Many passengers booked on Air India’s international or domestic flights are having a harrowing time because of frequent cancellations and alleged lack of communication on the part of the airline.
Several passengers and their family members alleged that they had to brave the pandemic and physically visit the airline’s city office on Chittaranjan Avenue in central Kolkata to rebook tickets or get refunds because they got no assistance from Air India’s call centre.
Goutam Ghosh, a retired professor and his wife Krishna, a retired school teacher, were returning from Germany to Kolkata. They were booked on an Air India flight from Frankfurt to Kolkata via Bangalore earlier this month.
“The flight was cancelled but there was no communication from Air India. Luckily, my travel agent in Kolkata, who was checking the flight status, informed us that the flight was cancelled. He rebooked us the next day on a flight through Delhi,” said Ghosh.
However, after going to the airport, they found out that flight too had been cancelled. The couple’s visas, which were timed according to their return flight, expired and they had to spend 36 hours at the Frankfurt airport to board the next flight.
“The airline had promised a coupon of Euro 100 per passenger, which they never gave,” he alleged.
There are others who also alleged harassment. On Friday, The Telegraph found several people waiting in the ground floor lobby of the Air India office.
A majority of them had come to get their tickets rescheduled. They or someone in their family could not take the flight because they got infected by Covid.
Most of them had been calling up the Air India helpline number several times in the past few days. But almost every call meant a long wait before being able to speak to an executive, said passengers. More often than not, the executive was redirecting the call to another department, followed by another long wait.
Many calls were getting disconnected and the ones that went through hardly bore fruit, said flyers. Passengers were being asked to visit the office in person or send a representative with documents.
A Beleghata resident had booked four tickets — for his parents and two of their friends — to Port Blair for January 16. The third wave stalled the trip and he wanted an offer on the Air India website that promised “one free change applicable to all confirmed tickets with travel period till March 31”.
The man wanted to know the deadline of getting the new tickets. More than once over the past few days, his call was forwarded to the “ticketing” department but it was disconnected before he could speak to someone from the department.
“Every day, I have had to spend at least a couple of hours on futile phone calls. This way, my own work gets hampered,” said the man. He came to the office on Friday because he did not want to risk any more delay. When he spoke to The Telegraph, he had already waited for 90 minutes.
Another man, who hails from Kolkata but has settled in Guwahati for the past few years for work, was among the visitors on Friday. His son, who is pursuing a PhD in the US, had come home in December. He had return tickets for January 12. But the man, his wife and son were infected with Covid early in January.
“I have come to get tickets for another date. According to the protocol, a letter from a doctor clearing your travel is needed if you were infected with Covid within 90 days of an international flight. I saw the same thing on the Air India website as well. I want to know if a certificate is actually enough or do I still need an RTPCR test for my son,” said the man, a senior official with a nationalised bank.
A single phone call could have settled the query but the man said the Air India helpline was a “nightmare”. “On most occasions, the number was unreachable. Finally, it took me close to an hour to connect with an executive. I was told that I would have to make a physical visit,” said the man, in his late-fifties.
An official of the airline said frequent cancellations were due to the Covid pandemic affecting flights schedules worldwide. “Take Hong Kong for example. The flights from India to Hong Kong were suddenly stopped by the authorities there. Similar situation is prevailing everywhere,” said the official.
He claimed the airline always sends communication to passengers about cancellations. “However, in many cases passengers book through online travel portals and don’t give their mobile numbers. So it becomes impossible to contact them,” said the Air India official.