Indian lawmakers roast airlines for long check-in queues and cold sandwiches

Waiting for better services.
Waiting for better services.
Image: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui
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India’s embattled airlines, reeling under mounting debt and piling losses, have now been called out by the country’s lawmakers for shoddy services.

A parliamentary panel yesterday (Dec. 27) criticised aviation firms for overcharging, staff misbehaviour, unsatisfactory check-in, and poor luggage collection services, among other things.

“What the passenger wants is a quick check-in, without long queues, and a smooth process of security check. Despite the huge claims of airlines regarding the check-in process, the committee is compelled to observe that the check-in counters are in a mess, especially those of low-cost airlines such as IndiGo,” said the parliamentary standing committee on transport, tourism, and culture in a report (pdf) tabled in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Indian parliament.F

It mentioned incidents of a few private airlines deliberately creating long queues at check-in counters to ensure that passengers miss their flights, and then persuading them to buy exorbitantly priced tickets for the next available ones.

The report recommended that the number of check-in counters and people deployed at the counters must be directly proportional to the number of flights each airline operates from an airport.

However, responding to the panel’s observations, the government indicated it may not be able to do much about it.

“Check-in process, check-in counters, and collection of luggage are commercial issues and the government does not interfere with the commercial activities of the airlines. Further, there is no regulation issued by the (aviation regulator) DGCA (directorate general of civil aviation) in this regard,” the ministry of civil aviation was quoted in the report.

The parliamentary committee had other complaints, too.

It came down heavily on low-cost airlines for providing unsatisfactory food, even when passengers are charged for it. “Every airline should maintain the highest quality of food and they should also change the menu occasionally instead of keeping a cold sandwich in their menu throughout the year,” the report said.

It noted that since there are no uniform standards for imposing charges for rescheduling, cancellation, and no-show, such levies by airlines are often arbitrary today. Airlines should not charge over 50% of the base fare as cancellation charges, it suggested.

The committee pulled up IndiGo, India’s largest airline by market share, for staff misbehaviour.

“Our committee is very clear that the worst performing airline for consumers is IndiGo. They haven’t responded in spite of many complaints. IndiGo even charges for 1-2 kg overweight, this has not been taken very well and the committee is looking into the matter seriously,” chairman of the committee, and member of parliament, Derek O’Brien said at a press conference after the report was tabled in parliament.

IndiGo, however, defended itself. “We evaluate every complaint/feedback rigorously and develop training modules keeping the customer sentiment in mind,” it told the Economic Times newspaper.

The report comes at a time when most major airlines in the country are trying to cut corners and squeeze the last penny out of their various services, struggling as they are on multiple fronts. Profitability in the industry has taken a severe beating as companies battle high fuel prices and unfavourable currency exchange rates. Airliners like IndiGo, SpiceJet, and Jet Airways have seen their finances worsen in the past two quarters.

The lawmakers’ criticism is something the industry could have done without at this juncture.