight is only 35 minutes from Chennai to Bangalore.

Air Deccan boasted of 98.5% on time performance and I had little qualms that the flight will fail to take off in stipulated time. However it sooner turned out only to be a myth – Air Deccan keeping time. The flight was about to take off at 8.00 and the airliner showed no hurry to announce the passengers that the flight will be delayed by half an hour owing to bad weather in Bangalore – which I found absolutely absurd since my friend who called me just then confirmed that there are clear skies in the city.

That was when I started getting my first suspicions about the flight. Consecutive announcements made by other airliners who fly after Air Deccan confirmed that there really is bad weather in Bangalore – which to date I do not understand and I convinced myself stating that the reason could either be trivial or something that can’t be disclosed.

It was 8.30 now and there were still no announcements regarding the boarding. I felt hunger pangs deep in my stomach and cursing the time I decided to select a low cost airliner like Air Deccan, I decided to grab a bite in the airport lounge. However, I pretended not to pay attention to the announcements of the other low cost airliners who directed their passengers to the café in the lounge for free refreshments since their flight was delayed too. My fate.

I could hear dissatisfied mutters of fellow passengers and wail of a few kids whose mothers flared at their husbands for making a miserable decision to fly in Air Deccan. The only silver lining seems to be the take off the flight, the announcement of which was nowhere to be heard.

The time reached 9.00 by now and the airliners that actually were supposed to fly after Air Deccan were taking off one by one. By now I got twitchy and called up the airline’s customer care office to find out what really happened and if the flight will ever take off from Chennai airport. She sung the same song – told me that the flight will take off anytime from now and there soon will be an announcement. Not wanting to lose my hope, I hung up and decided to wait for the announcement.

Finally, there came the announcement at quarter to 10.00 and thanking god, I headed towards the boarding point. I thought that was the end of my dismay and I will see the light of Bangalore in about half an hour. My conceptions proved me wrong when I saw the impatient crowd arguing with the airline’s staff not letting the other passengers to embark the aircraft as well. Well, I am not a whiner myself but the situation aggravated my already spoilt mood. Two fully armed guards stood besides naively reiterating in Hindi to the passengers who mind to hear that the flight delay was only due to bad weather. They were probably strictly instructed not to make use of their guns unless ordered to.

I soon found out that the flight was to fly to Delhi and the passengers turned sulky and erupted at the in-flight staff when the flight was callously delayed for more than two hours. It turned out that the passengers were demanding the flight to fly directly to Delhi without a stop over in Bangalore. The issue was settled a little after and when the passengers embarked the flight – especially and invariably all the Delhi passengers – every one of them were venting out their anger on the air stewardess. The goaded flight attendants attempted to complain the same to the ground staff, which went in vain.

Amidst this chaos, I managed to grab a nap. The flight reached Bangalore around 11.00 a.m. and I disembarked swearing not to fly Air Deccan ever again. However, there are always these low fare baits that trap any ordinary Indian.

Upon my return from Bangalore, I noticed a hoarding at the Air Deccan counter in the Bangalore airport, which stated precisely ‘No one can like Air Deccan’. I assumed that there was a missing comma after the words ‘No One Can’ and it happened due to oversight. There is no way the airliner would have become disheartened this soon by their own dismal performance.

P.S: My return from Bangalore to Chennai was equally traumatic and thankfully the airliner sent me a text message that the flight has been rescheduled to 11.00 p.m. from its previous 6.30 p.m. schedule. The flight eventually took off at 12.40 a.m. which was literally the next day.

And if you thought this was my singled out experience, you are gravely mistaken. A news piece on a television channel recently showed passengers protesting in front of the Air Deccan counter in Chennai airport for the unannounced delay of their Delhi flight for more than -- hold your breath -- 4 hours.