TL:DR: I and my wife along with 200 plus other passengers were lied to, cheated, and treated inhumanely for more than 28 hours by Air India. They do not care about the customers who are the whole reason they are still alive. As someone who always wishes well for everyone and as someone who has gone through my worst experience with Air India, I beg you to consider not using Air India for your travel in the future. Additionally, please read the summary at the end of this post.
Feb 26 2020:
Our day started pretty exciting as we were going to start our journey to Hyderabad, India today. This is my wife’s first visit after moving to the US (and after getting married), and it has been two years since she moved. Both of us were missing our families very badly and our families wanted to see us badly too. After moving a lot of things on our schedules, applying for leaves (my wife decided to take an unpaid time off since she is a consultant and does not have PTO), planning for remote work (I recently moved to my new company and did not want to take leave already) we were able to finalize a short trip from Feb 26 (flying out from EWR) to March 17 (flying back to the US from HYD). Given we have a very short time to stay with our families we planned a lot for the quick few days, including attending my closest friend’s engagement, and our wedding anniversary.
I booked Air India as I really wanted to continue supporting my country by taking it’s official airline and help the dying airline. I traveled through Air India multiple times already and also had my parents, and other friends use it too. Above all that Air India had the shortest duration and least lay over time.
On Feb 26, we woke up early, got ready and reached the airport by 7.45 AM since we were neither able to check in through the Air India website nor through the app even after repeated attempts. I tried calling their customer service but was put on hold for 60 minutes the first time and was disconnected, and was put on hold for 15 minutes or so multiple times before being disconnected for a couple of times. Finally, on the 25th of Feb I was able to connect to an agent who failed to help me check in but said he was able to allocate seats. However, he warned me that if I tried to check in again using the website or app my seat selection will be voided!!! So we wanted to come in early, check in as soon as we can to avoid any hassles later and so we did.
The check-in process was not so bad. We also paid extra for exit row seats that I always used on Air India to have some extra legroom ($60/seat). Important point to note is, flyers were allowed to select these seats for free before and now you have to pay $60/seat/sector.
We reached the gate early and started waiting for boarding to start which was scheduled for 10:35AM EST or something close. People started lining up a little before the schedule time and the screen was showing that everything was on time. By 11:30AM everyone was a little concerned as the screen was showing Final Call but the boarding never started! By 11:45AM EST, which was the scheduled departure time, people started asking questions and then they decide to announce that the flight is “delayed due to engineering issues and there is no ETA”. Everyone started to wonder how they realized this issue in the last minute and why they were hiding the fact until people started questioning!
To everyone’s surprise, this kept continuing for the next one hour and they still said they don’t have an ETA. However, they had updated that the flight was delayed until 3:30PM EST on the internet (Air India website, app, Google etc.) How come they had the time to update everyone else but not the passengers? What were they hiding?
By 3:30PM, we decided we will use a lounge to at least get some food and space to sit since Air India decided to ONLY SERVE PRETZEL PACKETS to the 200+ passengers waiting to board the flight without any information about what was going on.
Some people were informed that the Captain will make a decision by 5pm about the cancellation while others were informed something else. So there were multiple news going around and Air India was doing this because they assumed all their passengers to be fools who can be lied to and kept quiet.
Between the arguments going around, Air India calling the cops to shut the passengers from expressing their dissatisfaction, elderly passengers sitting in their wheel chairs for hours now waiting for some news, mothers with infants trying to pacify their children, everyone waiting for Air India to make some arrangements for food after more than 6 hours of delay, there was finally an announcement around 6:30PM EST that the issue was fixed (part was ordered and Boeing sent it from Washington D.C, which is literally less than a 4 hour DRIVE, and the engineers fixed it). Anyway, we were all happy that we were at least going to start our journey. People started lining up in queues. Fast forward to 8:30PM EST, people are still waiting in lines to board! Some women lost their patience since they had been standing for almost 2 hours now hoping to board the flight. So, they started expressing their pain and what was Air India’s next step – call the Cops because human beings do not have the right to express their concerns, let alone paid passengers demanding an answer!
