Changing redundancies…

We live in a world where redundancies are far too many and far too quick.

Last night, I was at the Mumbai airport, ready to catch a flight to New York, and I was reminded of my first trip to US back in 2004. Back then, I had taken a flight from Delhi. I did not have an iPOD then, I did have a cellphone which I used fairly sparingly. I  had borrowed a Discman from Moron with a few MP3 CDs adding to the weight of my bag.

Back then, people used to reach the airport 3 hours before the flight departure and there used to be chaos reigning everywhere. Now, even 2 hours gives you a 30-45 minute wait at the airport.

Anyway, back then, I had no idea how to kill my time, because Dad had ensured that I don’t have to go through the usual immigration queues. I was on the other side in about 15 minutes flat, and I was left with about 2 hours to kill.

Back then, I spent 2 hours just looking at people around me. I tried reading a book. I was a voracious reader back then. But my idea of enjoying a book is not sitting in a large hall where every minute someone is making an announcement about some flight leaving, and some boarding happening, and someone having lost his mobile phone. Back then, there weren’t too many people listening to pods or talking to girlfriends. In fact, those who hogged that solitary free phone (for local calls) talking to their girlfriends or their entire clan (yeah, the time required for both might actually be the same) invited hateful glances from those waiting in the queue. Back then, there were a lot of people like me. Looking around at faces. Eager to strike a conversation. Back then, there were laptops, but wi-fi was not the in-thing. Back then, Air India had television screens dropping from the plane ceiling showing movies that Indians and foreigners took turns at not being able to understand. People with nice CD players were given envious looks. People carried 2-3 books. And a whole lot of people looked bored. Dead bored.

Last night, I just noticed that things were different. People had cellphone, IPods, PSPs, and laptops with wi-fi connections keeping them busy. But these are gadgets that kept them busy while they were at the airport. Once you are inside the flight, the interactive TV takes over. There are 20-odd movies and several TV serials and music videos to choose from. Suddenly, the pod becomes redundant. The laptop is not needed unless you have some work that needs attention. Discman is history. Every seat has its own console. You can play some games too. These days, there are less people looking bored. Even on flights that keep you meaninglessly engaged for 16 hours at a go.  There are television screens with beaming newsreaders, several coffee and snack joints. There is free internet from Airtel for wifi enabled laptops. There aer sophisticated blackberries that people use to check their emails. There are English speaking Indians at the airport, a greater queue at the duty free, and a different kind of chaos. 80% of the young travelers have some variant of an iPod.

However, everything has a short-lived utility. Even relationships.

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In Conversation with Amit, In-flight Executive, Jet Airways

(These are my notes from my conversation with Amit, In-Flight Executive of Jet Airways en route from London to Mumbai, – August 29, 2007)

Amit has been working with Jet for about 3 years now. He started working in the domestic sector first, and then took up the international flights about an year back.

He was a part of the cabin crew initially, and is now an in-flight executive. Critical difference, I figured, was in the level of responsibilities. IFEs lead flights. Amit, here, was responsible for handling the entire Economy class of passengers (my guess is that this responsibility can be a handful).

Choice of Career – Amit mentioned that he was keen on being a part of the hospitality sector pretty much from the beginning itself. Entered the line of Hotel Management from Bandra itself (after his Class XIIth), he was a chef (4th in line from the head chef) at JW Marriott. A lot of people in the hotels do realize after a while the slowness in growth. I know it because my own cousin quit JW Marriott to join a cruise where the growth, excitement, money- everything is higher. Back to Amit – his view is that in the hospitality industry, airlines is where the highest growth is. Net net- he took up this job, and is probably one of the younger IFEs at Jet Airways.

About alternatives to being a IFE/Cabin Crew Member – Mentioned that there are a lot of alternative careers available if you decide to quit this amount of flying. People take specialized courses once in a while in areas such as HR, marketing, etc and move to specialized roles. He mentioned examples of people moving not only into Airlines, but mainline IT firms as well. His point of view is that the experience of handling a flight and the number of people that we interact with is so high, that it gears them up for handling a lot of stressful people situations as well. Even otherwise, when these guys are not flying, they are involved in a lot of training etc.

