Irony or Ironies - Air India and US Airports

Dec 28th, 2007, 04:45 AM
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Irony or Ironies - Air India and US Airports

Just got back from my trip to India aboard Air India's new NYC JFK to Mumbai direct flight. I had been advised by some outside this forum to try this new flight despite the general view that AI is horrible. The flight was an absolute DELIGHT!

Air India uses brand new Boeing 777s for this particular flight. The service was impeccable- very polite & thoughtful (was really impressed with this)! I flew in Economy- ample legroom, huge personal TV screens (may be the biggest I've seen on any airline), great in-flight entertainment.... food was good and overall, this has been one of the best flights I've ever taken to India.

That being said, I've been told that Air India has improved the JFK-Mumbai non-stop flight only & their other flights still leave much to be desired. In addition, the chaos of India greeted me at the airport right here in NY - boarding began 1.5 hrs ahead of departure & with good reason. Discourteous passengers refused to go through security gates in lines, pushing through whenever they found an inch. Officials at the airport were equally frustrated & inefficient.
By the time I got to the gate, it was almost departure time!

Upon return to JFK I was stuck in Immigration for 1:42 minutes. Of the 50 or so booths at Immigration, only around 14-15 were occupied at a time when jumbo flights from Air India, Thai Air, El Al, South African, Emirates and others arrive together (~7:00 am). There were easily over thousand people waiting in the Immigration line (between citizens & visitors). Meanwhile, a "polite" homeland security officer was yelling at passengers "Shut off your cell phones NOW" leaving people no way of letting their families know that they were stuck in Immigration (not including baggage claim & Customs) for nearly 2 hours despite arriving on time.

Air India cannot be blamed for lapses at the airports. In summary, a travel experience full of ironies - Air India pleasantly surprised me while US airport management, Homeland Security & general disposition of officials & some passengers continues to worsen.
mdn is offline  
Dec 28th, 2007, 08:17 AM
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Thank you, mdn, for sharing your pleasant experiences aboard Air India. It ia good to know that some things do indeed change for the better.

Thank you also for alerting us to the unpleasant experiences upon returning to the U.S. It is not so good to know that some things simply don't improve at all.
JohnAtLC is offline  
Dec 28th, 2007, 05:30 PM
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How did US Immigration allocate resources between Americans and guests?

Twice this year, I - and several hundred other people intending to spend money in your country - have been kept waiting till all the Americans were processed.

I don't intend repeating the exercise again.
flanneruk is offline  
Dec 29th, 2007, 03:17 AM
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I guess we're just trying to repolicate the UK experience...

the lines for passport control for non-EU citizens can take hours, even at odd times of the day. I recently had the misfortune to arrive at Heathrow from Rome late at night, around the same time as jumbos from Moscow; Almaty, Kazakhstan; Islamabad; Lagos; and other far-flung locations.

The line through an airless tunnel was long, the wait 90 minutes long, and British airport employees yelled nearly nonstop to those in the line that they should "step aside" (to where?) to allow EU residents through.
AAFrequentFlyer is offline  
Dec 29th, 2007, 04:38 AM
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Precisely, AAFF. My niece had a terrible experience coming through Immigration at LHR in June. She was delayed so long that justairports charged her about 25% extra for their waiting time.

Flanner, you loathe the US so I don't understand why you go there anyway. Best for your blood pressure if you stay away. You can sneer long distance.
Carrybean is offline  
Dec 29th, 2007, 04:42 AM
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I am still in shock!!! Even though, i'm Indian myself ..... i would never fly Air India. I have heard good things about the new 777, but, their on time record probably still stinks and if your flights were on schedule, maybe you were lucky?

I have been flying Emirates for the last few years. But, i'm sure Jet Airways really does set the bar!!!

HariS is offline  
Dec 29th, 2007, 07:21 AM
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Well put, AAFF and Carrybean. It's an part of travel that you get priority in immigration as a citizen returning to your own country, but not when you enter another country.

The rule prohibiting cell phone use has always been in effect in U.S. Customs and Immigration. There are ample signs to that effect, and on every AA flight I've been on coming to the the United States, that's one of the final in-flight announcements. I've seen people routinely violating it, but I've also seen officials confiscate phones from people who don't turn them off when asked.

