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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

SpiceJet style of management of a situation: forgetting to load baggage

Happened to travel by Spice Jet aircraft from Benaras to Chennai yesterday evening. Their website (and other websites through which they issue tickets) permits you to book a ticket from Benaras to Chennai, consisting of two flights, Benaras to Delhi (leaving Benaras at 4.05 and arriving Delhi at 5.35) and Delhi to Chennai (leaving Delhi at 7 and arriving at Chennai by 9.45).

Yesterday (saturday 10th Oct, 2009), the Benaras flight got delayed by over an hour to reach Delhi, and the airline rushed its connecting flight passengers from one aircraft to another in the parking bays. In such a rush, some one forgot to load the check-in luggage into the Chennai bound aircraft resulting in 19 passengers reaching Chennai (by 9.45 pm, the pilot making time despite leaving Delhi 20 mins later than scheduled) to find that their luggage hadn't accompanied them!
This can be accepted as one possible risks in air travelling. However, what we had to suffer in Chennai airport in the management of the situation was unexpected from a professional airline agency.  

Ms. L sauntered towards few of us, a good 5 minutes after the last of the luggage had been taken away, while the small crowd around the luggage belt was wondering why our luggage didn't turn up. She enquired whether we had come from Benaras and informed us that our luggage didn't make it to the flight in Delhi and if we can wait till 1 in the night, it will arrive in by the next flight from Delhi. This is the first we hear of this situation. There was no sense of apology from the staff in the airport for the mistake.

The passengers consisted of a group of Doctors returning from Benaras after attending a conference, one of whom, had been ill through the Delhi-Chennai journey and needed medical attention. The Doctors demanded that the airline do better than ask people to wait. So, Ms.L produced a large book of 'Baggage Irregularity Report' (the name must have been conjured by a brilliant lawyer from the airline corporate sector) and asks us to fill-up so that she can send the luggage to us next morning. Then she queried, 'you are from the same group? can I send the luggage to one of you and the rest can pick it up from that person?'!. It looked like she was just reluctant to fill in so many forms, her own pre-occupation rather than being sensitive to passengers seemed to guide her action.

Now walks in the other executive, Mr. M, young, strong and chewing gum. He talks to the other group, senior citizen returning from a pilgrimage to Benaras. He too takes down all their addresses and phone numbers in the register (most of them over 60, they leave more out of tiredness than of any hope and comment 'we hope that the Ganges water arrives safe' as they leave) and generally maintains that everyone can go home and their luggage will be delivered at their houses next morning. This till he encountered the young doctor from Tirupathi! 'Tirupathi, we can't send Sir, you will have to stay and collect your luggage', says M. When the Doctor asks him whether the airline will provide him with any facility, M is rather silent. When the Doctor said that he would probably not find a bus at 2 in the night and 10 is more easier, Mr. M maintains that he cannot help. Later he talks to a taxi driver to drop the doctor at the bus stand (the Doctor has to pick up the charges of course). He didn't seem to understand what he could commit.

The young doctor and myself decide to wait for the baggage as one by one all the others depart in tiredness. When I enquire the staff (consisting of M alone now with Ms. L leaving us to attend to other issues), whether we can go out to catch some dinner and return, M informs that there is a important T20 match on and we can sit and watch that in the waiting area!!! When I insist that we need to eat some dinner, he takes us to the 'Chariot' restaurant and leaves us there saying we can have anything we want on the airline, but, it should be less than Rs. 50/- per person. Both the Doctor and myself refuse such a generous offer, considering that the menu card only had coffee and tea less than Rs. 50/-!! The airlines' ceiling for hospitality in such circumstances seems impractical.
Coming back in half an hour to take us through the security M does the funniest thing of the night. He takes us to one gate, and walks right in, while we trail behind. When we are stopped by the security personnel, he walks back as though in an after thought and informs the security personnel about our lost baggage status...when we are refused entry, he says, 'we will go through another enact the drama twice more before we are allowed inside. By now both the Doctor and myself are fuming in being humiliated thus and request M whether he has any higher authorities to whom we can talk, 'no sir, we are doing what we can do', says the young man. He simply didn't know whom to talk in the security set-up to facilitate our movements during the 4 hour wait.

The flight with our luggage came eventually from pune (not from Delhi as they had informed us earlier). 'We will reach you your baggage Sir', he disappears eventually. We take no chances and at 1.40 am, walk to the baggage belt and locate and pick up our baggages. Now, Mr. M comes to us and demands that we hand over the original of the Baggage Irregularity Report that we had given earlier in the night. When I refuse and seek a copy, he scribbles that 'I have received the baggage in full and good condition' and wants us to sign beneath that. When I ask him why does he want us to sign under his words, he replies that this is how the report has to be closed!! When I write a few sentences of my own and insist that I be given a copy, he does the same with utmost reluctance. The airline does not want to have any evidence of its act with the passengers by the look of it.

When I eventually leave by 2, the Doctor from Tirupathi was still trying to figure out how to reach home and was negotiating for a taxi all the way back because he would not get another bus till early morning hours and another couple of hours would mean further delay for him!

Spice Jet lost a few clients that evening not because they messed up the baggage, but, only because their ground staff were not adequately prepared or sensitive to handle such a situation.

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