About the traveling – Amit mentioned that the travel is not so harassing as it seems simply because they get comfortable breaks between flights unlike us corporate travellers, where the travel part is just the begining of the pain. They dont have to carry any work home. Pang of jealosy, I did feel! 😉

On asking him about the places he had been to, he mentioned that all the sectors where Jet is flying right now, he has had a chance to go – Toronto, NY, London, Brussels, Singapore, etc. Jet is starting a UAE sector as well. However, he mentioned that after a while the amount of traveling you do within the location goes down – Same location every time, how much can you spend, are the kind of questions you ask yourself.

About Jet’s performance –

Jet is apparently strongly emerging as a strong competitor to many airlines, as evidenced by the Singapore Airlines comment where the opening line mentioned Jet explicitly as the biggest threat. Now, we all know that Singapore Airlines is considered to be one of the best airlines in the business.

He was all praises for the new crafts Jet has introduced, in terms of comfort, ambience, the shades used, etc. He insisted that those flights give you less of the tardy feeling of having been aboard a flight for so many hours. He encourages you all to try them at least once.

Another passenger onboard who is part of the international marketing team for Hiranandani Builders was all praises for the marketing efforts of Jet. Cited the case of a recent marketing event in Toronto where Jet had invited about 500 prominent people from business and Economics kinda areas and gave them an experience of the new crafts by even having seats/layouts the way it would be on the flights.

About important people on flights –

Interesting tidbits here. It came out during our conversations around how Jet is becoming a preferred airline on many circuits and is giving tough competition to mature players. The flight I had taken had Juhi Chawla on board (now I know that she isn’t that big a celebrity anymore, but that does not mean that she is pretty and famous and all that and all that and things like that). He mentioned that because you have to handle so many other activities for these important travelers (like film stars, politicians, cricket players, etc.) you automatically start understanding their travel habits, etc. And if they are frequent travelers, they also start recognizing faces and people who are taking care of their travel needs. Net result, it becomes something far more valuable than just a traveler-facilitator relationship. Interesting, isn’t it? I have seen people bragging about knowing important people so many times. But its quite interesting that for them, usually, a business class is about important people and they end up meeting/knowing a lot of interesting people, and probably the high and drama of meeting them tapers off after a while.

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Now, you might be wondering after reading this long post whether I am advertising Jet Airways, or the career of an in-flight executive. Neither. I just find it very interesting to understand people from different walks of life. Being on a flight with fewer passengers just helps get a chance to interact more. Its like having a conversation with the Mumbai cabbie about how he makes his living, the auto driver about his expensive music system when he is saving every penny for survival, or the musician or advertising professional who discovers his creative penchant very late in life.

Air Deccan Chronicles!

Air Deccan – a flight that is often very heatedly debated by all common people like me, you and the dog named boo. Every time I visualize the experience of taking an AD flight, its chaos on the left, chaos on the right, and more often than not, a mayhem in the center.

Air Deccan – Couple of Weeks Back

For the umpteenth time, I swore that I would not take an Air Deccan flight and for the umpteenth time, I took another AD flight. Funny, the initials match. AD giving a hard time to AD.

It starts off with their website, which in times not so far in the distant past, would crash the moment they announced discounted fares. I know of zealous people waking up at 5 in the morning and trying to log on to the AD website (Another coincidence – my previous blogger site had the word – zealots). And yours truly has also been guilty of this. Maybe not 5 in the morning, but definitely 2 in the night. Logging on to the site is like penetrating the defences of Rahul Dravid at the peak of his career. Its as fatal as trusting a depleted Newcastle team to win the EPL. You can hope, but you can not hope to see your coming true.

