Dear Ratan Tata-ji:
I want to congratulate you on your acquisition of Air India. The Indian diaspora in the Bay Area has been longing to have a world-class service direct to India. The transfer of Air India back to the Tata-house has evoked nostalgia about the days when Air India was known for its quality of service.
This letter is about my experience on Air India flights in the last couple of weeks.
My trip from India was an exclusive TATA experience!
I started my return journey to San Francisco from Tatanagar, from the home of a family that has had Tata employees for 3-generations. I took the COVID-19 test at Tata Main Hospital, flew Air India from Ranchi to Delhi, and then from Delhi to San Francisco in the early morning of February 23, 2022.
I had gone to India to attend a family bereavement caused by COVID. When the Air India staff on AI174 (February 9, 2022) found out about my anxiety of missing the connecting flight due to various screening processes on the ground, they went above and beyond their normal call of duty to help me.
Therefore, this open letter is a message of gratitude as well as of a genuine desire to see improvement in the quality of Air India service where it’s urgently required: in the customer-facing processes and equipment.
Check-in & Boarding
At the Delhi airport, the check-in process was very slow, taking 20 minutes on average to process each passenger. Is the staff not adequately trained or is the system slowing it down?
AND the check-in clerk at Delhi airport wore his mask below the nose.
You are probably familiar with the public announcement, repeated ad-nauseam, at the airport urging everybody to wear a mask covering the nose, mouth, and chin. The announcement made it clear that failing to do so may result in eviction from the airport terminal. It was shocking to observe total disregard of this regulation from an airline employee who refused to comply even when it was pointed out. His supervisor wasn’t sensitive enough to notice this lapse either or enforce compliance. Mask mandates may go away soon but compliance with any regulation must begin with the enforcers.
To make matters worse, ground staff at SFO were visibly impolite to senior citizens.
It was a pleasure to learn that the crew was planning to play a welcome message from you, Ratan ji, at the beginning of the flight. Unfortunately, I could only catch it in bits and pieces because not only was the audio system of the aircraft very poor, the message was interrupted several times by the crew announcements. An important message like this should not be played in pieces.
Similarly, the captain of the February 22nd AI418 flight made very poor-quality announcements in Hindi. I am sure it can be fixed easily and expeditiously by providing a standard text to the crew.
One gets the feeling that there is a general lack of staff sensitivity to the processes. Processes are treated as chores of no importance.
In general, the staff interaction with the passengers requires immediate management attention. They have been trained by the previous management of the airline to circumvent customer complaints by a very disingenuous answer: “We have reported the issue to the management”. This statement is an exercise in deception that a frequent flier doesn’t take long to understand. To me, it meant that the quality of the aircraft cannot be improved and the airline doesn’t expect the passenger to remember the problem or travel again with the airline. Their response kills customer loyalty. I have posted a few
pictures of the interior of the aircraft here from the current and past flights to make my point.
Quality of Aircraft
This brings me to the most important subject: aircraft quality. The aircraft Air India deployed for the San Francisco flight (Boeing 777-200ER) is an old aircraft that has been very poorly maintained. Improvisation seems to have been the operating principle of the previous management as I had mentioned in an earlier story.
This needs to change. Even if Air India cannot deploy newer aircraft on major routes, they should be completely refurbished. The entertainment system used on these flights is older than ancient times and it’s riddled with bugs. It has not been
functional on the last several flights I have taken. Seat and lavatory fittings are falling apart and held in place by tape in many cases.
Being a licensed pilot, I am very concerned about the safety of these long flights. Improvisation can cause serious safety problems if it’s not stopped. A couple of years back all navigation systems, including back-ups, failed on an Air India flight to New York. When back-ups also fail, it not only creates the gravest safety issue, it also points to serious problems with the operating philosophy of the management.
Air India needs strong management oversight on the user interface (UI/UX) of the online platforms. It was impossible for me to book my flights directly on the Air India website! I had to
go through an agent. Allow me to end this letter with another observation. The dropdown menu for inputting the country code of the contact phone number for online check-in doesn’t have USA in the long list of country options. I had to choose Canada as the country of my residence to get the “+1” country code added to my contact phone number!
In the past, the expectation that customer feedback would register with the airline management was non-existent. I write to you because of the trust and confidence I have in your leadership. I hope that this will get your attention and the Indian diaspora in the bay area will get better service from the airline.
Air India is and will remain the flagship of India. We cannot run this flagship with a chalta hai (everything goes) attitude.
With best wishes,
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