After people started questioning the cops, the cops forced the crew to give everyone a clarity about what was going on. The crew started a drama show, people running in and out, frantically making calls, and in the end what did they announce – that the flight was cancelled. So, after waiting for more than 12 hours, people were informed that the flight was cancelled. Air India only did this to make sure all the other flights left and we won’t be able to demand them that we get transferred to other flights or theirs or their partners which they said they would be doing if this flight issue doesn’t get fixed. Isn’t this CHEATING the customers? And mind you, people were still starving and were in physical and mental pain from all the wait.
Then the chaos begins, people were just told that they should return their boarding passes and then go collect their bags! What does that mean? Are you refunding our money? making other arrangements? What about the accommodation? Food? What is going on? And they smart people came up with the answer – we are going to fix this flight and fly both flights tomorrow (the one they cancelled today and the regular one). Some smart passengers (which Air India assumed there wouldn’t be) questioned how that was possible given they would need to get quite a few clearances! They had no answers so they just said collect your bags, give us your name (to add to tomorrow’s list of people flying) and leave – we will get back to you! Wow!
I along with some other passengers demanded that they first starting down our names. After some pressure the guy asked us to form a line and we did. Then comes some Airport Manager and shouts at the guys for willing to take the names, she then breaks the line and starts to leave when we started asking what she was trying to do – she rudely replies she is not even from Air India and we have no right to question her. Then why on earth did she break the line and stop the person from doing his job? People started following her and there was shouting all around, the cops came running and tried to silence the passengers but no one was ready to just shut up because they have all been through what no one deserves as a paid passenger. When the cops had no options they asked Air India to give everyone a clarity on what the next steps are. And finally, we are told that we should form a line (yet again!), and they will take our names down for tomorrow’s flight and provide us accommodation. I was the first in the line and when I reach the counter, the lady asked me Hotel or going Home? I said let’s take care of tomorrow’s journey first and then deal with these things. To my surprise she said, they are only doing accommodation for now and have no idea about tomorrows logistics! I put my name for the hotel but was still trying to get answers from others. The answer they kept giving was that there are going to be two flights the next day so everyone can be accommodated. Though we were not satisfied with that answer, we had no option but to get our luggage and get out. My wife, was not feeling well anymore so she asked that we rather go home and try getting at least a few hours of sleep. I got my name removed from the list of hotel users so someone else can use that spot. We took a cab and went home. Reached home around 11:30PM, threw everything a side and went straight to bed so we can wake up early the next day and get back to the airport.
By the time we left, there were at least 100 more passengers in line to put their name down for accommodation. I can only imagine what time it might have been for them to put their name down in the list, transfer to a different terminal, take hotel shuttles, reach the hotel, deal with the check-in process there, settle down, and sleep!
Our families were very disappointed that they were not going to see us the next day. It was emotional pain for everyone and we DID NOT DESERVE THIS.
February 27 2020
We woke up early, took a cab and reached airport by 7:45AM (everyone was asked to come in by 8AM so that they can “get the flight out early”, but people started coming in even earlier just so that we can get a clarity on everything. The check-in process was fine and we were told that we were getting the same exit row seats we paid for. There was only one change though, our connecting flight from Mumbai starts an hour early which was good for us because we wanted to reach home at the earliest.
Fast forward to 11:30AM, the boarding begins (an hour late!). But how can anything go right! Our boarding passes are not scanning at the gate – reason, the seats we paid for were assigned to someone else. We were pulled to the side and told we can’t get exit row seats in this flight! And once we found out there were no other similar seats on the flight we demanded a refund of our $120 and they were surprised about it! In the end they said they will do it and send me a confirmation later. I clearly said I don’t trust them anymore and I need the refund immediately. To which the gate manager took offense and started making jokes and comments about me to the agent and when I questioned she said she was not talking to me – way to go Air India, this is how well you treat your passengers!
After more questioning about where I paid the money, what card I used and all, they showed me a picture another agent sent to this agent with the receipt of the refund. I then went ahead and boarded the flight.
THE FLIGHT WAS THE SHITTIEST I HAVE EVER SEEN. I usually don’t use this kind of language but you will see why I did when you look at the pictures of the seats. My wife, who has been very concerned about the Corona Virus impact wanted to clean the seats completely before seating. She took some sanitizing wipes and started cleaning, it was basically like cleaning a floor that was being used by hundreds of people but not cleaned for months! Our shoes looked cleaner than the seats and when we questioned the flight attendant about it he said cleaning was not his job and we should go question the cleaners! (Although, there were announcements being made about how Air India is being a part of Swachh Bharat, what a joke!!!)
