Saturday, May 19, 2007

What if things go Wrong in a Budget Airlines!

The idea of a budgeted travel sounded suspicious when I first saw the advertisement of Al Jazeera Airlines in Gulf News. I kept looking for that ‘asterisk’ and ‘Conditions Apply’ stuff but couldn’t find one. Now the offer looked more inviting and so I decided to book my tickets online.

The next moment I was busy booking my tickets. I should have realised the pain of budgeted travel there only. I think I must have spent some 45 minutes or so on the Jazeera website to book my ticket, courtesy the mad rush for tickets.

In the end I had my tickets and that too with the seats of my choice. It was all a surprise planned for the family. My wife thought I was joking when I told her the amount, in fact, so did everybody else. And so I was happy of my wise move. Well, that’s what I thought initially.

But, in spite of all the initial euphoria I did keep my calm and didn't go for more tickets. I wanted to do one more booking for my parents in India.

The day of the travel finally arrived. I was expecting a big rush at the Jazeera counter so we reached exactly 3 hours before the departure. To my surprise the counter had just one person ahead of us. And so it all started on a positive note for us.

The flight was delayed by 30 minutes as the runway was busy. At least 15 flights landed right before us, as we sat in the plane watching from our window. Dubai is a busy airport anyway!

The flight was good and so was the crew. The pilot did a perfect take-off at Dubai and a cool landing at Indira Gandhi International Airport. Having done all the formalities we moved towards the luggage belt. And that's when the real problems started for us.

To our shock we found one of our bags missing. First I was asked to file a report for the missing baggage by the airlines ground staff, which I duly did. Then I was told that there was one bag left behind by some passenger and that he could have by mistake taken mine. Now that came as a scene straight out of some movie. I was angry now, my infant son was having a torrid time and so was my wife. How on earth could someone take away somebody else’s bag by mistake! I agree the colour and size could be the same but don't you see the make when you pick up your stuff. It's common sense to check your luggage thoroughly.

What surprised me even more was the person’s complete lack of sense when it came to the weight of the bag. The person was so lost that he couldn't even make out that he was carrying a heavy bag. His bag was lighter.

I was requested to take that bag with me as a security, meaning I've to come to the airport again to exchange it if the guy comes back with mine. Why should I suffer for somebody else's stupidity! Also, the bag could very well contain illegal items. And so I refused to carry the bag. The porter was kind enough to suggest me to visit the airlines office.

I went to the Jazeera office and requested the staff there to open the bag left behind. They managed to find the guy's resume. I asked them to try 197 service (directorial service) to get his telephone number from his address. But, that was all in vain. I took the address from them to trace him myself. The horrors of a budget airliner were beginning to show now.

I wasted one whole day in Delhi searching for the guy. Finally managed to find him and had to bring my luggage down from the second floor of his house. The world is full of strange people I thought as I left his place. The anger by now gave vent to a sense of relief.

The airlines didn't even bother to inquire whether I received my luggage. I still have that report for the missing bag with me. So technically speaking I'm still eligible for compensation. And so my first budgeted travel was a disappointment.

On the return journey we had some excess baggage. I tried to convince the official to wave off the payment to compensate for my troubles earlier but they refused to listen. It was expected anyway. When it came to payment I was told that the airlines doesn't have a credit card facility. And I knew part two of the horror show has already started. I had to go down to the ATM machine to get some more cash for the payment.

Finally, we were sitting in the aircraft. But, the flight got delayed by an hour. And since the AC was making it freezing cold inside, it meant one extra hour of suffering. Sadly the airlines had no blankets (would you imagine that) even with payment. I had to take out a T-shirt to cover my little son. The journey felt even longer because of the low temperature inside.

When the aircraft landed at the Dubai airport it was a big sigh of relief for us. By now I had already made up my mind - no more budget airlines for me!

I just wish the airlines was a bit more customer-friendly apart from being budget-friendly.

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