I've never flown Air India because I've heard such awful things about the airline, but I'm happy to hear of someone's good experience.
Jeff_Costa_Rica is offline  
Dec 29th, 2007, 09:29 AM
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There were approx. equal resources for Visitors and Citizens. The line on the Citizens side was shorter either due to quicker processing of their passports or because fewer Citizens were on these flights vs Visitors.
Regardless, LHR should not be something that JFK tries to emulate & vice versa. Both are quite dreary & overburdened. These days, some of the newer airports in Asia or even Atlanta in the years after the '96 Olympics did a good job.

My AI flights were on time both ways. I hope this is the new AI & that they maintain this level & expand it across their fleet. Jet Airways sets the standard for service on flights to India (but perhaps only marginally so compared to what I experienced on AI this time). I only wish they offered a non-stop flight as opposed to the one via Brussels. Non-stop makes a big difference & one can actually attempt to get several hours of sleep.
mdn is offline  
Dec 29th, 2007, 11:25 AM
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JFK has a bunch of terminals...the main international arrivals one is indeed very dreary and old and needs updating and as noted when a whole bunch of flights come in at one time, it can be disgusting although the immigration service should be aware of the schedule.

AA has its own terminal and its own immigration and customs areza, is new and AA would not have more than 2 or 3 international flights coming in at one time so I, if unfortunately taking AA internationally (service sucks compared to Virgin Atlantic and even BA in coach)at least coming into JFK at immigration is not so terrible...they have 2 separate queues one for US passports and green card holders, the other for visitors. Of course visitors to the USA, except for Canadians I believe, are subject to the humiliating finger printing that of course does nothing to increase security but that's another story. Then it's your wait for your baggage to come through which, like domestic flights, can vary greatly depending on staffing levels. But all in all the experience coming into JFK at AA is really not terrible.

As far as cell phones, AA allows you to turn on your cell phone the instant the wheels touch the tarmac but you are asked not to make calls until the plane turns off the active runway....they then clearly announce that no cell phones are to be used while in the immigration and customs area of the airport and this is widely ignored and phones should be confiscated by those who don't listen and follow the instructions although I don't understand why this is necessary.

European airlines usually tell you upon arriving at LHR not to use your mobile phone while on the plane and until you have cleared customs (it is widely ignored at least while still waiting on the plane to disembark...don't know if that's a government reg or an airline reg)

LHR immigration can be a disaster...terminal 3 is especially dreary and they also break it into 2 areas, eu and Switzerland flights as opposed to others...once, and this is a funny story, I came into terminal 2 at the same time a flight had arrived from Germany containing a whole lot of people from Ghana and the queue was taking a long long time...finally a Canadian in back of me who had travelled with a girl he met in Germany saw her coming downstairs wondering where he was. He said to her, "You are German, England's long time enemy and they let you through without much of a problem (the eu line all you need to show is your identity card, they don't even stamp it or anything, they just look at it)...he continued, here I am a member of the Commonwealth and I have to wait for an hour.

You know something, he was right.

(What they finally did is shift all the Ghanians into a separate queue and all the others on the other line, mostly Aussies, Kiwis, Americans and Canadians were then quickly processed).....
xyz123 is offline  
Dec 29th, 2007, 11:40 AM
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My one and only experience with AI at JFK was an absolutely disaster.

Last February, I was scheduled to fly from JFK to LHR on AA at 2330 on the evening of 14/02/07....the night before there had been an ince storm on the east coast which had totally disrupted flights into and out of JFK.

I teach a class and upon finished the class at 1930 routinely called AA only to find out my flight at 2330 had been cancelled (the only one I could make)..there was no reason to cancel the flight but they did anyway. I then spent an hour and a half on the phone with an AA reservation person trying to schedule for the next day...I was told everything was full (this was President's Day weekend)..I was going for a short weekend with friends to London..anyway they finally came up with a reservation on the 1930 AI flight to LHR the next night Friday. I was told I would have to go to AA first to get an endorsed paper ticket and then to AI.

