How Vistara Handled An Accident And Gained A Lifelong Customer

Airlines, Travel

A little more than a year back (Aug 17, 2016) I was traveling with my family, including my old parents, from Mumbai to Delhi on an afternoon Vistara flight (UK 944).

While boarding the flight from the aerobridge at Terminal 2 in Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, my mother, a near octogenarian, tripped on the 5-inch level difference between the aerobridge floor and the aircraft door

As she fell, she hit her head against a side panel inside the aircraft and got a nasty gash, about an inch long,  just over her left eyebrow. Within seconds, the gash started bleeding profusely.

Even as the flight crew waiting for the incoming passengers rushed to her aid, I was angry.

Angry at everyone.

Angry at the attendant accompanying my mother for not having prevented this. Angry at my father walking just behind my mother, for not having warned her of the impending level difference in the floor, which he himself would have missed too! Angry at the airlines, the airport, the designers of the aerobridge, India’s aviation industry, everyone. And also angry at myself for seeing my mother fall down just a few paces ahead of me, and not being able to prevent it.

And while I was coping with this *why us* moment, something else was happening simultaneously, and which is why I’m writing this, albeit a year later.

As soon as my mother fell, the cabin crew and the ground staff all rushed to her aid.

Someone brought tissues, someone ice, and some others lots of more tissues.

A crew member was holding my mother’s forehead, wiping the oozing blood. Another brought water for her to drink. Some others took charge of managing the rest of the passengers whose entry into the plane had been interrupted by this commotion.

Someone took her to the nearest business class seat. More water to drink, and some juice too. And a discussion ensued on how to handle her for the rest of the journey.

The bleeding eased up, nearly stopped, with at least one member of the crew cleaning her wound non-stop. However, they conferred that even though the bleeding had stopped, as it was a fresh open wound, it would start bleeding again when in flight due to the lower air pressure.  So the passenger was not fit to fly.

Now what?

They suggested that while the rest of the family should continue with the journey to Delhi, I should get off the flight with my mother so that she could be attended to, and that we would be put on the next flight to Delhi later that evening.

There was no other choice.

So mother and I made our way back out of the aerobridge, but this time she was on a wheelchair, and a member of the ground staff was holding her head and her hand all this while. The on-duty airport doctor was summoned to the head of the aerobridge itself, while the farther flanks of the aerobridge pulled back from the aircraft, which soon began its push back on the tarmac.

The doctor came and concluded that since the gash was fairly big, it definitely needed stitches, which would require a visit to a hospital. At this stage, in my mind, I’m shadow working out  logistics of the hospital trip.

Also at this point, I hear Pooja instruct Sunil, “You will take them to the Seven Hills Hospital in Andheri East.” Then I hear Pooja call up another colleague giving instructions on withdrawing some imprest cash. Then I hear her talking to another colleague on organizing tickets for our evening flight. All this while walking with us towards the exit.

Remember, this was not a normal arrival flow exit. Entries had to be made in the security registers, gates opened etc.

Soon we were in the pre-paid cab, that Sunil had hailed for us. He himself sat in the front seat, talking to my mother all this while, comforting her.

At the hospital, he ran from one wing to another finding out whether we should go to casualty or OPD.

At the casualty, mom goes through basic tests to assess any non-apparent damage, and gets half a dozen stitches under local anesthesia. The stitched-up wound is now hidden under fresh dressing.

Sunil meanwhile goes and gets water, juice and biscuits for mom and me.

While he’s gone, I try and settle the hospital bill. But before I could, Sunil is back and insists he will pay as he’s been instructed by Pooja to do so.

Work over at the hospital, Sunil now organizes a cab that takes us back to the airport.

At the airport it’s already evening, and as we arrive there’s Pooja and another staffer Tarun waiting outside for us.

We’re fast-tracked inside. Another of their colleagues hands over lounge passes for the two of us, so that mom can have a proper meal and rest before the flight.

We’ve been upgraded to business class, so that mom can pass the rest of the journey more comfortably. And right till we are settled in our aircraft seats, there’s someone from Vistara who’s constantly been with us.

And it just occurred to me then, that I hadn’t held my mother’s hand even once from the time she fell down earlier that day. I hadn’t been given an opportunity to do anything for my mother for the last few hours. It was one Vistara staffer or the other who’d been with mom all through. I was just walking along!

Sitting in the ample space of the business class seats, I realized how my anger of a few hours ago was long gone.