Fast forward an hour or so, my wife tried to recline her seat and the seat just returns to it original upright position immediately! And on the other hand I have something hanging from the bottom of the front seat so I cannot stretch my legs. I went and complained about this, the flight attendant comes, checks everything and says okay I’ll note it down and raise a complaint about this. Okay, but what do we do? It is a 13 hour flight and we can’t sit upright for the whole journey! Sorry, comes his reply, there are no empty seats on the flight because we had to accommodate yesterday’s and today’s passengers!
This is when our pain doubled! We couldn’t sit properly, we couldn’t sleep, we were hurting! My wife was exhausted, I was tired – both mentally and physically. One more thing we observed was that the food quality has deteriorated significantly since we traveled the last time but what can we do we have to survive. We had only as much as we needed and declined some meals.
February 28 2020
Once we reached Mumbai slightly ahead of schedule so we thought we could easily catch the connection. But to our surprise we were told we will need to claim our baggage from the belts and then check-in again! That did not make any sense because our final destination was Hyderabad and this was not how it worked previously. We were waiting at the belts for our bags but they never come! My wife went to ask about bags at the Air India counter and the lady said the bags will come and since we are connecting passengers, the flight will wait for us if there is any delay. Once we get our bags (almost 45 minutes later), we started running towards the check-in counters, which were two floors above and we had to go through customs, and security (again). By the time we reached the check-in counter, we see there were huge lines, so I went straight to a counter, showed her my boarding pass and told her that our flight is in 30 minutes and we’ll need to check in immediately. Her answer – “Oh that flight already left, go to the first counter they’ll help you get on another flight” What!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
How did the flight leave 30 minutes before the scheduled departure? I go to another counter and the lady says she is closing the counter so I can go talk to someone else. I go straight to the supervisor’s desk who is on the phone and doesn’t care to talk to passengers! We were then told that we will have to get on to the next flight which is 6 HOURS LATER. And when we start questioning about what is going on (there were a few others in the same situation, also they were literally checking in other passengers for the same flight while we were told that the flight left), the supervisor calls the luggage desk and talks in his local language (assuming we won’t understand) and asks them to not send any of us (passengers who are in the DNB list) up because we are creating a scene. WHY WERE WE ON THE DNB (do not board) LIST? So we were just given those dummy boarding passes to ensure we didn’t question about this when we were boarding the first flight? This is straight forward CHEATING! Air India, this is what you do to your customers? How stupid do you thing everyone else is?
At 2:10PM, the supervisor says I cannot do anything now because the flight just left. Wow, so you were wasting all this time just to let the flight leave and we have no other option! And then he just leaves the seat!
What other option did we have but to board the 7:25 flight? We wait, wait, wait while our family is dying to see us. Finally we get on to the flight, reach Hyderabad, get our luggage (after almost an hour waiting at the belts which is the same duration it took us to come from Mumbai to Hyderabad!)
To summarize, here is what happened:
- Air India, decided to keep all the passengers on AI144 on Feb 26th in the dark for more than 12 hours about what was going on with the flight.
- They did not care about the Senior Citizens who had to sit in the wheelchair for the whole day, infants who were crying, and other passengers who were just asking to be treated like human beings.
- No arrangements were made for food for the whole day, accommodation was only arranged after they announced the cancellation which was after 13 hours and the next flight was not until the next day.
- The crew were lying straight to everyone’s faces.
- Cops and security were called repeatedly when the passengers were trying to complain about what was going on.
- The flights were nasty and no care is being taking to avoid passengers falling sick especially when there is global worry about viruses.
- 21 people were given false boarding passes, put on Do Not Board list and made to wait for 6 more hours for their connecting flight.
- The 21 people were never informed about anything like this and were falsely given information that the flight left even though they were checking-in other passengers for the same flight.
- Consider a financial loss of $200/person personally, Air India made its passengers lose at least $40,000 financially. I’m not even sure how to account for the physical, mental and emotional costs.
- Air India management did not care about any of this – I kept tweeting multiple times but no response, not even from the PMO Office.
- Overall delay in reaching Hyderabad – 28+ hours
- Additional services provided by Air India to its “privileged customers” – Cheating, Defrauding, Lying, Made to Suffer.
I demand that Air India provide me with a full refund immediately so that I can book my return travel with someone else who treats their passengers as human beings.