Saturday, June 24, 2017

The misfortune of traveling by Air India

I traveled with Air India from Chicago to Hyderabad by Flight # AI 126 departing June 22nd 2017 from Chicago and arriving in Hyderabad the night of June 23rd. The experience I have while travelling could only be termed as horrendous. I have been travelling for the past 20 years to and from Chicago to Hyderabad and must have made at least 10 trips by myself and with my family that consists of 3 kids. I have traveled right from the time they were infants to teenagers now. I have traveled with Royal Jordanian, KLM, Ethihad, Emirates and Air India in the past. Nothing comes close to the kind of experience I had while traveling with Air India this time around. Traveling with them even beat out the time I had flied with Royal Jordanian which had to do an emergency landing in Abu Dhabi.

I was traveling with my 2 sons aged 11 and 9. They were extremely happy to be flying and I was hoping that I could keep them engaged on the 14.5 hours trip from Chicago to Delhi with games, books, playing cards, sketching and TV of course. But Air India seemed to have quite other plans for us. As soon as we boarded and were on our way, I noticed that the airplane we were flying in seemed very old. There was transparent tape everywhere. I did not pay much attention to it.

We were seated in rows 20H, 20J and 20K. Once we were in the air however, I realized that the TVs were not working for all 3 of us. I tried everything but nothing on the remote was working. We did not have any service except the monitor being on. We could not even switch the monitor off. No control on the remote was working. This meant we could not call the attendant and we could not even switch on the light. The people in front of us seemed to have the same issue. I did not say anything then.

When the air hostess came to serve us food, I told her about the situation. She said that she would check with the staff and said that the monitors had been working when they had made a technical inspection of the plane before leaving Chicago and feigned surprise. I waited for a couple of hours but there was no feedback. Somehow I tried to catch her attention and asked her what was going on. She said they had tried but there was nothing that could be done. I told her that I had 2 kids traveling with me and it would be extremely difficult to continue the journey with no TV. She said she understood and told me she would try again.

That was the last time I heard anything about it. After that the air hostess started behaving very rude and tried to avoid talking to me. Suffice it to say that she did not provide any kind of service except handing us our food trays. Even the tea, coffee she poured reluctantly. I did not complain and decided to let karma take its course.

The next few hours were pretty agonizing. Not even did the TV and other controls did not work but we were unable to switch off the monitors. This meant that when the lights went off we have a 12 inch monitor staring directly at us with full brightness. My children could not sleep and nor could I. I had to cover the monitor with the blanket that was provided to decrease the intensity of the light coming from the monitor. If we had to look for anything or read we would have to open the window to let the light from outside come in. Yes, it was literally the dark ages all over again and we were paying a hefty amount of money for this torture.

Not once did anyone come and apologize to us. Not even offer an alternate solution. There were 8-10 rows with the same problem and none were offered any sort of solution. I could not wait for the trip to end and somehow managed to keep my kids engaged with games on my phone. Even had to hear some complaints from other customers that my son was leaning against their backseat. I was very proud of my kids that they did not create any disturbance and quietly played around and kept themselves engaged and behaved very well.

I heaved a sigh of relief when we reached Delhi and hoped that it would be the end of my troubles. I did not realize that Air India was just getting warmed up in tormenting us. The air hostess handed me 1 immigration form and I thought that the policy was similar to one for US wherein one form is given to the whole family traveling together.

At Delhi, we got delayed for an hour because of maintenance issues they announced. I didn't mind that because I have traveled for long and know that these things happen. But one thing I hoped for was that the issue with the remote control system would be fixed and our TV and other services would be functioning as they should. Boy! Was I in for a rude disappointment.

When we went into the same aircraft again, I realized that the cleaning crew had not even replenished the supplies. The airsickness bags we had used to store trash (since no one came to collect trash) were gone and nothing was put in its place. Once again I did not pay much attention to it. But once we sat down in our seats again we realized that nothing had changed. The monitors still glared at us with the image of the Taj Mahal with a model posing in front. I am getting shivers just thinking about that image because I had stared at it for so long. I resigned myself to the fact that nothing had changed and just hoped to get the 2 hour leg of journey over with.

The passenger seated in front of me was trying the controls and complained to the attendant who told him the same thing I had been told. They should be working, I don't know why they are not. Let me go and check. The attendant left and of course did not return. The complaining passenger got hold of the air hostess who said that she would check in the back and switch it on. I smiled to myself at the blatant lies that were being passed out but decided that I would not make any trouble and kept quiet.

A few minutes later one of the passengers decided to open the baggage cabin bin over our seats. After getting her work done, she tried closing the bin but she was unable to do so. She tried to summon someone but seeing no one she walked away, leaving her bulging backpack hanging out. I hoped she had gone to get someone to close the bin for her. Minutes passed and all my attention was towards the bin. The air hostess walked by and I told her of the problem. She said she would get someone to close it and walked off. Another 15-20 minutes passed. The airplane hit turbulence and the backpack started to move out dangerously.

That's when I decided I needed to do something about it. I got up and talked to the gentleman in front of me and pointed him to the danger above. I asked the lady who had walked away after opening the bin door as to how she could sit quietly without doing anything about it. She answered that she had summoned the staff for help and they had assured her that they would close it. The gentleman summoned one of the cabin attendants by shouting out and he walked towards us. When we tried to explain to him the situation the attendant got angry. He was more concerned about the gentleman calling out for him rather than helping us out. When I told him that there was no other way for us to call an attendant since the controls were not working, he refused to accept any responsibility. He advised me to file an online complaint and there was nothing he could do about it.

I calmly told him I was not complaining about the electronic controls not working but complaining only about the bin that had become a safety issue for my kid and that I could not keep quiet anymore. The attendant started shouting at the top of his voice that they could not possibly come and close the bins and that we should be doing that ourselves. I said that the lady tried and could not do it. He said that was not their issue. He started shouting at the passenger in front saying he should not have called out for him. He banged the bin door close angrily as another person from the staff walked over to the passenger trying to calm the situation down.

I am completely flabbergasted with this approach. Leave alone an apology, we were dealt with like we were doing a mistake by talking out. Once again, not one person came to apologize or offer an explanation. I was just waiting for the flight to reach its destination. It did, but the nightmare did not stop.

In the immigration line, the office told me that I needed 3 forms, not 1. I had to get out of the line to take the forms and by the time I came back there was a huge line. Please imagine the state of my mind and body at that time. I had 2 very tired kids and here I was handed 1 form by the air hostess who knew completely well that I had 2 children traveling with me and chose to just hand me 1 form. Plain evil, I would say. After requesting a lady passenger to let me join at the front of the queue, I managed to get the immigration done. The lady was reluctant but looking at my state agreed. I owe her a thanks!

An unpleasant, unpleasant experience flying to my home country with its native air lines. I hope and pray that I never get to travel by Air India again. The worst air craft, no maintenance to speak of, horrendous service and extremely rude behavior.  Please stay out!

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