Hemant Kumar ’73
Locale: Office of Air India, Chicago downtown
Time: About 1000 hours
All of us, i.e. Indian Railways team of trainees – eleven of us plus two spouses, had most of our air-travels confirmed, but there were some grey areas. We came to confirm our bookings for our flights to India. Since Air India had also booked our internal flights, we asked them to re-confirm them too. It turned out that our scheduled US Airways flight from Pittsburgh to Erie (on the London-Ontario to Pittsburgh to Erie leg) had been cancelled (we all had confirmed reservations on it). We found out an earlier alternative flight for that day, and sent-in our request through Air India.
Moral of the story is - Never believe in the confirmed reservations shown in your ticket. The flight itself may be cancelled. It also happens in the US of A (Now you can stop cursing the domestic carriers in India, Indian Railways being one of them). It is better to check, and keep on checking from time to time (toll-free, of course).
Locale: O’Hare International Airport, Chicago
Time: About 1630 hours
We were booked by 1855 hrs flight from Chicago to Pittsburgh, and 2215 hrs connecting flight from there to London-Ontario (Canada). When we were checking in, we were told that our flight is delayed by about 45 minutes and we may miss our connection. The checking-in persons tried to persuade some of us to go by an earlier flight, but we were sticking together, missed flights or not. All of us were booked accordingly, and our luggage booked through to London-O. While we were awaiting the arrival of our flight, it was announced that we are certain to miss our connecting flight from Pittsburgh. The staff of US Airways took our details so that hotel arrangements could be made at Pittsburgh. We even sent a message to London-O that we would not be coming by the scheduled flight, so that the people who were coming to receive us may not take unnecessary trouble.
It was a 11 hour flight, but we lost time because of the difference in the time zone. Pittsburgh time is one hour ahead of Chicago. As we landed at Pittsburgh (it is a very big airport), there was announcement that the flight to London-O had not left, and if we hurry, we may be able to make it. We nearly ran, took a shuttle for the other terminal, and reached the boarding terminal. They had apparently been waiting for us. Soon we could guess why. It was a small Saab 3400 plane (turbo-prop) having a capacity of 34 people only. Besides 13 of us, there were only 7-8 persons. Naturally, the capacity would have gone waste, and we would have used up 40 % of the capacity of the next morning flight as well. Over and above, they would have to arrange for our hotel accommodation for the night at Pittsburgh. (Americans are very professional after all, aren't they?) The airport people were again asked to get in touch with the people in London-O, so that we do not land up there in the middle of the night with nowhere to go. This they were able to do, although we did spend anxious moments while in the flight.
Moral of the story is - Flights becoming delayed is not uncommon even in USA. Do not fret when it happens in India. (Incidentally, our Air India flight from New Delhi - Mumbai - Chicago had a delayed start by 11 hours from New Delhi but we reached Chicago almost in time, despite waiting for 30 minutes at London, Heathrow for permission to take-off. Heathrow, as you know, is perhaps the busiest airport in the world.)
Locale: Erie Airport
Time: About 1730 hours
A small plane had carried two members of the Indian Railway team, along with their spouses from Pittsburgh to Erie, Pennsylvania. While they waited for their checked luggage to come through, the local officer-in-charge of training in General Electric met them. After a while, the luggage of one of the members arrived but the luggage of the other was nowhere to be seen. Both of them had booked their luggage through to Erie from London (Ontario) via Pittsburgh by US Airways. They had collected their luggage, gone through Customs, and re-deposited the same with the US Airways at Pittsburgh, before boarding the flight from Pittsburgh to Erie.
Inquiries revealed that the luggage had not come by the flight, and the airlines promised to deliver it the next day since there were no more flights on the sector on that day. They were later able to confirm that the luggage had NOT been loaded on some other flight by mistake, though they were unable to confirm its availability at Pittsburgh.
Needless to say that the person whose luggage had been missed, spent a sleepless night, and had to attend office next day in the same clothes. The luggage was delivered intact the next day at 1100 hours, much to his relief.
Moral of the story is - Don't blame Air India for missed luggage. It also happens in the US of A, even with arguably the #1 domestic airline there.
Locale: Watertown Airport, N.Y.
Time: About 1630 hours
A Beechcraft carrying just 7 passengers (carrying capacity 19) had just landed and 5 passengers had got down - 3 army men, and the two of us. As per the previous arrangement, a vehicle was to meet us at the airport to take us to the hotel. No one was in sight.
After waiting for some 5 minutes, I went to a payphone, and rang up the hotel.
Voice: Days Inn. Good evening. May I help you?
