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How not to serve the customer Part II ? The Air India story

Some organizations never fail me. Air India, for instance, has always been a model of poor or indifferent customer service and they continue to be so even in these days of hectic competition. They should indeed be complimented and awarded a prize on their consistency as a poor customer oriented organization!

And, I do make grievous mistakes .. of booking my ticket on Air India on international flights. The temptation of the ideal time slot for my purpose to fly to Singapore and return perhaps blinded me and I rue the moment I recently chose AI.

The first impression was quite deceptive. There was a young man at the counter at the Mumbai airport who waved to us from a distance and offered to check us in. He had a warm and friendly smile and was almost apologetic that we were carrying excess baggage. He was quite efficient on the job but unfortunately did not wear the name tag! It struck me later that I should have complimented him but I had no name for him.

Not having the staff wear the name tag was the first sign of indifference that AI displayed. Other airlines use the names to win over customers and lend a personal touch to their service. Would not you feel nice when the hostess asks you “what would you like to have Mr.Ganesh, veg or non veg?” The same good feel can be reversed if I were to ask “Can you get me a bottle of water Neha?” and I have experienced a real pampering session when I addressed the attendant by her name. I am sure, she would remember this uncle of an old man who spoke to her as if he had known her for ages! Mind you, I was not flirting…

Back to our story, as I waited after checking in, there was no announcement or explanation when the scheduled boarding time had already passed us by more than twenty minutes. They did not feel it necessary to keep the clients informed! And then the PA system crackled followed by a brief high pitched shout “passengers flying to Singapore by AI 422 are requested board thru gate 6..”The usual protocol of seeking the ears of the passengers or thanking them for the time taken was given a quick miss. There was not even an excuse of an attempt to make life comfortable for old aged people or those with young children. There was no sequencing in terms of row positions and everyone jostled to get thru a la a municipal bus stop! As one passed the gate, the sight of some of the staff sitting in casual posture with their feet on top of the table could not be missed!

The bus ride to the aircraft was with its own ups and downs (meant physically as the aircraft was parked far away and the road was bumpy). The ground staff of course had ensured that the experience was not missed by overloading the bus. This is what Tharoor perhaps had in mind when he used the term “cattle class”?

The man at the ladder was in a mood of dispensation from the royal emperor, the way he grabbed the boarding card and nonchalantly handed back the counterfoil. The climb up the ladder then led to a bulky form draped in a sari who was no different from the fixtures on the aircraft. There was no attempt at being pleasant or welcoming the passengers and the hostility of having to work on a midnight long distance flight was only too evident.

That takes us to the oft debated issue of the age and physical form of the air hostess. By definition, a hostess has to have an invitational posture and is required to demonstrate courtesy and grace. The efficiency displayed is what will give them the authority and trust of the passengers in times of emergency. But can you trust the overweight person who has had no concern for her own form and physique to guide you thru safely? The problem gets compounded when the bulky hostess has to pass by you on the aisle seat.. a sure chance of your elbow getting fractured .. the passageway is unfortunately not wide enough to let the lady pass thru without hitting the passenger!

And, on top of the poor form, the way they wrap the sari around themselves is an insult to that beautiful piece of dress that is so uniquely Indian! Sari is expected to convey grace and elegance only when it is draped properly and AI perhaps does not insist on that?.

Well.. as we take off, the tone behind the inflight announcements clearly betray the mood. The entertainment system then abruptly comes to life and the movie does not seem to have a beginning! Fortunately, I had seen “Love aaj kal” in a cinema hall and clearly recollect that the starting was different.

The food supply then begins and the display of indifference continues unabated. The tone in “what will you have?” is clearly unfriendly and you might wonder if it was rather ok to stay hungry for the next 5 ½ hours instead of mustering the courage to ask the imposing lady to give the menu!

Lack of grace marks every one of the routines. The tray is offered and collected back as if a favour was being dispensed with and no permission is sought from the passenger on the aisle seat before she proceeds to collect the tray from the window seat. And then something falls from the tray on one of the passengers and the droppings are collected with not even a faint apology!

What might have made up for all these demonstrations of indifference was a smile but it appears they have been instructed not to!

Had the film Sholay been made in the current days, the dialogue would have been “..Jab gaon me bacha rota hain, to ma kehti hai “beta so ja.. Air India ki hostess aa jayegi…”!!!!!! The same description holds good even where the purser is a male.

One wonders why public money is being wasted away on such heights of inefficiency and patent lack of hospitality particularly when the entire industry operates on courtesy, pleasantness and a customer friendly attitude.

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About The Author


Ganesh - R



A corporate manager for over 40  years with an all round exposure. Have had the good fortune of great bosses who unfailingly took the risk of trying me out with  new functional responsibilities  that I was neither qualified to handle nor had any prior exposure. This served as an excellent opportunity for learning and  the exciting process continues even as I am ready to retire! 

 Have bid adieu to formal learning process long ago but the quest  continues.

"Human beings" interest me the most .. the curiosity at observing and learning from fellow beings appears to be a key  driver at this stage of life. Would like to spend the rest of the days in making a difference to them.

Other interests include gymming, music, etc..  

Blogging seems to be a god sent opportunity to laugh at oneself freely and without any pretensions. It also provides an excellent route to introspection albeit a bit loudly!

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