The second stage – After a lot of typing and clicking you reach the stage of authorizing payments. There is a significant chance that something will go wrong here. The payment would not get authenticated, or maybe, worse still, the payment will get lost somewhere in transit. The bank would have paid, AD would have gotten the payment, but they would not have realized that they have got the payment. You don’t have a ticket. Bank is happy. You are using your credit card. AD is happy. They have the money. They have an extra seat in their flight. (Not that they need a reason to overbook on their flights, I hear). Show me a better example of a greater social good at your expense.

Stage 3 – the traveling experience. You enter the airport. Shoddy baggage screening counters. Security checks that can be violated through at least ten different chains in a check-in baggage that are left just like that, between the time you get your baggage screened and leave it at the check-in counter. Counters – unmanaged. The processing time for each traveler is too high. Some people tell me that even that is by design. God forbid, if you ever run into a problem, there are chances that by the time you get to meet the manager and get your problem resolved, the flight would already have taken off.

You are finally issued a frail thin boarding pass which does not have a seat number.

Now comes the counter from where boarding passes are screened and flight boarding is announced. The moment a flight’s departure is announced, you can see all AD travelers scampering for being first in the queue. Reminds me of the rush in a national food scheme. In the end, everyone gets a decent enough seat. But the old economy culture of putting a rumal (handkerchief) from the window of a bus and then claiming that the seat is yours just because you put your rumal or gamcha (towel) there, is a sight to behold. Funny anecdote – in the first few flights of AD, couple of sophisticated people ambling into the craft at the end did not get any seats and had to sit on stools/chairs for the duration of the flight holding on to the aisle seats to avoid toppling over.

And finally, at the luggage belt, AD usually has luggage from 3-4 flights coming on the same belt, causing a huge commotion, and yet again, longer wait times.

 

A lot of this changed in my most recent experience with AD, this morning.

 

Air Deccan – Yesterday.

It was quite an intriguing thing. Air Deccan has started issuing seat numbers… Finally! And the dude on the counter was talking pleasantly. For a change! And the flight was a far more pleasant experience. There will still be a few of those who want to run and be the first one to get their boarding card checked (the flight won’t leave any sooner dude!), get on the bus (ditto), get down from the bus (more ditto), run to the stairs for getting on the flight (whats more than more? ditto), and repeat the drill the other way to reach the luggage belt (hmph!). Reminds of the line from Katha Collage – II, where the protagonist pehelwan mentions that the nation might have benefited a little more if these people were to invest their adrenalin rushes on something more productive!
How I love it when their luggage comes last! (some sadistic pleasure!!)

Anyway – a lot of other pleasant things about this Air Deccan flight (I am just trying to correct myself, because I don’t let go of any opportunity to do Air Deccan bashing either). It left 5 minutes before time. They had mentioned flight time as 5:45AM, boarding time as 5:25AM (all the flights have that). But having had all the passengers come on time, they decided to let the flight take air sooner. We reached Mumbai about 10 minutes before time. And on a pleasant morning in Mumbai, I was home by 8AM. Nice!

If only they are able to maintain this experience consistently.

 

A Thoughtful Musing – The womb of humanity carries not the foundation of tomorrow, but also the ruins of the past. Its either the conformation to the ruins or a rebellion against the disaster that shapes the future, much against what many would have you believe- individual brilliance

Theft from Check-in Baggage – How much worse can it get?

An experience that I would want all readers to take a note of –

Person X took an Air Sahara flight from Delhi to Bangalore. Of the checked-in bags, one had a pouch which contained a couple of gold earrings, and other such items. Landed in Bangalore, took the luggage home, realized it a few hours later that the earrings and several other (expensive looking) items were gone. Stolen in transit. Stolen! Between the time she checked the bag in and the time she got it back

She decided to write an application to Air Sahara, with a copy to Airport Authorities –

1. Air Sahara officials – Its the passenger’s responsibility to declare all items of note in the checked in baggage. So, where do you tell the guys about this? Is there a  form? No! Passengers are supposed to know all this. We don’t have any displayed information on this anywhere. But the baggage was in your custody? A lot of people handle the baggage. We are not responsible for anyone’s baggage and the contents. Well.. who is responsible in that case? The passengers are responsible! See. You are wasting your time. Nothing is going to happen. we cannot do anything. 

