Opinion Aviation: The dire state of passenger services

New Delhi, October 02, 2018:  Imagine this. Your plane is soaring thousands of feet above the ground when you suddenly feel suffocated. You look around anxiously and discover that the plight of your fellow passengers is no different. Some of them are coughing while others are feeling nauseous even as some others are gasping for breath. The cabin pressure reduces to such an extent that oxygen masks drop. The passengers hold them with trembling hands.

Beset with anxiety and nervousness, they manage to somehow put the masks on their faces. Their breathing improves a little, but the uncertainty persists. Is the plane facing some technical difficulty? Will it touch down safely or not? Where is the flight crew? Why are they silent and not doing anything?

The plane finally manages to land. Many travellers breathe a sigh of relief but with their noses and ears bleeding, some of their co-passengers appear to be in a terrible shape. They are taken to hospital.

The recent ordeal of passengers on the Jet Airways flight from Mumbai to Jaipur has shocked the world. Apologizing for the incident, the embarrassed airline said the crew members in question have been taken off the duty roster and that the airline is carrying out a probe. Both the airline and the government, which guarantees your safety, are silent about the findings of the investigation. Don’t those who spent their hard-earned money on buying an air ticket have the right to know the reasons behind the mishap on 20 September? And what is being done to ensure such accidents are not repeated?

This is a dangerous silence.

Why single out just Jet—Employees of other airlines, too, are known to behave rudely and for infringing upon the rights of their customers. You may recall how the employees of IndiGo turned violent with a senior citizen. Instead of reassuring the gentleman, they preferred to keep mum till a video of the incident went viral. How can these companies claim to serve their customers with ageing fleet and rude employees?

On top of it, these companies are bestowed with the power to ban air travellers who behave “rudely” with airline crew.

Not surprisingly, when the International Civil Aviation Organization conducted a survey of five Indian airlines as a part of its universal safety programme, it discovered the performance of Indian aviation companies was below par on five of the eight parameters. Isn’t it sad that even Bangladesh performed better than India on these parameters?

Despite this, the number of people travelling by air is growing at a dizzy speed according to livemint.com.

Last year, India’s domestic air traffic stood at 117 million people. This is almost twice the number in 2011. If their profits keep rising despite providing fewer services, it is natural for the aviation companies to become high-handed. So, they have been cutting back on passenger comforts without informing them.

I learnt this on the flight from New Delhi to Dehradun last week when the air hostess handed me a bottle of water and enquired whether I would like biscuits or cashew nuts to go with it? I said I’d be grateful if instead of water, she could offer me another beverage. She said the duration of the flight on this sector was very short and therefore the airline wouldn’t be able to offer anything else. Displaying as much patience as was possible, I told her: “Earlier, on this very ‘sector’, your company used to offer tea or coffee to me, besides other options. Why is it any different now?” The flight attendant turned away from me and said this was how it would happen now.

If I so desired, I could send a feedback mail. Oblivious to the complaints of air travellers, she was in the habit of being impolite it appeared.

Believe me, at that moment, I felt cheated, ignored and humiliated at the same time.

It is our misfortune that on the lines of Europe and America, India, too, has embraced a free market economy. But we haven’t put in place regulators that can rein in rampant commercialism. This is the moment when we expect something from the government. Without doubt, the government has been launching new airports and air routes. But along with this, the government should evolve meaningful instruments to protect the rights of consumers.

Things shouldn’t reach a point where the person going on a hawai yatra wearing a hawai chappal (travelling by air while wearing slippers) begins to feel deprived and despondent. If this happens, it will be the death of another dream in an independent India.

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