Thursday, February 12, 2015

Worst Case Scenario

It is a well-known fact among my friends that I am a pessimist. I carry an umbrella if there is the slightest hint of clouds in the sky. I stock candles in my house in the US to light in case of a power failure. I take public transport to any such place where there is a possibility of not finding parking. I am often ridiculed for this attitude, but I am an incorrigible believer of Murphy's Law.

And there is reason for that. I am often the victim of the worst case scenario. I am the only person among my friends who was mugged on the street, and the only one that I have known to have been mugged multiple times. I am the only PhD student in the history of NJIT's Computer Science department to have been denied funding after four years of PhD because... they miscalculated their funds. It was my car whose hood was left open by mechanics last year, causing it to fly open on the highway and nearly causing an accident.

So when I bought the ticket for India a few months ago, I was less than happy about the three-hour layover in Mumbai. I would have to get off the Etihad Airways plane from Abu Dhabi, pass through immigration, collect my baggage, clear customs, check in my baggage on the Jet Airways flight to Kolkata, clear security and then board the aircraft within that time. But since I was flying from Washington DC to Kolkata, my choices were limited. Besides, since the whole trip was booked by Jet Airways, I thought, they will surely make some arrangements for their passengers if the Etihad flight is delayed and the Kolkata flight leaves Mumbai. I thought wrong. When I reached the Jet Airways transfer check-in desk at the Mumbai international airport after getting off the delayed Etihad flight, declaring myself free from Ebola, passing through immigration and customs, the Kolkata flight was about to leave.

Jet Airways - where passengers come last
Maybe some other airline would have arranged for its passengers to make the connection quickly. Not Jet airways. They made sure I waited fifteen minutes for my suitcases, took my full time at every queue, and finally reached the counter when they would not let me check-in. Well, the suitcases were probably delayed by Etihad, but it was Jet Airways who had booked the trip, so I'm going to hold them responsible.

Anyway, I went to the counter and asked the agent what to do. My father had surely started for the airport by this time, and I had no way of telling him that I had missed my plane since there were no payphones in sight. That is when the agent told me that I would get a flight the next day as all flights to Kolkata for that day were full. There were four other passengers sharing my predicament. All five of us demanded an explanation for this ridiculous proposal. The Jet Airways agent explained he was doing us a favour by giving us the flight the next day, since it was really Etihad Airways’ fault that we had missed the plane. So we caught the Etihad Airways guy and asked him about alternate arrangements. He looked at our tickets and said it was a Jet Airways trip, so it wasn’t his responsibility. This went on for some time, while tempers rose slowly. I suggested they should be providing us with hotel accommodation if we were made to wait till the next day. The Jet Airways guy refused, but eventually the Etihad Airways guy agreed to do that.

As an aside, I think I should mention how the Jet Airways agents work. There is one counter to serve a huge queue of transfer passengers, and one agent sits there with a computer to handle all requests. Four other agents walk around looking busy, but do nothing other than distracting the agent at the counter from time to time. When the passengers get impatient and tell them to hurry or bring more agents to the task, the rest of the agents come and stand behind the guy at the computer, staring intently at his monitor. Any further requests to hurry are met with, “All of us are busy working here. We are trying our best, what else can we do?” Naturally, from the time we had arrived at the desk, about an hour had passed before we were promised hotel rooms and flights the following day. The only problem was, this was an unacceptable solution as far as I was concerned. Let me explain.

The day was December 7. Although my own wedding was on the 12th, I had arrived a few days early to attend my cousin’s wedding which was on the evening of the 7th. Besides, I had to go for the biometric collection part of the US visa interview the next day, the 8th, and my visa interview was on the 9th. So flying to Kolkata the next day would not only mean that I would miss my cousin’s wedding after travelling 11,000 miles and wasting a day of leave for it, it would also mean I would probably miss my visa interview and then get into complications that I couldn’t even begin to think about.

I asked the agent if there were some other options that day, like flying via a third city. It was evident from the guy’s reaction that he hadn’t thought of that idea, and he started searching on his computer. Finally, he smiled. “There’s a flight to Kolkata at 7:40 this evening, Sir!” he said, “I’ll put you on it.” It is a mystery why he had not found that flight before.

I considered the situation. Going that evening would save the visa interview, but the wedding was a lost cause. Besides, since my father and other family members would be attending the wedding, they would not be able to pick me up from the airport (or miss the wedding to pick me up). “Will I get a refund if I don’t take that flight?” I asked. “No Sir, you don’t get a refund for cancelling one leg of a journey.” He said. I told him to book me a seat on that flight and walked away. I had decided my course of action.