IMG_20160817_182642

I had witnessed a few hours of empathy laced human behaviour of the highest order. I was trying to count the number of times I thought these fine Vistara staffers didn’t really need to go beyond reasonable limits of their professional duty. But each time, they did!

Ironically, I also said to myself, we were fortunate that this happened in Vistara. What if this had happened in one of those airlines that prided themselves on ‘fastest aircraft turnaround times’. We would have been big liabilities for them, spoiling their single-minded pursuit of being ‘on time’.

Much of what I’m writing now, more than a year later, was etched forever in my mind in those few hours.

Back home, the rigour of daily lives took over, and life went on.

Until, one read of the recent few incidents involving passengers and airline staff, and memories of that one day rushed back.

And then a couple of weeks back when I was traveling Mumbai-Delhi (UK 996) with my dad, I saw Pooja at the airport again. I instinctively went up to her and thanked her profusely for that one day, and what she and her team had done.

Incidentally, when we landed in Delhi, I bumped into Tarun as well, and I went up to and thanked him too. He said he remembered that incident very well. He however had to excuse himself as he was getting frantic calls as a flight from Amritsar had been cancelled and he was helping handle the impact it had on affected passengers and their schedules. Yet another day for them to be playing unsung, unrecognized heroes.

In the intervening one year, Vistara has become my first choice as an airline, and I try to fly with them as far as possible.

As for my parents… They now travel Vistara ONLY.

I can’t trust any other airline with their well being. 

 

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June 2017: Mom and dad being helped by Vistara ground staff in Mumbai (UK 994)

 

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Go ogle Air: A cut above the rest

Airlines, Humour, Travel

Lest you get the wrong impression, I was in fact referring to the hemlines of the air hostesses’s skirts on Go Air! And what’s the desi touchstone for measuring that? The number of heads constantly dropping along the aisle!

Go Air has got one thing right to start with — a visually snazzy graphic style (which contrasts starkly with Air Deccan’s kindergarten-quality of graphics) and use of colours in the crew uniforms.

As far as other airline specific parameters are concerned — Go Air claims to have a 90-odd percent ontime record. (Granted, my flight took off on time) Also, drinking water is on the house.

In case you didn’t know who owns Go Air, you just have to look at the underbelly of the aircrafts — where, in glory reminiscent of swanky car-stickers in Delhi proclaiming ‘Malhotra’s’ or ‘Sunny’s’ — is emblazoned — Wadia’s! The family that owns Bombay Dyeing and one of whose scions is supposedly being dated by Preity Zinta!

Credentials established, you settle into your seat and reach out for the seat pocket in front of you. Expecting yet-another-inflight-magazine on the lines of Swagat of Indian Airlines, Jetwings of Jet Airways or Simplifly of Air Deccan, what you get is Gladrags! This ensures there are plenty of glad lads around!

While Air Deccan has given its own reasons for being able to offer tickets at lower prices, Go Air further cuts costs by providing copies of its family magazine (family owned, I mean), and that too an old dated issue. Well one argument could be that an ogle-mag has no time-stamp. Fortunately, what I get is the December 2005 issue — which means, it has the complete compilation of Miss January, Miss February all the way till Miss December. Sigh! Why are there only twelve months?

Flipping through Gladrags, I was a little conscious (apart from being cost-conscious, of course!), so could not spend more than a few seconds on a each page. Which means I had reached the back-cover (of the magazine, please) in as little as a few minutes.

Wanting to spend some time ‘reading’ typed text, the only option I had was to go through Letters to the Editor (Maureen Wadia, in case you didn’t know). And one of them was a master-piece (or should I say a master-two-piece) letter which went something like this:

Dear Editor,

Please give us…
<snip>
bikini… bikini…
<snip>
bikini… bikini…
<snip>
bikini… bikini
<snip>
Aishwarya Rai… Bipasha Basu…**
<snip>
bikini… bikini…

Yours sincerely,

(Of course, I snipped out the irrelevant words!)

Time to reach for the seat pocket of the next seat, and another issue of Gladrags…

 

** From the promos it seems Dhoom-2 or D:2 is addressing this issue :)

Air Deccan: low cost tickets and simp libidos

Airlines, Travel

Between my wife and I, we have had to travel a lot by Air Deccan recently. The most recent being last Sunday.

There are two reasons for this, and both customer-friendly ones:
1.) Best prices (all the hyped competition notwithstanding)
2.) Easy internet booking

However, where they falter in customer-friendliness is in their communication strategy with passengers. That too not due to a lack of effort, but their going overboard with it!

