In Airlines

The Airlines Scam and How I Experienced it First Hand.

Remember the CNN IBN report on how airlines overbook passengers and delay their check-in, so that they miss their flights? And pocket the money. Well, I saw that happen yesterday morning.

I had a Jet Airways flight at 7:15 am from Chennai to Mumbai. I landed at the airport by 6:25 am and by the time I finished ‘baggage screening’ and hit the counter, it was 6:35 am. The crowd in the airport was surprisingly less. I didn’t have to stand in the queue for baggage screening and check-in counter.

I handed over my check-in printout and my driving license to the lady at the counter. She took a few minutes checking into her computer. She then went to her colleague and they had a whispering conversation.

She came back and with a straight face, said, “Sorry sir, It’s 6:45 am and we close the boarding half hour before take off. The boarding is now closed. You are late for the check-in. ”

Late? Did she say, “late” ??.

I keep my cool. I tell her I was at the counter 10 minutes ago. She says that doesn’t count and the fact that since its 6:45 now, she is forced to close the counter.

And what she said next, totally pissed me off.

She said, “Besides, the plane is already full”

I ask her,”How can it be full, if I’m standing here in front of you?”

To that she replied, “Oh, we usually overbook the seats”

Now, I’m beginning to boil. I understood their strategy. Last minute bookings are done by desperate business folks who *must* make the journey and are willing to pay whatever it costs. The average last minute cost of an economy class ticket is around Rs.10,000.

I grudgingly keep my calm. “Overbook? How can you give away my paid seat to another person? You are doing exactly the same scam that CNN IBN exposed last week.”

With an even sterner face, she says, “Sir, we are allowed to overbook. It’s legal”

I said, “Oh, yeah?” and quietly and very slowly, proceeded to open my bag. I took out my video camera and my voice recorder and placed it on the counter.

And in a really calm voice, I said, “Can you repeat your last sentence, please. I’d like you to go on record. And if you are not authorized to speak, I would like you to put me with your press relations executive”.

The word ‘press’ seems to have caught everybody’s attention. Six of her colleagues stopped working abruptly and kept starring at us. The lady I was speaking to stiffened a bit. The sight of a video camera, a voice recorder, and the ”You mess with me, and I’ll mess with you back” look on my face can be a rather strong combination.

At that time, a Jet official stepped up to the counter, and whisked away the lady aside. Three other colleagues joined them to form a huddle. Two minutes later, the lady returns and says, “Sir, we will put you on a 1:30 afternoon flight to Mumbai”

I have a 2:00 pm meeting with Kevin Turner. This ‘compromise’ is of no use to me. I tell her so and proceeded to add, “When can I meet up with your press relations executive?” . And I wasn’t kidding. If I missed the flight, all the efforts and money that Microsoft put in to get me to their COO’s meeting would be gone. And I have a face to lose. I’m not going to let a bunch of scheming airline staff do that. And if they do that, I was hell bent on paying the gratitude back.

At all times, I never raised my voice. Never screamed. I think the airlines staff are well trained to handle irate, screaming customers. But a calm but firm talk unnerves them.

Another huddle happens.

The lady returned and this time, she takes a printout, hands me the boarding pass, and with a very plastic smile says, “Enjoy your flight, Sir”.

I wasn’t in a mood for artificial niceties. I nodded, picked up my boarding pass and proceeded to the security check.

And as I climbed the stairs to the plane, I couldn’t help contain the smile of victory.