I walked to the Indigo Airlines counter and asked if they had a flight to Kolkata that morning. The agent said there was a flight in a couple of hours, but there were only two seats left on it and he could not book them. I would need to go to the domestic terminal to book the flight. I ran out with my suitcases and caught a taxi to the domestic terminal. Fortunately, when I reached the Indigo counter there, the seats were still available. A seat on the flight to Kolkata cost me Rs. 16,000. Then I had to shell out an additional Rs. 7,000 for excess baggage since only one check-in bag of 16 kg was allowed on the flight and I was carrying two of 23 kg each. Finally, after checking my bags, I could find a payphone to call home and inform about my plans. I had to run to board the plane soon afterwards, but I made it. Eventually I reached home after 2:00 pm and had to leave for the wedding at 4:30. But I could make it, albeit after spending a good deal of money from my pocket.

In this whole episode, is there anything that I could have done differently? I could have chosen a different airline, of course, and in hindsight it was a mistake to choose Jet. But once I reached Mumbai on the delayed flight, it really did not make sense to skip my cousin’s wedding and my visa interview just because some idiot didn’t want to cooperate with me. And to be honest, it was probably not the idiot’s fault to begin with, it was his company policy, and the farther one stays from such a company, the better. So I preferred to shell out the extra money to travel by another airline. My only consolation is, there was probably an empty seat in a Jet airways flight that evening at 7:40, for which they could have made an extra Rs. 16,000 or so had I cancelled my booking, but could not.

So there’s a reason why I always think of the worst case scenario. It usually happens to me. I will never fly by Jet Airways again if I can help it, but considering my luck, probably I’ll have trouble with some other airline the next time.


  1. I really feel for you. Probably more than anyone being a victim of Jet Airways myself. I booked a flight from Salt Lake City to Kolkata with stops at Washington Dulles, Zurich and Mumbai. It was a multiple airline flight booked through United. My last leg of the journey was through Jet Airways from Mumbai to Kolkata. United flight from Washington to Zurich got delayed and i missed my Swiss Air flight from Zurich to Mumbai. I was arranged Turkish Air Flights through Istanbul. I had excess baggage and had paid for it in SLC where United had assured that whatever may happen my luggage would reach Kolkata and I would not have to do a thing except re-check it in in Mumbai after Customs since it was a single ticket. On reaching Mumbai, I had already missed my flight to Kolkata and United had booked me on a later flight with Jet Airways. But then came trouble with my baggage and they were not ready to take the accept that my baggage was already paid for. They charged me $100 since I was an international passenger. But they never gave it a thought how this international passenger arrived in Mumbai? They said my luggage was not through checked in upto Kolkata. If that were the case they could have charged me as per domestic rates which was by per kg and would have been far lesser an amount than the flat $100.
    Never again flying any other airline than the ones which directly land in Kolkata without a stop in any other city in India. Well this time it worked out nicely with Qatar but the first time Britrish Airways lost all my luggage and never gave it back when i first came to US. Like you I am a true believer of Mr. Murphy.

  2. Why didn't you cancel your 7:40 flight? It could have helped someone else who was as irritated as you were, but didn't want to shell out extra cash. You could have easily canceled it after landing in Kolkata. Since you didn't do this, some other poor soul had to wait longer, possibly until the next morning.

  3. @Poppy: My sympathies. Lost luggage is really a very bad thing to happen.

    @Anonymous: Firstly, as I said, I had more important things to do after I landed. Secondly, I had paid for the seat... it's not as if I had kept it for free. If I had cancelled it, Jet airways would not be giving it away for free but charging someone again for it. Thirdly, among the passengers sharing my fate, I was the only one who had insisted on going that day and hence made the man find that seat for me. The others had already given up and left for their hotel. So I think I had the right to do as I pleased with that seat. Finally, for other "poor souls" there are always other airlines available.

  4. Once on my way to Paris from Sofia via Zurich our Sofia-Zurich flight was delayed. Before arrival at Zurich, they segregated three of us Paris bound passengers, made them get down first, got luggage identified and rushed in a separate jeep to the aircraft for Paris. A small concealed elevator took us at the mouth of the aero-bridge directly and we were in the plane as it was boarding. But then that was Swiss Air. - Gautam Banerji