I accomplished this on Friday and at 1630 checked in for the AI flight to LHR which was listed on time...I relaxed checked the monitors which said the flight was on time...was waiting in the lounge when it dawned on me at 1900 that nobody was at the AI gate and nobody was boarding the plane. Finally somebody came downstairs to tell me the flight had been cancelled and to go upstairs to make alternate arrangements.

Well the long and short is that if I couldn't go on Friday, there was no sense in going. I went upstaris to a mad house...all they were trying to do is get people over to the hotel to fly out the next day. I told them this was unacceptable and that I wanted my checked luggage back as well as my paper ticket to go back to AA to standby. They refused...I yelled at the piece of garbage supervisors who kept telling me it was impossible to get my luggage back and that I should wait until they got everybody over to the hotel..I kept yelling at this piece of garbage...I threatened to call the police..finally he relented and after about 45 minutes of waiting, I got my luggage back as well as the paper ticket.

I then went over to AA, asked for standby status on AA for the same flight (2330) those idiots had cancelled for no reason the night before and because of my AA status was put down as a priority standby. The only reason I was eventually able to get on the flight was that the connecting flight from San Diego with several LHR passengers was an hour late and they released their seasts and I got the last one but the callousness of the Air India people, especially the slime ball who refused to get me my luggage back shows the contempt of these people (I also blame the AA people who had no reason to cancel the London flight the night before as BA and VS got all their flights off to London)....also it was fascinating to watch at the next gate on AA how people had been stranded for 3 nights trying to get to South America and the AA supervisor using all the airline jargon trying to explain to them why they couldn't be accomodated even though they had confirmed reservations from 2 nights before.

What a disaster thanks to both AA and AI that trip almost turned out to be.
xyz123 is offline  
Dec 29th, 2007, 05:38 PM
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I suppose the worry about cell phones is that people will use them to communicate and hatch some type of plot within the arrivals hall. "Hey, Joe, the customs agent in my line seems to be waving everyone through. He won't notice those diamonds you are smuggling. I'll save you a place." I've always imagined that's what it is.
Jeff_Costa_Rica is offline  
Dec 29th, 2007, 05:56 PM
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That's exactly the reason. The CBP doesn't want anybody communicating with others as to what's going on in the customs area.
AAFrequentFlyer is offline  
Dec 29th, 2007, 06:16 PM
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xyz123 posts - huh???
AAFrequentFlyer is offline  
Dec 30th, 2007, 08:32 AM
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"Flanner, you loathe the US so I don't understand why you go there anyway"

I don't loathe the US. I despise the complacency with which its brainwashed citizens (and their foreign cheerleaders) tolerate its inadequacies, but that's a different issue.

At JFK on a Saturday night in early November, the US government - as a matter of policy - put 12 officials into the kiosks to process the handful of arriving US citizens. It allocated THREE to handle the several hundred Europeans. It knew nine hours beforehand EXACTLY how many Americans and guests were arriving, and when.

Three days later, at Heathrow, the numbers were reversed. As always, my government put about five times as many officials onto the job of handling the few non-Europeans using Heathrow as onto the job of handling Europeans.

Handling passengers takes time, and no-one does it perfectly. Only the US deliberately tries to make like extraordinarily difficult for guests.

Far, far worse, though: only Americans blind themselves to this discourtesy. In Britain, the inadequacy of the way we treat foreigners at Heathrow is a daily scandal. In America, such ill-manners is regarded as the price foreigners pay for the privilege of keeping the local econmomy going.
flanneruk is offline  
Dec 30th, 2007, 01:07 PM
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Carrybean is offline  
Dec 31st, 2007, 02:36 AM
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There are a couple of points I'll make. (i) Many Immigration officers in the US as well as most at LHR ( & some other airports) are downright rude. I think their attitude stems from a conviction that it's a privilege for visitors to come to the US/UK. Whether or not that's true is irrelevant to their work at the airport. If a person has the correct paperwork, they should process it mechanically without introducing their own bias. Even if there are errors, their job should entail helping the person fill out the forms correctly (many aren't fluent in English) rather then huffing & puffing about it. However, that will be nearly impossible to do as the prevailing view in their countries ("Give me your tired, your needy, your huddled masses..."), propogated by biased media, is reflected in these individuals who still think they're catering to lesser mortals. I suspect they don't get out very much on their own to form their own views of the world.

