Thursday, June 10, 2010

THE TRUE MAHARAJA

The national carrier is fighting a lost battle...

A few days back, I was scheduled to take an Air India flight from Cochin to Mumbai. When I reached the boarding counter, half an hour was left for the flight to depart, and to my pleasant surprise and quite contrary to what I thought; I found that the boarding bay was empty without a single passenger. As I passed my ticket with my id proof to the person at the boarding counter, he informed me that the flight was delayed by an hour. I immediately understood the reason for such peace at the airport at that hour. One hour passed by and there was no announcement and I could sense restlessness around amongst the fellow passengers, who were scheduled to take the same flight. In fact, our flight was scheduled to depart at 8.15pm and it was almost two hours that there was no one in sight to give us any idea of what was happening. Finally at around 11.30pm, one Indian airlines staff came and from a distance I could see him quite animated in his discussion, making an attempt to pacify the visibly annoyed passengers, who were flocking him to enquire about the whereabouts of the flight. I was also eager to know the same, as I had to take a connecting flight from Mumbai to Bhopal at 5.55am. So with lot of anticipation, I approached the Indian Airlines staffer, only to realise that he does not have any idea, except for the fact that the flight cannot take off till the time the Indian Airlines engineer gives a go ahead. And it seems the engineer is nowhere to be seen. Not just the engineer, no one that this guy, Thoufiq, tried to reach over the phone, was reachable. It was then we realised that Indian Airlines staff has gone on strike.

I was keenly hearing the comments from the agitated passengers who were thrown like a salvo on this poor soul, who most defiantly kept the spirit of the grounded flight high. Amongst other allegations, the most common that was hurled upon, was the comparison with other private airliners. So, if someone shot at him saying that there was no refreshments that was served for the past three and a half hours, the other yelled at him stating that unlike private airliners no one bothered to even announce the delay and the reasons for it. Few out there swore that this is their last flight by the national carrier ever!! It was finally at 12.20am that the gates were thrown open to the agitated passengers to board the flight.

All this while, there was this series of thought that was going on in my mind, simultaneously. First, was the fact that if aviation is all about service, how come our national carrier is systematically killing itself, by doing everything possible to go out of business. It was later that I realised that it was not just me, but 12999 more passengers who have been going through a similar ordeal across the country, on account of the strike. I was fortunate that the flight finally took of, but others were not so lucky, as some 130 flights got cancelled, adding a net loss of Rs 10 crores to the carrier. Secondly, if the strike was indicative of a war to stop the privatization of the national carrier, then, it is already a lost war! If the passengers that day were any representative of the national passenger base, then the national carrier has already lost its battle against its private counterparts!! And lastly, amongst all this, I felt that all is not lost - there is still a glimmer of hope for our carrier, provided every staffer of Indian Airlines were like Thoufiq, who patiently and smilingly kept on addressing every agitated passenger, till they boarded safely. If not for anything else, if there were any like me who would still travel the national carrier, even after this ordeal, it is because of him - a true Maharaja indeed!

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