Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Blogging from Bombay ...

Well. That wasn't much of a hiatus. However, blogging will be lighter only because I'll be so much busier in Bombay.

And while I'm at it, revisting a favorite pet peeve. The level of service on US airlines compared to Indian. On a 40 minute Jet Airways flight from Baroda to Bombay one gets: a bottle of fresh lime soda, hard candy, a hot meal and a beverage. In economy class. On a ticket that costs less than $100. And such courteous, smiling service! Try to find that in the US!

Why are US flight attendants so surly? Courtesy, especially on international flights serving the subcontinent, is an exception (at least in coach class). They're haughty, abrupt, and downright rude most of the time. It's almost as if, and one hates to put it this way, they don't like serving brown folk.

My brother, who travels frequently overseas (in business class, I must add!), puts it this way. "We're all waiting for Jet Airways to start service to the US. I won't fly anything else." [The reason they haven't yet? Apparently, and I don't have the time to Google this to verify, Jet Blue has launched a trademark infringment lawsuit. 'Cause you know, Jet Blue and Jet Airways are the same thing.]


chez said...

Enjoy your stay in Mumbai!

assiniboine said...

Possibly it's your complexion. I rather suspect not. Consider:
Air Canada doesn't give a damn. I'll fly WestJet


Globe and Mail

Jean-Claude Parrot has written a book that's won an award from a Marxist group.

No sensible person, however, would want to read Mr. Parrot's book. It would only remind us of his horrible years as head of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, when, in the 1970s and 1980s, he and his union predecessors made Canada Post the most hated corporation in the country.

Lots of people still gripe about Canada Post, but its improvement has been quite remarkable.

So which is now Canada's most hated corporation? Opinions will obviously vary, but here's a resolute vote for Air Canada. Anyone else agree? Or is any company worse?

Air Canada talks about deepening “customer loyalty,” yet works hard at alienating customers. The company deals with too many “customers” like pieces of baggage or “bums in seats” stripped of any humanity.

Why are Air Canada employees not more helpful? They're not bad people. Some of them are very nice.

But you get the distinct impression that they've been beaten into a sullen submission by the salary cuts and job losses. They see the senior executives — CEO Robert Milton and president Montie Brewer — sitting on huge stock option gains, while the employees get nothing. The old Canada Post's problems were union-driven, Air Canada's come from the very top.

How would you keep smiling while telling customers who want a pillow on a domestic flight that there are none? Same for blankets. On overseas flights, a plastic pillow and blanket cost $2.

How would you feel hawking hideous sandwiches on domestic flights for $5 because there's no food any more, even flying from Halifax to Vancouver? How would you feel having to deal with so many cranky passengers angered at flight delays, some from mechanical breakdowns caused in part by an aging fleet?

The employees have been pulverized. They don't feel very good about their company. They're earning less. They've got so many rules and regulations to follow, and they've been stripped of so much discretion in the drive for profits, and so much is out of their hands, that even if they'd like to help, they often can't. It's not their fault.

Attitudes start at the top.

Lose your baggage. Try phoning the local Air Canada office at the airport. Or drive to the airport to enquire about the luggage.

The baggage people will be very nice and quite unhelpful. Not because they want to be unhelpful, but because Air Canada has outsourced all baggage inquiries to India. Try phoning the 1-888 number. The Indians sitting in front of a computer screen will render you all assistance short of help.

Got a complaint? Try phoning the 1-866 number or sending an e-mail or writing a letter. You might just as well contact the Chinese Politburo.

When Canada Post was the most hated company, you could be sure to start a conversation with perfect strangers by asking, “So, how's the postal service here?”

That discourse has now been replaced by discussions of the “Air Canada moment,” shorthand for delayed flights, poor service, a disrupted day. To make things worse, Air Canada almost never apologizes, makes restitution, or evinces any sympathy.

As in, you try to make a ticket change on line. After 10 tries, with a message saying there are technical problems, you phone for help. But it will cost you $20 these days to do anything with a breathing Air Canada employee on the phone — another Milton/Brewer invention.

You don't want to pay because the on-line service isn't working.

Tough. Phone the technical help desk. Wait and wait to get through, then spend another 10 minutes before they give up and transfer you back to the real person. Ten more minutes and the changes are made. Total elapsed time: 30 minutes. But then your time is less valuable than Air Canada's, apparently.

As in, you go to the airport, as required, 60 minutes before a connector flight for one going overseas. You find the departure time has been advanced by 15 minutes without anyone telling you.

