Yes, both the pictures are of my mom, one is before she boarded Jet Airways on 03.05.2017 and another is after. Are we so vulnerable when we book our tickets with an airline? Are our loved ones, especially elders, women of the family and young ones safe when they travel alone under the presumption that booking a reputed airline assures of no botheration enroute? Are airlines safe anymore? The events at Delhi Airport, which were no less than a nightmare for me, unfolded in the following manner on 03.05.2017:
9.45 am: I dropped my mom at Delhi International Airport for a flight scheduled to take off at 10.50 am for Kolkata. She happily bid me and my wife Preena a goodbye.
My mom had done web check in. She had the boarding pass. All the crew had to do was ask her to produce the boarding pass and let her board.
10.00 am: I receive a call from my mom that Jet Airways won’t let her board the flight because she is late. She sounds hassled. I asked her to request the officials to let her board and if they still don’t let her board, to let it pass and that will make a booking in another flight.
(I check the time. For a flight scheduled to take off at 10.50, 10.00 am is within time limits prescribed on the ticket. Moreover, since web check in was done, if at all she was late, she should have received a call from Jet Airways, because Terminal 3 of Delhi Airport is an announcement free airport and airlines have to call the passengers who are late. However, no call from Jet Airways was received which shows that she reached the airport within time.)
10.05 am: I receive a call from my mom again that the staff at Jet Airways is misbehaving with her and that when she requested to be boarded on the flight, they demanded a sum of ₹ 5,500/- on the pretext of extra baggage.
(The weight of the baggage was within permissible limits).
She also told me that after weighing her bag, they threw it back on the floor rudely telling her that the bags are overweight. (Generally, the person handling the bag takes it and either puts it on the conveyor belt or returns it to the passenger’s trolley).
The bags (1 luggage bag and 1 hand bag) were lying scattered on the airport floor. My mom was told to either pay up the amount immediately or to forget about boarding the flight. (So the issue was not about being late but about forcing money out of a hapless senior citizen-passenger, who was an easy victim/ target because she was travelling alone). I asked my mom to pay the amount, so that she can travel and does not face any harassment.
The amount of ₹5,500/- was paid to the Jet Airways and no receipt was issued at that time.
10.35 am: I receive a call from the airport and hear what literally swept the floor off my feet – that my mom is lying unconscious on the airport floor and that blood is oozing out from her.
I could hardly believe my ears and did not know how to react. I simply froze. My wife shook me while I was just about to hit a car in the front and I had to brake hard to avoid the collision.
The cell phone had fallen from my hand on the car floor. My wife asked me while picking up the phone as to what had happened. I somehow told her what had happened. She asked me to switch seats and took the driver’s seat and whizzed to the airport at a spot where we were asked to come.
(So between paying the amount and my receiving the call from the airport, the Jet Airways staff, especially one Upasana Bagga created so much pressure on my mom that it eventually led to her blacking out and fainting on the airport floor. The rude demand for money, the harassment of not being allowed to board the flight, the embarrassment from being shouted at at a public place and people around and gathering around the commotion, the pushing and shoving after being given a boarding pass after paying the money and the pressure unnecessarily created by resorting to pressure tactics, just to squeeze money out of my mom had a cumulative effect of her nervous and psychological break down, blackout and fainting on the airport floor. On a slightly different note, I believe it could be anyone’s mother or love one in such a situation. This was the first time she was travelling alone and instead of being helpful and assisting her in her travel, the Jet Airways staff were rude and brash. My mom, on falling got a deep cut on her chin and hurt her head. So she had to be moved to Medanta hospital located inside the airport premises, where the doctor present advised that no stitches could be done because the wound was too deep and needed a surgeon. All of this to a passenger who is just there to board a flight and go from point A to point B).
11.00 am: I reached the airport and met my mom. She was sobbing and was in a state of trauma, continuously saying things like, “Beta, they misbehaved with me so much that I could not take it.” “I don’t know how I fainted. I just blacked out”. “I am sorry”. “Please just take me away from here.” She was just in a state of shock and I was unable to face her, leave alone comfort her.
The doctor told me that due to the fall, apart from hurting her chin, she might have hurt her head also. The doctor at the airport told that the cut on the chin was so deep that he could not stitch it and that a surgery had to be done. He advised MRI and other tests to be done as soon as possible.
I was further told that when she passed out, no one from the Jet Airways staff, who were rushing her and creating panic, came to pick her up or to immediately wheel her away to the first aid center. She was lying on the airport floor for quite sometime, when a Sikh gentleman came running to her and tried to stop the blood that was oozing out from her chin with his handkerchief. Another passenger offered her orange juice to drink from her own bottle so that my mom could regain consciousness. The airport staff was also alerted by the passengers, who then sprung into action and brought wheel chair to rush her to emergency facility on the airport. I am very grateful for such acts of kindness by people whom I do not even know and would like to thank them from the deepest bottom of my heart.
It is pertinent to note that the Jet Airways staff, which was rushing her to board the flight, did nothing to help. They just stood around my mom who was lying on the floor, bleeding, discussing what would happen now. They were more concerned about who would take the responsibility of a passenger fainting. They were not at all concerned with the fallen passenger’s immediate emergency needs. This alone speaks volumes about the manner in which the unfortunate incident was handled. However, it does not end here.
