The return flight from Delhi to Bangalore, on the evening of Sunday 7th Nov 2010, turned out to be the most horrible flying experience I have ever had, till date. The flight was AI-622, bound to fly out from T3 at 2010 hours 7th Nov.
When I reached at the airport, the check-in area was a mess in itself. The Air India staff had invited all the passengers to check-in from all the counters, basically creating a mess of a situation. When they realized what they have done, they scrambled to a fix, and started calling out to the people for whom the flights were about to depart (and these ppl were still stuck in check-in queues).
When these people were taken away, my checkin process suddenly looked easier and faster. Basically, I was all checked in at around 6:45 and inside the boarding gates area by that time.
The display panel had no mention of my flight but other flights both domestic and international, before and after my flight were listed properly, with whatever status applicable to them. When inquired, they said, it was ok, not to worry, and told me of my gate no for boarding (also that the flight was on schedule).
By 7:25 pm, the boarding should have begun, but there was no air india official to be seen around the gate till that time, or even later, till 2000 hrs. I think thats when I begun to think, that something was wrong. I went to the info desk and asked the person there, he had no information.
Slowly people started assembling around the gate and asking questions. There was nobody to answer them. Slowly the mob mentality was becoming visible. People shouting, grabbing whoever was visible in an air india garb, or with some kind of airport office link.
Initially, someone caught hold of a lady, fairly senior (by age i mean), and started asking her questions. She DID NOT know anything. Someone said that she was the duty manager, and this angered people even more.
By now, it was well past 2100 hrs and still nobody had appeared on the assigned gate. Then people caught hold of two air india officials who were just passing by. The mob really got angry and wanted answers. The two guys were so visibly helpless they couldnt do anything. Ppl asked them to call up the responsible officials, but none of the officials were picking up their phones. Then one passenger asked for the officials' number and called from his own mobile. The official did pick up the phone, but, still couldnt offer any answers to the situation.
Slowly a pattern was emerging out of the situation. No flights scheduled to leave after 1900 hrs or so were taking off. Flights to Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai and Dubai were in this unknown situation. Some people for bangalore flight were waiting since 1100 in the day since their 1300 flight was cancelled and they were bumped up to this 2010 flight. Effectively they were the worst hit guys, waiting for about 10 hrs already.
Finally, the mob started walking with this official, demanding to be put in touch with the officials face to face, nothing happened, since the passengers are not allowed to leave the boarding area after check-in. People were diverted to another official at another gate, who could not answer any questions anyway.
By now, it was already 2300 hrs, and still no answers. It was pretty chaotic, since nobody knew whats the status of the flight, and whats going to happen. There was some infants among the passengers. Their parents were the more anxious lot. A Danish national got migraine attack during all this chaos. There were at least 10 people who were over 70 yrs old, and the waiting process was not helping them at all, let alone the uncertainity.
As it turned out, around 2330 there was announcement of the cancellation the bangalore flight. It just broke some patience barriers. People started shouting at the info desk guy, since he had not been advised about the next steps for the passengers.
He made a few phone calls and a lady appeared. This lady tried to offer some hope, but it was a failed attempt. People had realized by now that air india has no intention of flying the people to their destinations and it would be a cancelled flight for good. They are just not announcing it in good time so that they wont have to pay the passengers' hotel stay etc.
They still had no clue around the solution to the problem. Now a new face appeared, Mr Nalin. He claimed to be in an executive authority and wanted to fix the problem for good. He promised a special flight to Bangalore at 0145 hrs in the night. After making some other promises, he went off. Nowhere to be seen again.
People thought that they have been conned again. By now, its already 0015. Suddenly, people caught hold of two female officials in air india garb. The poor girls didnt know anything but were shouted at anyway. A new face appears now, Mr Pankaj, supposedly GM of Air india.
He was shouted at all possible ways. Everybody was venting his anger on him, but guy showed remarkable patience and didnt react even once. We were thinking, had he reacted even once, god knows how the mob would have acted/reacted. I would say, he was not physically handled, barring that, all possible ways were used to vent anger at him.
Finally, he started moving some things, the officials started appearing. He found a crew for one of the flights, and then another crew came in. Some more officials came in, a lot of CISF people showed up. Apprantly to handle the situation if the mob went physical with him.
Already 0100 hrs and no sign of boarding activity. Mob had not let him go anywhere, so he announced that the bangalore flight will leave "if not 0145 perhaps by 0200 or 0215". Another 30 minutes passed by, and now the mob was on the brink. A gentleman, father of two young kids, literally charged at him, wanting to know when the flight would actually go.
Now he says, 0300. And this was genuinely interesting, the guy asked Mr GM, what would you do if the flight does not depart by 3 AM... the GM guy had no answer, literally tense face, sweating brows, no voice.
Finally, around 0255 there was an announcement for boarding for the bangalore flight. A decent 7hrs 30 mins delay, and I am sure, had the people not been so vocal and demanding, the flight would never have been arranged and we got home the way we got home.
At the end, the flight, which should have landed bangalore 2240 the previous evening, now landed past 0600 the next morning, spoiling the next day for everybody, more so for the working passengers.
Someone rightly spoke, "this is my last flight with air india, never again". Well, I am with the group who says, "never say never", but for once, for this one I feel like agreeing with him. Never Again with air india, or at least till the wounds are fresh :)