Sample this (and this works like a template, with just the variables of time and flight changing): If the flight is at 6:05 PM, they send you an SMS during the day, saying the flight has been rescheduled for 5:45 PM. Even though it seems like adequate notice, there could be passengers who have compulsions on their time, and cannot advance their schedules. And I have been receiving 3 such messages per flight, followed by a call from their Bangalore call centre.

But fear not! Air Deccan does exactly what Emirates airlines does in its ‘last and final boarding call’ announcements — put the fear of missing-a-flight-God into passengers’ minds! At best, the flights leave on their original scheduled time, if not later.

Talking of low costs, Air Deccan explains in detail in its in-flight magazine — ‘Simplifly’ (nice pun) — how it manages to bring the costs down.

Cut operating costs

  • Landing fees being lesser for smaller aircrafts
  • Reduce turnaround time from 55 minutes for most other airlines to 20-40 minutes for Air Deccan
  • Lower in-flight costs (snacks, coffee, soft drinks, juices, meal)

Cut administrative costs

  • No swank offices, fancy airport lounges, frequent flyer clubs, reduced cabin crew, “pretty lasses hired only to smile” (Now contrast this with “flying models” that Kingfisher asks for in its job ads!)

Cut distribution costs

  • Ticketing done through the Internet, so fewer ticketing offices, fewer salaries, fewer bills
  • Passengers take their own print-outs instead of 6 page printed tickets (“full of information you’re never going to read”)
  • Online payments reduce payment options like GDS

Cut fare classes and complicated accounting procedures

  • Leaner accounting and auditing procedures
  • Air Deccan Airbuses seat 180 passengers against 150 on other airlines

Cut unused space on aircrafts

  • “Every space not occupied by a passenger has been thrown open to interested advertisers” (Well if you can have brand placements in films, why not in aircrafts?)

And then tongue-in-cheek they say “…you know enough to start your own low cost airline…” (Sure, with Captain Gopinath being the investor, eh?)

In case this has caught your fancy, you may read a few more related stories [here] and [here].

 

Otherwise continue reading for something more interesting…

Air Deccan has introduced a scheme called ‘Simplibid‘, where passengers get to bid for certain goods at prices lower than their retail prices.

This is something that Sahara Airlines had introduced in its better days under the mandate of Sahara’s ‘social activities’ — as the proceeds of the bids were given to charity, we were told. Apparently that had also won some in-flight innovation award.

I had once got a wonderful deal in one such bid. A three-year subscription to Indian Auto magazine at a bid price of Rs. 60, when the starting bid price was Rs. 50! Actually it was a combination of fewer passengers and some tactical bidding (bid in a category where you expect least people would be interested) that saw me get that.

However I found it a little ironical that Air Deccan should have a scheme like this. For in an airline for the cost-conscious — such a bid programme assumes passengers would have a certain on-the-spot disposable income. Isn’t that a contradiction of sorts?

So among various categories available, I bid Rs. 920 for a 512MB pen-drive (starting bid Rs. 890), Rs. 1510 for Reebok shoes (starting bid Rs. 1490), Rs. 1610 for a Swatch watch (starting bid Rs. 1590).

And guess what — I won all!

Was I the richest guy in the flight?!!

Sadly, what I finally took was limited by the Rs. 2500 I had in my pocket :(

Note:
Tell me what catches your eye first when you see this: simplibid offer

simpli bid offer
simp libido ffer

?

I kept on seeing the latter!

 

Emirates has high rates; but rates low

Airlines, Travel

I along with my colleagues travelled to London earlier this year by Emirates airlines; which being one of the costliest airlines, there was an expectation that the ‘price-as-a-surrogate-for-quality’ dictum would hold true.

At the airports
Emirates has no direct flight to London from India. That is understandable. There is a stopover at Dubai. That is understandable. The flight from Chennai is delayed by about 3 hours. Given, hectic airline schedules, that is understandable. But why they must subject their passengers transiting from Chennai-Dubai flight to Dubai-London flight to mental agony is not understandable!

This agony stems from a few things.

First, the distance between the terminal where the flight from Chennai arrives, to the terminal where the flight to London takes-off is phenomenal. It is certainly cruel to expect people to lug their hand-luggage and walk over such a large distance. All right, they have provided horizontal conveyor belts intermittently to ease your trudge a little, but that’s about it. It still takes around 10+ minutes to cover the distance.

Second, the flight announcements are a cruel joke to further compound the agony of your walking the distance mentioned above. Imagine this: You have just cleared a stringent security check — that involved having to remove your shoes, belts, wallets etc. — and are collecting your hand luggage, tying your shoe-laces and fastening your belts, when you hear the announcement, “This is the last and final call for passengers travelling to London on Emirates flight no. <blah> to proceed for boarding from Gate no. <blah>.”