2. Airport Authority –  Well.. its the airline’s responsibility. We cannot do anything about it. And (hush hush) you won’t get anything back unless some big police guy is talking on your behalf. These airlines people would not do anything. 

 Anyway, frustrated she submitted a complaint (in their format, because they don’t accept free flowing texts of insinuation written by some street side moron) and got an acknowledgement.

 

Duh! Not gonna help I tell ya!

Questions in my mind –
1. If you take my baggage away from me, and very  un-subtly  put a plastic strap lock/sticker  on it to mark the bag as security checked -ready to go, why is it not your responsibility if something is stolen? How do I keep an eye on my bag from that point on?

2. Who are you to decide what a precious thing is. A simple notebook/diary can be extremely precious. How do I attach a monetary value to it? Hence, how do I declare it before flying?

3. If you are not responsible for anything, why don’t you keep the declaration forms handy? Just as an aside, I know of people who had extremely precious zippo lighters taken away from them at the airport (because, of course, you cannot carry it with you in the craft), and not returned at the next airport, very conveniently, because airlines are not responsible for any goddamn thing!

4. For me, my vests and underwears can be as precious as the Armani shirt, or the Versace trouser, or the gold earring. In fact, a gold earring can be a few thousand bucks, and so is a trouser. Do you really want me to declare the number of shirts and trousers in my bad every time I travel with you?

5. Even if you are not in position to recover the articles stolen, can you still look into the credibility of the staff you have hired? Or, is it a norm for airlines to have thieves in their ground staff ?

6. If it is not the responsibility of the Airport Authorities to make the Airlines tow the line properly, whose responsibility is it?

7. Is there a way we can throw this at the media? I am sure covering a little some more about how bad the Indian Aviation Sector has become would be of interest to the larger masses.

Why Offer?

This is my crib against an offer which was made to me without me having requested for it, and then being denied the pleasure of using it.

Yatra sent me an sms  – “Yatra.com presents ‘Lucky 7’ offer. Book any domestic flight for Rs.777 only. Offer valid between 7pm-8pm on 7-7-2007 only. Logon or call 09871800800. T&C apply. ” (Reproduced verbatim).

Well, apart from the T&C, it seemed pretty straight forward. Logon to the Yatra website between 7pm and 8pm (which was till about 20 minutes back) on 7-7-2007 (which is today)  and book any domestic flight for just Rs. 777. Nice!

Poor me logged on. Tried to book the ticket. In vain. For the first 5 minutes, there  was a “Problem Opening Page” (Firefox) /”Page cannot be displayed” (IE) . After that, there were “no flights found on the sector I requested” (Delhi – Mumbai Delhi – onwards 14th July, return -16th July). Ahh!! I kept refreshing, hoping for some airline to start operating on the requested sector.  You know.. shit happens!

Just to be sure, I kept calling the provided number. “All lines are currently busy. Please try again after some time.” I am sure there are far too many people out there looking for the cheaper tickets. So this could have happened. no grudges!

BUT BUT BUT… at 8:05PM, the site suddenly started operating in all its splendor, eastman color format. And suddenly, there were tickets available on the requested circuit. 899+taxes! or, build your own itinerary from the available flights. and there were so many of them. Miracles happen when you don’t need them anymore 😉 Thats life!

Now, I have always rated myself as one of those dumb guys who would fall for such simple T&C* offers. More so, after falling for this offer. Ahh.. one hour lost. Could have gone to the CCD at JATC and read a book with my cuppa! So much for a good weekend!

closing question – why offer, when there is no intention to fulfill?

*T&C – 1. The site may not open 2. We can tell you that there are no tickets available. 3. We can later tell you that the tickets are available without the scheme offer, in case you are interested.  and such fine prints! 

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