No sweat, there's still 45 minutes. Except the line isn't moving. You wait patiently 10 minutes and inquire why. Computers are down. You go to another counter, having now not budged for 15 minutes, only to be told the flight has closed.

Just call the gate, the Air Canada representative is asked.

There's plenty of time. Can't, she replies. Rules. Her supervisor, a man who has seen it all and couldn't care less about your fate, takes over.

Will he help?

No, Air Canada doesn't own the computers. The airport does.

Therefore, Air Canada is not responsible. He can book you tomorrow.

You try to understand: Air Canada doesn't own the computers, farms out baggage to India, takes away food, screws up a lot of flights, doesn't apologize, in the previous three weeks has cancelled two flights and re-routed you on another so that you arrive almost four hours late — yet says it wants “customer loyalty.”

Air Canada fundamentally only cares about the country's largest cities. The rest don't count. Ask about Air Canada in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Yukon or any of the Atlantic provinces.

Air Canada uses a plane on the Halifax-Sydney route that the Canadian International Development Agency wouldn't lease to an impoverished African country. It's about to change its Halifax-St. John's-London flight so that Newfoundlanders will have to fly backward to Halifax before crossing the ocean. That will do wonders for the airline's popularity on the Rock, but what choice do people there have?

Complain? Forget about it. The Milton/Brewer airline doesn't give a damn, except for the bottom line. Air Canada has such a dominant position in so many parts of Canada that it doesn't care.

Open skies — bring 'em on. WestJet, you've got a new customer.

Any other takers?

St. Izzy said...

Look, here's something else happening in Mumbai: Outsourced prayer request centers.


Gashwin said...

Chez: Thanks! It rained today -- which is great as far as the temps go but driving in the rains in the suburbs of Bombay at 8:00 pm. Oy vey! [Where in India are you, btw?]

Assiniboine: Phew. Thankfully a monopoly of that nature doesn't exist south of the 49th parallel. I don't know if it's just a thin skin on my part, but I just don't see the same kind of treatment meted out on US airlines transatlantic routes. I dunno.

St. Izzy: I read something about that -- Mass intentions being sent to India -- a while back! What next? :)

assiniboine said...

No, internationally US airlines have terrific service; the sweet little old ladies on Northwestern are particularly charming ("Would you like something from the bar, dear?" "Yes please, a double scotch to save you coming back to me, since that's my quota for a flight however long." "Oh my goodness!"), though the sight of them lugging trollies up and down the aisles gives me an almost overwhelming urge to jump up and offer to help. Which is why transferring in LA to a domestic flight causes such a shock -- Greyhound in the air is what it becomes. Air Canada, however, is snarky both internationally and domestically.

Del said...

I've been reading your web blog for quite some time, and have grown to enjoy it. This post, however, is an embarrassment. I can't believe that you are wasting space that could be used to discuss the needs of the Church universal, or something of interest that you happened upon in Bombay, or anything to do with the Faith. Instead, here you are cutting up airline service. First, one asks, why do you NEED so much food on a flight that lasts less than one hour? Do you realize how arrogant you sound?

Gashwin said...

Assiniboine: alcohol? In coach? On NW? Without charging? Hmm ... I've been flying CO recently so cannot remember if NW still gives free wine.

Hi Del -- thanks for showing up and leaving a comment (even if it was somewhat of a scold, and an anonymous at that :)). Arrogant? I'm complaining -- yes. That much food? It was hot meal on a lunch-time flight. And beverages? In India, given the heat, that's quite the necessity.

Rudeness? Just sharing my experience with US carriers traveling to the subcontinent. Maybe I'm thin-skinned.

The point really is: service on airlines here is in a different league completey compared to the US based carriers.

Apart from India and Catholic stuff, the blog also discusses "et cetera" -- a lot involving travel. So, this can be filed in that category. Pax et bonum.

St. Izzy said...

1) The outsources prayers article is satiric. If you get the chance, poke around Lark News a bit. It's uneven, but can be pretty funny. On the whole, better headlines than articles, but amusing to a former EvProt.

2) Airline service:

I have been trapped on a runway for a while with neither beverage nor potty break allowed. A littel common sense should have prevailed, but did not.

On the other hand, I had a Lufthansa flight where we were all given a juice box before we even pulled away from the terminal. It was great.

In a service industry, service should not be an option. But you, Del, may feel free to fly standing up strapped to a board if you want; I'm sure they'll come by and mist you with a spritzer every now and then. And those of us flying with a decent supply of juice and sandwiches will be suitably impressed by your humility.