(ii) Airline service: At a time when international carriers are exceeding expectations, US airlines remain terrible. Once again there's a certain attitude in the cabin... as if they're doing passengers a favor whereas it should be a part of their duty. I never see a cabin attendant help anyone with their carry-on luggage anymore. In fact, I see frowns in the distance when a passenger is struggling with their overhead luggage & holding up the line.
Yes there are several crazy passengers too with excessive carry-on or ridiculous requests when things often escalate into arguments. But staff should be well aware that dealing with such people is part of the job. They say competition will help, but most other good carriers are nationalized airlines...
Let's hope Virgin America & others will help change things at the airlines. Immigration may be a hopeless case.
mdn is offline  
Dec 31st, 2007, 04:24 AM
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Sorry about the experiences the previous poster has had but I have pretty mich just the opposite.

1. US/UK immigration/customs- More times than not I had at the very least, very professional, expedited service from the officers. Only couple of times I had what one can consider "unfriendly/cold" encounter with agents but nothing that I would consider rude. (I have crossed US/UK borders about 50 times in the last few years).

2. US airlines, in particular AA has had some rough patches in service during the few "lean" years after 9/11 but I have seen nothing but examplary service on majority of flights. FAs that help handicapped paxs, children, casual flyers, help with luggage, deal with idiots and more time than not do it all with a big smiles on their faces.

This is coming from somebody that has been flying ~125K miles a year. British Airways, Cathay Pacific, AerLingus, Iberia FAs are no better or worst than US based airline FAs. In fact, the ground services/CS of US based airlines, particularly AA are much better than any foreign airline ground services/CS.

Totally disagree with the previous posters generalizations.

AAFrequentFlyer is offline  
Dec 31st, 2007, 04:44 AM
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Obviously it's impossible to can, of course, have a grumpy crew on one flight with an top rated airline such as Virgin Atlantic and very friendly service from what some consider to be a lesser American carrier such as US Air....

The difference, though, is the corporate feeling about the role of the airline and its geese...the cuts in service to save a couple of bucks on AA are just incredibly dumb. I know there is an AA frequent flyer here who thinks AA is the greatest. Unfortunately for me, the travel I do does necessitate greater use of AA than I would want as when I combine my domestic travel with international, in order to have a viable frequent flyer program, it has boiled down to AA (and I am not rich enough to be able to afford anything other than coach).

On a 3,000 mile 6 hour trans continental flight not to serve some sort of meal in coach is a disgrace and I understand all the verbiage about airlines are not in the restaurant business, lower costs...the costs of providing meals on airlines was never all that great and is not that great today that a little bit of consideration towards coach passengers is not warranted..and of course somehow Continental has somehow managed to continue full meal service on transcontinental flights.

And let's not even discuss the difference in service between say AA on the JFK-LHR route and VS in terms of meal quality, in terms of free booze, in terms of the ice cream snack they serve on the LHR-JFK route on VS. At least they've gotten rid on the JFK-LHR route that hideous snack pack they used to serve for breakfast (but they still have the gall to serve it on the LHR-JFK portion in lieu of the tea with sandwiches VS serves)...and of course in general VS fares are no higher than AA yet they don't have to put the squeeze on their coach passengers the way AA does...come on AA Frequent Flyer at least you can agree service on the trans Atlantic routes on AA is substandard...even BA is better (and again it wouldn't be so terrible to serve wine with dinner would it?)

And of course on the JFK-CDG route, the planes used by AA don't even have the individual screens (and let's not even mention the difference between the offerings on VS as opposed to AA!)...these are things that should never have been allowed to happen.
xyz123 is offline  
Jan 1st, 2008, 04:50 PM
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I'm with you, Carry. I would never make such gross generalizations about the citizens of any country by calling everyone "brainwashed."
P_M is offline  

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