Coincidentally, my sister and brother in law (Gurshaan) were also to leave Delhi the same day, but their flights were booked with Air India and were scheduled to depart for Kolkata a little later at about 2.30 pm. Seeing my mom traumatised I knew she could not travel alone anytime soon. So, since my sister and Gurshaan were leaving Delhi a little later the same day, I thought it would be better if my mom left with them.
I requested Jet Airways officials to instead of booking my mom on a later flight of Jet Airways, to book my mom a ticket in the Air India flight in which my sister and brother in law were travelling. Air India and Jet Airways have a reciprocal arrangement where flights of either carrier is delayed, they can request each other to fly their passengers.
The officials of Jet Airways flatly refused on the pretext that the official present at site did not have the authority to approve it. I asked to see the official who had the authority to grant the approval. This was at about 12.30 pm. The Air India flight which I was requesting my mom to be boarded was scheduled to depart at 2.50 pm.
From 12.00 pm to 2.00 pm, no senior official from Jet Airways arrived, despite continued requests being made to the said Upasana Bagga and another lady official present who informed that she was the Station Manager on duty. The cause for delay was evident – they knew my mother couldn’t travel alone and if they kept the whole thing hanging, my brother in law and sister would eventually have to cancel their tickets with Air India and book their tickets with Jet Airways. Moreover, they could also charge for the extra baggage because the baggage allowance in Air India was 10 kgs more than Jet Airways – for two passengers, it means 20 extra Kgs of extra baggage money. I could not book my mom on Air India because the bookings for Air India flight were closed by then. However, due to the arrangement with Air India, Jet Airways could book the tickets for my mom, but they did not, for they were aware that they had an opportunity to sell two more tickets and charge for extra baggage now. At about 1.55 pm, one Abhijeet from Jet Airways came and flatly refused our request. He admitted that they had an arrangement with Air India. On being asked why he would not do the booking, keeping in mind the emergent exceptional circumstances, he replied that he just would not do it and that he is not liable to give any explanation. He said the discretion is his and he will not do it. We pleaded and requested, but nothing helped. Then we informed him that he was not only bringing disrepute to his employer but also was exposing himself and his company to legal action. He said that he or his company does not care and that recently also 32 passengers in Mumbai were not allowed to board and that though they had filed complaints/ FIRs with the police but nothing happened. He said that for them everything is manageable, hinting at a tacit arrangement with authorities.
Finally, I had to book a ticket with Jet Airways so that my sister could travel with my mom. The ticket was purchased at an exorbitant price it being a last minute booking for no fault on our part. All our requests to make some concessions owing to exceptional circumstances were met with an arrogant attitude and deaf ear. When I was finally collecting the boarding pass, a Jet Airways Official came and stood beside me and asked, “Are you done?” I told him that he could bully me and my family at the airport, but I shall definitely take legal action. He said, “Jo karna hai karlo. Roz police case hotey hain yaha, parr kisi ko aanch nahi aati. Sab manage kiya hua hai. Baaki chaho to time wate karlo.” (Do whatever you want to do. Police cases are filed here on a daily basis but still no action is taken. Everything is managed. But if you still want to waste time running around authorities, you are free to do so). I was shocked at such a statement being made so openly! That moment it felt like there were no rules, no guidelines, no procedure, which we as lawyers live by, and that it was so easy to fearlessly bully, intimidate and ill-treat someone. I was literally living a nightmare!
There was not an iota of sensitive treatment, leave alone comfortable travelling. It was a horrendous experience, which I do not wish to happen to anyone. My mom who is a kind-hearted and soft spoken person, was subject to such bullying and ill-treatment and I could do absolutely nothing about it! And I am a literate and aware person. I can’t even imagine what these people do to those people who cannot read or write or people who have a language problem.
At the Jet Airways counter yesterday, I saw a man enroute from some place in the Middle East to Lucknow, stranded at the airport from 02.05.2017 with a boarding pass without an allotted seat number. He was told that he would have to wait till 04.05.2017 because the flights were full. This man was a construction worker in the Middle East and was going back home to Lucknow. I could set the disappointment in his eyes. He just didn’t seem to have an option apart from being at the mercy of the carrier at that point of time.
Finally, I had to see my mom off, who was so happy to see me and my wife, when she had initially come about a week ago and had happily bid me good bye in the morning, leave on a wheelchair, all hassled and with tears in her eyes. I as a son, still can’t get that picture out of my head and the helplessness that I feel, cannot be expressed.
Is this how private airlines are supposed to operate? Are the smiling and relaxed faces of the crew on the hoardings of the airlines radiating a sense of security to travellers a mere fraudulent marketing gimmick to somehow exploit innocent and unsuspecting travellers/ passengers? Commercial gain and profiting is fine but can it be allowed at the cost of safety to human life? Does a common man have to always bow down and be mowed over to silence by such mighty and heavy weight corporations in a country ruled by the rule of law, and where the only thing that’s supreme is law and everyone else is not only below it but also equal before it? Are our loved ones so vulnerable when they travel alone? Could this not happen to anyone’s mother or loved one? Is everything taken for granted here? Do human lives and feelings mean nothing here? These are some of the questions I ask myself but dread answering.
Such instances are shockingly on the rise. Everyday we head of some instance somewhere. #ThisNeedsToStop!
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