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Friday, 15 June 2012

33. TRAVELLING AIR INDIA

The cost of air ticket from New Delhi to Cedar Rapids by Air India was not the cheapest option but I still decided to buy it because this was the only airline which had a direct non-stop flight to Chicago. I logged on to www.expedia.co.in and booked the flight for our ensuing visit to USA. Aisle seats selected after carefully going through the layout of the carrier on www.seatguru.com, payment made by credit card and print out of the itinerary taken, I even verified the details from the Air India site and took the printout of the e-ticket. Now I was armed with all the details, ie, the e-ticket number, PNR number and the web reference number. Hurrah, I am now all set to go to USA, I thought.

AIR INDIA PILOTS STRIKE WORK: A few months passed and as the date of departure was approaching, Air India pilots went on strike. I did not bother. They are used to going on strike at the drop of a hat and this being their fifth strike during the year will also pass off in a few days, I consoled myself. Days passed and so did weeks, but there were no signs of the strike being called off.

CANCELLATION OF TICKETS COSTS TOO MUCH: I considered cancelling my ticket and buying a fresh one from another airline but I was told that Air India has not cancelled its flight and will, therefore,  charge Rs. 10,000 per ticket as cancellation charges if a passenger cancels it. Moreover, the cost of the ticket in other airlines had already gone up now as the date of travel was just about a week ahead. I had no choice but to stick to Air India like an old faithful.

INABILITY OF AIR-INDIA TO SEND E-MAIL: A week ahead of the scheduled departure, I managed to get the toll-free number of Air India and miraculously managed to talk to a Customer Care Representative too.
“Is the flight to Chicago going as scheduled?” I asked her.
“Yes, it is going but it has been clubbed with flight no. AI XXX and will now stopover in Frankfurt for two hours”, she informed.
“In that case, it will reach Chicago  two hours later and even if it is not late, I may not be able to catch my next flight as emigration formalities will take place in Chicago and I will have to take delivery of my luggage and redeposit it,” I was alarmed.
“Please hold the line,” the Customer Care Executive put me on hold subjecting me to non-stop music for the next 15 minutes.
After fifteen minutes which felt like more than an hour, she got back and announced, “I have changed your flight from Chicago to Cedar Rapids. Now instead of 11.30am flight you are now booked for 14.45 hrs flight. Is that alright?”
“Ok. That sounds good. Can you now send me a fresh ticket by e-mail, please?” I asked.
“No. But that is not possible and why do you need it?”
“Surely, for showing on the counter at Chicago,” I said.
“No. That’s not required. You just go there and they will do the needful. You don’t require any paper ticket,” she was absolutely firm.
I still insisted, “What will I do there at Chicago Airport if they do not listen to me?”
“I don’t have the facility to send you any e-ticket,” and she hung up the phone.
A few hours later, I decided to check on the web-site of United Airlines the particulars of my new travel schedule and to my great satisfaction, our names were appearing there. “God bless her,” I muttered under the breath and took the print-out of the new ticket also. Needless to say, I was mighty pleased with my achievement.

MANIPULATION OF WEB CHECKED IN SEATS:  On the designated date, when we reached the Air India counter and Ms Monika Singh, the Assistant issued us the Boarding passes, I was astonished to see the seat numbers as 44G & 44H. But I have already web-checked in and my numbers are 20 E & 20F. Ms Monika Singh would not listen. According to her, the seat had already been given to one Mr Bhandari. “The web check-in is only a suggestive process and it does not ensure that you will get that seat only,” she tried to explain but I refused to accept this logic. I also refused to accept seats in row number 44 as it is very close to the lavatories. When I demanded to see the Supervisor and there was none over there, she agreed to change my seats to row no 13. Although this row has Baby bassinets, I agreed to take these under protest preferring babies cries over foul smells of the lavatories. Anyway, what options did I have?

ISSUE OF WRONG BOARDING CARDS: Soon after leaving the counter, we realised that one of the Boarding Cards had been issued in the name of one Jaikri Bhandari and not in my husband’s name. Oh my God, we again rushed to the counter to obtain a fresh Boarding pass.

CHANGE IN THE TIME OF DEPARTURE WITHOUT NOTICE: The aircraft was scheduled to take off at 1.05am but everywhere it showed ETD as 2pm and finally it took off at 2.45pm. These are small issues and should not be allowed to spoil my mood, I told myself. In the aircraft, I located the irritant Mr Bhandari who had a fixed sly smile on his face all through. During the flight, I kept wondering who he was and why was he given such a preferential treatment.

AIR INDIA’S INEFFICIENCY FOLLOWS ME TO CHICAGO TOO: Embroiled in my thoughts, soon we reached Frankfurt and then Chicago. Immigration process over, luggage collected and re-deposited for Cedar Rapids, we stood in front of the United Airlines counter to collect our Boarding card. And a new tale of woes started here.
“What is your ticket number?” the girl on the counter demanded.
I gave her the e-ticket no, the web reference no, the PNR no., but she became more and terse. “What is your ticket number? I don’t have any booking for you,” she was rude to say the least.
“But I have booked on this airline only”, I was panicky and cursed the Air India Call Centre girl under my breath.
“What do I do now?” I tried to be as polite as possible.
“Go back to Air India…Next please!” she simply dismissed me.
I looked around for the Air India counter and approached them with the problem. She looked around, tapped some keys on her computer and gave me a printout containing the Ticket number, encircled it for the convenience of all and handed it over to me explaining that Air India in Delhi had not carried out all the changes while changing the flights on phone.
I rushed back to United Airlines counter who finally gave me the boarding pass. “Thank God!” I said and grabbed the cards.

AIR INDIA STILL STINGS: Once again at the UA boarding point, as the girl on the entry point swiped the boarding pass, her computer made one shrieking sound and she asked us to fall out of the queue. Later, after all the passengers had boarded the aircraft, she shouted brusquely, “Who sent you here? You are not on our list of passengers.” It was time for me to lose my cool now. I almost barked back at her, “What do you mean, who sent me here? I have a valid ticket and I am a valid passenger. Here! Look at it. How would I have got the Boarding pass if I didn’t have the ticket?” She looked at me defiantly, but I stared back and then she blinked and started tapping on her computer keys, did some jugglery here and there and gave me clearance to go in and board the plane. In the melee’, she forgot to give me the card for carrying the hand-baggage in the aircraft.
Once again, as we approached the entrance to the plane, the attendant started asking for the ticket, “Where is the ticket? You don’t have the ticket.” I was getting exasperated now. “Now, which ticket?” I said. We were the last passengers with real fears that we may not be able to board the plane. At this time, the beautiful air-hostess of United Airlines, waved her hand like a magic wand at the porter and beckoned us to walk in with a smile.

Hers was the sweetest smile I had ever seen during my entire journey from New Delhi to Cedar Rapids. Somebody has rightly said, all is well that ends well.(Based on real life experience)

For my TRAVELOGUES, please visit my dedicated blog on travels http://globalhindustani.blogspot.in
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