You know your incoming flight is late, so you panic a little and start running for the boarding gate. By the way, at this point you don’t know the extent of distance you have to run, so you keep running regardless — hand luggage in tow! And when you do reach your designated departure lounge, what do you discover? You are the first person to arrive there and others, including the staff, start arriving a little later. And after some time there is another announcement on the public address system, “This is the last and final call for passengers travelling to London on Emirates flight no. <blah> to proceed for boarding from Gate no. <blah>.”

And you feel so stupid at having been taken for a royal ride! Now run this in your mind again: You have just arrived, gone through the security-check, heard the “last and final boarding call” announcement, run non-stop with your hand luggage for 10+ minutes, with palpitation in your heart — as much from physical stress as from the mental stress caused by the irresponsible announcement! (On our way back, we discovered that this is their standard operating procedure for making announcements. This “…last and final call…” is actually the first announcement!)

When we finally reached London Heathrow Airport, we discovered that our luggage had not been loaded onto this flight at Dubai. So we had to wait another couple of hours before it arrived by another flight coming from the Gulf. The fact that it did arrive at all, was a small mercy.

On our way back we stopped over at Dubai for a day of shopping, even though the Dubai Shopping Festival had been cancelled due to the death of the ruling Sheikh. So one would normally expect the airline to be understanding of the size of people’s baggage heading out of Dubai and to keep realistic limits. But no! Emirates, which we were told has an arrangement with the Dubai tourism authorities, would not let us carry our extra luggage without paying a steep charge. And trust me, my shopping wasn’t over-the-top, with the largest item being a music system!

Inside the aircraft
Once inside you are surely overawed by its size. It has 10 (3+4+3) seats in a row. The video screen in front of you has a wonderful touch-screen interactive menu, that gives you information (news from BBC), video-on-demand (from wide-range of movies, television serials, sports programmes, music) and some communication facilities too (fax). But I was most impressed with two other channels — the camera in front of the aircraft (that gives you a breathtaking view of the runway while taking-off and landing) and the camera below the aircraft (that gives you a Google Earth kind of live view of the area below).

However, this joy was short-lived. Out of the to and fro total 20+ hours of journey between Chennai and London, this video facility was available only the 3 hours between Chennai and Dubai. For the longer Dubai-London/London-Dubai flights, one had to do with a primitive canned 6-7 channel fare. Having set expectations with the video-on-demand experience in the Chennai-Dubai leg, this was a big let-down!

The seats predictably are cramped for space. And to further compound my discomfort, I had some equipment box embedded under my seat, which cut down by half the space in which I could maneouvre my feet. As it is, ever since I read about Steve Waugh** having ‘Deep Vein Thrombosis’ — also popularly known as ‘Economy Class Syndrome’ — I was paranoid about constantly exercising my lower legs and feet to maintain blood circulation. And then this!

Another thing that struck me was the multi-cultural gaggle of air hostesses. Perhaps this is a common feature in long-haul international flights in this sector. However, I perceived some cultural bias — which could entirely have been a figment of my imagination.

But when I had to miss the audio in the last 10 minutes of Finding Nemo, because a stern-talking air-hostess took the head-phones back thirty minutes before landing, I did feel a little less cared for. After all, Finding Nemo is such a wonderful film; the least the air-hostess could have done was let me finish watching it!

On the other hand, my boss, who took the newly introduced Jet Airways non-stop flight to London, was treated like one of their own by the crew, not to mention the flying miles he gathered as well!

** And I still can’t believe Steve Waugh travelled economy class!

 

Update:
Turns out I am not the only one to have such bad experiences with Emirates. A lot of other travellers have had similar experiences. Read them here.

Looks surreal, but is for real. Rang De Ba Sint (Maarten)

Airlines, Humour, Travel

Came across this video a little while back — aeroplanes landing at the Princess Juliana Airport, Sint Maarten, in the Caribbean.

Some more interesting info about this airport by the beach at the official website here and Wikipedia here.
But perhaps the best consolidated resource of landing/take-off videos from this airport can be seen at the 10 daily things blog here.

And you thought after Rang De Basanti that men flinging their shirts at the sight of a jet on its runway was machismo embodied…  One of the videos in the link above will perhaps give you the female equivalent of the same phenomenon — remember it’s a tourist beach. So what would you call it — Rang De Veeru? :-p