Late evening and there’s nearly a dozen check-in counters of Indigo with hardly one or two passengers at each counter and some with none. I walk up to one vacant counter to pick up my boarding pass and the guy tells me: “Sir, this is a Priority/Express check-in counter”. I tell him that’s very nice and I just need my boarding pass quickly. He tells me again: “Sir, this is the Express counter you need one of the other counters”. I asked him what he meant and he tells me that at this “Express/Priority check-in counter” there is an additional fee of Rs.400 for checking in quickly. Uh… what? An Express counter where there’s an additional fee of Rs.400 just to pick up a boarding pass? Indigo and some other airlines have started alarming practices that are now in the “avarice” category. Book a ticket – You pay me! (That I can understand). Pick a particular seat – You pay me! Have check-in luggage – You pay me! Want Express check-in – You pay me! Want to stretch your leg – You pay me! And if you manage to escape all this we will loot you on the inflight food.
You would have thought that with more competition and more services the customer would benefit with better prices and facilities. None of that. IAAI and the Civil Aviation Ministry have made it an absolute misery for people to fly. Opening up the skies was also intended to help the average Indian with smaller incomes fly at times. Take a look at this:
Most days, this is the scene at the lower level domestic departure lounge near the gates at Mumbai airport. The queues at the gates often extend right into the seating area for passengers and the whole area is cramped. And this is supposedly the new terminal by IAAI. It’s not just pathetic, it is pure sinister. All you have to do is look at the prices for food items. The aviation ministry (right from the time of Praful Patel) has given all the stalls and stores the license to loot; extreme loot. All the food-prices are the same as one might find at a 5-star hotel. Even the mundane “Plain Dosa” can cost you as much as Rs.150 or more at some places. The current GOI has allowed this mindless loot to continue. Most people tolerate it and move on. Nobody has the time to complain but some bus-stations at some cities are better laid out than the lousy departure area at the lower level in Mumbai and at some other airports.
As with the loot-stores at airports, airlines too have come up with creative ideas to loot you. Indigo, Spicejet charge you anywhere between 300 and 600 for some particular seats (especially windown and aisle seats). This, even after you check-in online and print your boarding-pass which saves them time, labour and paper. Indigo has classified its seats as ordinary and as “XL” where XL means you have extra leg-room for which they charge you Rs.600 extra. This kind of horrendous avarice has gone beyond control and there will be more new ways to loot you. Around the last week of December the AirIndia fare for Delhi-Dehradun was as high as Rs.9000 (one-way) in Economy class. This is for a short distance of 300 kms. All the signs the airlines and GOI are giving you say: “Don’t fly”.
Spicejet is now boasting of a “turnaround” in 2015. I have to agree that their services have improved and they have mostly been on schedule and a lot more reliable. But they forget to tell passengers when booking tickets that they must learn a bit of Bulgarian too. Yes indeed, quite a few of the aircrafts and routes of Spicejet belong to Bulgarian Airlines and are operated by them. The pilots and crew are fully Bulgarian except for one Indian who does not provide any other service but make the announcements in Hindi to meet aviation rules. Here’s what you get to read on the back of the tray-table on a Spicejet seat:
Frequent fliers would know what it’s saying but there are no messages in Hindi or any other Indian language as with other Indian aircrafts. The crew does not speak any language other than Bulgarian and broken English. Their announcments in English with their accent is not a great problem but imagine if some Indian who does not speak English has to communicate with them. They do have the sole Indian cabin-crew member who is merely a passenger except for making the standard announcments. That’s not all, Spicejet has come up with yet another Loot-idea! If you are going to travel with check-in baggage (normally allowed up to 15kgs on domestic flights) you will have to pay around Rs.200 extra and you should know that at the time of the booking itself else you would be allowed only the cabin hand-bag. Here you go:
The two fares shown above are for the same flight for January 15. If you plan on carrying check-in baggage you will Rs.212 more. Very innovative! And I don’t think you have seen the end of these loot-innovations and chances are 2016 will see even more ideas to pinch your pocket with lesser services. And there is, of course, Jet Airways that offer you Privilege membership even if you don’t want it. When you have accumulated enough miles Jet will tell you that you’re now eligible to redeem those mileage points. Try redeeming and you will see how painful it is. Jet Privilege will not allow you to redeem your mileage points on key flights. At best, you might be able to redeem your privilege points on a very early morning flight or a very late-night red-eye flight.
While Suresh Prabhu & Co. are working hard in GOI to make the railways a better experience for travellers (and doing a good job of it too) the airline and aviation industry is going to make life more miserable for travellers and IAAI will contribute to it too. The Aviation Ministry slumbers and fails to protect customers and travellers. That’s the warning sign for 2016 if things don’t change dramatically. But there’s a way to beat most of these things.
As a frequent traveller I always pick the last row in the aircraft. Nobody wants the last row. The airline will be considerate enough to tell you that it’s a non-reclining seat when you pick it. They are very concerned about your back, you see! Nobody ever wants the last row and unless a flight is 100% full I usually have all 3 seats to myself. The innovative SkyLoot will continue. Passengers will have to find innovative ways to beat it.
Happy New Year!