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Will Maharaja rebuild his Palace in the sky?

Will Maharaja rebuild his Palace in the sky?
February 04
12:48 2022

A.Q. Siddiqui

Indian Travelers’ eyes are all set on reemerging Maharaja of Air India for a magic that is not going to happen soon. More expectations are pinned on Tata management for a succor to ailing Maharaja as the original owner takes back the giant aviation legacy. Speculations are high that ‘good days are’ coming back to Air India.

The first ‘grooming’ command for front line staff has already ignited the hopes. The cabin crew unions are up in arms. However, will someone whisper in the cracking domains of cabin crew unions that, the public sector days are gone and they have already landed in private hands. And the hands can turn the trouble makers down any time.

The transfer of public sector legacy unto private hands is the new life line for the ailing Maharaja. I remember my early days in Air India when the left-over air of Tata’s legacy was still lingering. The rules were so rigid. Anyone reporting late for duty 3 times in a month would lose a day’s wages. The rigidity faded soon. Late arrivals on work and leaving early, manipulation of over time hours were soon routine matters. These were internal factors but they actually weakened the body and spirit of Maharaja.

Gulf routes and New York destination kept Maharaja’s spirit high. Truly, Maharaja was a ruler for Middle East allowing only Gulf Air for passing through its kingdom. However, the ground started slipping from under the feet of Maharaja. There was an erring judgment on the part of Air India cabin crew who treated Gulf travelers as laborers. This was the first crack in the business body of Maharaja.

The emergence of Middle East airlines also brought in blowing winds against Air India. Emirates, particularly, was like a mirror of quality service shinning against Maharaja’s diminishing powers. However, there were many other factors that pushed the ailing Maharaja on a bed. The merger of Indian Airlines and Air India was a wrong prescription for the sick Maharaja. And the Maharaja could never recover.

That was the old story for the sick Maharaja. It will be important to know how did the Maharaja lose his glory and Palace from the sky? The current scenario mostly points at 2 factors, namely delays and rude cabin crews. Most blames are targeted against the cabin crew. However, let it be known that Air India imparts the best training for its front-line workers and cabin crew. More than 80 percent of Air India cabin crew is courteous and customer service oriented. However, unjustified demands from travelers often resulted in a scene that left cabin crew red in the face. If a seat in business class is not stretching to full bed the cabin crew is blamed and argued with. If the seat monitors are not working, cabin crew are called in and an immediate fix demanded.

The real cause for Maharaja’s sickness was not a ‘rude cabin crew’. It is the engineering department that should be blamed for not caring properly for the maintenance of ‘over used’ aircrafts. If you look closely inside an Air India aircraft, even on US routes, you will wonder if any ‘maintenance’ service exists for the world’s largest airline? The seat arm rests are broken; more than 10 percent economy seat monitors are malfunctioning or not working at all. Most delays are caused as the captain or flying crew find faults with aircraft engines before departure. Who is to be blamed for it?

Once upon a time a retired Air India Sales Manager in Midwest was heard saying, “The moment you enter an Air India aircraft you feel entering into India’. He was addressing an agents’ award event. Today if you enter any AI aircraft on a Middle East route, particularly Being 747, you get a very foul smell from the unkempt carpet.

The new management must focus first on the working of ‘Maintenance and Engineering’ department for an early recovery of Maharaja. Maharaja will surely rebuild a Palace in the sky if he gets helping professional hands from the maintenance.

(The author is an ex-Air India Mumbai and Hyderabad employee).

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