I : My name is Hemant Kumar, and I am speaking from Watertown Airport. I believe a vehicle was supposed to meet us here to take us to your hotel.
Voice: Just a moment please... (consultations at the other end)... It would be reaching there...
I : How long would it take? Ten minutes...?
Voice: About 20 minutes... I have just talked to the person... He is just leaving...
I : Thank you...
Voice: You are welcome... (click)
I told my wife about the conversation, and braced myself to hear about how careless I was about arrangements. Even while we were settling down for the wait, a tall, well built man in a T-shirt approached us. It hadn't been even 5 minutes.
Man : Mr. Kumar...?
I : Yes...?
Man : Good evening. I am (so and so), General manager, Days Inn. I am sorry for the delay. The van had a breakdown, and the repairperson was saying it would take just half an hour more. This he had been saying all this afternoon. Therefore, I decided to come and pick you up myself...
I : It is very nice of you... Really... I am sorry you had to take this much trouble yourself...
Man : It is no problem at all... You are more important to us...
While this exchange was going on, he picked up our luggage and loaded it in his pick-up van. I hurried to help him. We had two heavy suitcases (we were nearing the end of our trip). I was finding difficult to haul them up to load in the van. For him, they posed no problem, as he easily lifted them up and loaded them onto the van.
GM / Days Inn took us to the hotel, got hold of a trolley and helped me (rather I helped him) unload my luggage from the van on to the trolley. He took us to the reception, and asked the receptionist to check us in. On our way, I had asked him about something, which he asked the receptionist to find out and let us know. I thanked him profusely.
Moral of the story is - In USA, the General Manager of a hotel does not mind picking up the customers in his own vehicle which he drives himself (no chauffeur). He doesn't mind handling the luggage too (no chaprasi for him, when it comes to customer-service). Can you imagine anything similar happening in India? Perish the thought.
Locale: Watertown, Office of the New York Air Brakes
Time: About 0930 hours
The situation was that the IR trainees had arrived at Watertown for training at NYAB. The marketing people, who had looked after the training in the past, were away for a conference down south (in USA). Others had not dealt with the training earlier. It was a goof up no doubt. Anyway, the trainees (we) are taken to a conference hall, and the president of the company (top boss, make no mistake about it) addresses us. He apologizes for the inconvenience, and arranges for a plant-tour. He then drives us himself in a van (exchanged for his car from someone so that the eleven of us could be accommodated in the van) to a Chinese restaurant for a complimentary dinner. He then took us on a drive along the Sackett harbour - about 10 miles from the town.
The moral of the story is - Even the president of a company drives himself to office. He takes care to drive the customers himself in his own car. No pretensions about a chauffeur-driven company-car. When it comes to customers, no one in the company is too big. Compare it with our jeeps/ cars, which have to be driven by the drivers only (Just in case you don't know Railway officers are barred from driving official vehicles, and it is no reflection on their driving abilities. Many of them still do, but that is another matter).
Locale: Watertown Airport
Time: 0450 hours
We were on our way back. The flight to Pittsburgh was scheduled at 0555 hours. We played safe, and arrived well in time. There was no one at the airport. At 0500 hours, a lean and thin man turns up. He immediately turns-on the computer and starts checking us in. When he handed the boarding pass and the baggage claim ticket to me, I found that the name printed was Vijay Kumar. I pointed out the mistake to him, and he checked the computer again. He told me that I had no reservation by that flight. I showed my ticket which had a sticker pasted by their Chicago office confirming my seat. As there was room available, he checked me in, this time correctly. My earlier boarding pass was given to the actual Vijay Kumar.
After checking us in, and booking our luggage through to JFK airport (he handled our entire luggage single handedly), he switched on the X-ray machine for checking our cabin baggage and metal detector doorway for checking our persons. After setting up, and calibrating the machine, he asked us to get our bags checked. In the meantime, the plane had arrived. He opened the door to the tarmac, checked our cabin baggage and our persons as well, and asked us to take our seats in the plane. After he was through, he took our entire checked-in luggage to the plane and loaded them in.
Watertown is a small airport, having only two flights each to and from Pittsburgh - one in the morning and another in the afternoon. It is manned by US Airways and they have minimal staff. The only other staff we saw came just 15 minutes before the plane arrived, and he gave hand-signals to the pilot for taxiing. On another small airport (Erie), the girl who checked us in, and gave us the boarding pass, joined us on the plane to be our airhostess.
Moral of the story is – (1) There are reservation goof-ups in USA as well.
(2) Can you think of a better example of multi-skilling?
We would probably have a battery of people doing what he did single-handedly, and if proving too costly, we would have thought of closing down the airport, being "uneconomical" to operate.