Monday, October 28, 2013

25 Hours at the Charles de Gaulle

I wrote the attached piece titled “25 Hours at the Charles de Gaulle” some eight summers ago on 23rd Dec. 2005 while being stranded at THE Charles-de-Gaule airport & haplessly cursing my travel agent for having me booked through this scumbag of a union of the two most unprofessional airlines any customer might have seen. And I am not being remotely sarcastic while I say so, especially since so much water has flown down the river all these years. Such was the impact of this episode on my psyche that I don’t get amazed anymore whenever I see a media report on how Air France has crossed all the limits of professional decorum and how it has ill-treated its Indian patrons as if all of them are perpetually booked on free tickets and just don’t deserve any humane touch. It’s disheartening to observe that Air France still is the very same haughty carrier it has been since its inception and in all earnestness deserves a kick out of India for good.

The reason why today I got so agitated is the following link which one of my friends has shared (knowing that I had a similar story). I do not find it exaggerated even one bit as I empathize with the aggrieved Air France passenger in entirety.

Best regards
Ritesh Garg

25 Hours at the Charles de Gaulle

An Open Letter to
A)    The CEO (& President) of Delta Airlines, Inc.;
B)     The CEO (& President) of Air France;
C)    The Department of Immigration, The Republic of France;
D)    The Airport Authority of The Republic of France

Honourable Sir(s)/Madam(s),

Warm greetings!

At the onset, I wish to describe the context of this letter. The subject matter of this draws its inspiration from my harrowing experiences at the Charles-de-Gaulle airport on 23rd and 24th Dec 2005. There are several individuals & organizations who were the key actors in making it a truly (un)forgettable one for the rest of my life as it has left a permanent impression on my conscious (and to some extent subconscious) being. Please close this text if you do not have time to go thru the frame-by-frame mode of this description. I anyway can afford to write this piece as I have ample time to put my words here with nothing else to do at the airport for the whole day. Also, I strongly feel that not many people can appreciate the gravity of the trauma I’d gone thru if I don’t detail the chain of events.

For the reference following is the itinerary (PNR No. PJWRPZ/DL) that I was supposed to complete for my return visit to my country India from the USA.

1. Thursday 22nd Dec 2005: Atlanta to Paris
Carrier: Delta Air Lines; Flight No.: DL 050
Scheduled Departure from Atlanta at 18:45 Hrs EST;
Scheduled Arrival at Paris at 09:25 Hrs (Next day i.e., 23rd Dec 2005) Paris Local Time

2. Friday 23rd Dec 2005: Paris to Delhi
Carrier: Delta Air Lines; Flight No.: DL 8650 (Operated by Air France; Flight No.: AF 148)
Scheduled Departure from Paris at 10:30 Hrs Paris Local Time
Scheduled Arrival at Delhi at 23:00 Hrs IST

Actual Timings
1.      Actual Departure from Atlanta at 19:30 Hrs EST
Actual Arrival at Paris at 10:05 Hrs (Next day i.e., 23rd Dec 2005) Paris Local Time
2.      Actual Departure from Paris at 10:30 Hrs (Not too sure though) Paris Local Time

Role of Key Players
1. Delta Air Lines
My discomfort started at Atlanta itself when the flight did not take-off at the right time and got delayed by almost 45 minutes. The reasoning given by the carrier was that it required more time to clean the aircraft completely. I wonder what they were doing all thru the day if there wasn’t any other reason associated with it.

Midway on board when I noticed that the flight would not reach to its destination at the right time I had notified about my concerns to one of the flight attendants so that it remains in her mind but she had taken it very casually and hardly had given any serious thought to it.

The flight finally landed at Charles-de-Gaulle almost 40 minutes behind its schedule i.e., at 10:05 Hrs. I was amazed to hear one particular announcement about the ground crew taking the travelers flying to Mumbai by their flight at 11:00 Hrs but surprisingly there was no mention about the flight I was to board to Delhi even though it was more critical in terms of passengers missing it at that time. During debarking, I had asked a crew-member to check if there had been any special arrangements for the Delhi passengers to get them boarded in time but that was not the case and they didn’t even bother to notice my anxiety. I was told that I need to take the airport shuttle bus to go to the terminal where my flight was ready to take-off. I rushed up to catch it but could hardly afford to reach terminal 2F at 10:50 Hrs when I noticed that my flight had already took off. During all this mad rush, I was helplessly searching for a Delta crew-member but unfortunately could not notice one.

2. Air France
Desperately I hurried to the counter of Air France and immediately started asking for help showing my sense of discomfort quite clearly to everybody present there but its staff was indifferent to my problem and asked me to wait in the queue. I do not blame on their procedures but I did expect that they would pay heed to the sense of emergency that I was showing. After 15 minutes I finally got the chance to speak to one of them and I immediately suggested him a practical solution recalling that, perhaps a couple of other flights to India could still be there on the terminal but they rejected it. They also were not concerned about the issue as it involved the other carrier and they did not deem it their fault (so what if they’ve a Sky team partnership among them with others). Of course, it was not but keeping in mind their interdependent business association, it was not unfair to expect a few minutes of wait they could have afforded in delaying the flight to Delhi. In fact, Delta did exactly the opposite during my journey from India to Atlanta via the same route and had waited for more than an hour to accommodate those passengers whose flight(s) got delayed. Perhaps they have different work practices (or better still relative power in their businesses).

They told me that I could get only the next day’s same flight i.e., after 24 hours. I suggested them to route me from anywhere in the world to India but they rejected this idea as well. They were kind enough to book a room for me in a hotel in the city subject to the issuance of the Transit Visa by the Immigration Officials at the airport.

After one hour, I got this news that my Visa application was rejected and I would have to spend the whole day at the airport itself. This did not make my misery any less.

3. Immigration (or Police) department of the Paris airport
I asked the Air France officials if I could myself request the police to reconsider their decision and issue me a Transit Visa. They got scared and advised me not to approach them. I anyway went to their office but its scene was as anticipated by the airline employees. The officers were not in fact interested in listening to me and worse, they did not even disclose the reason for their unfair decision. I do not challenge their authority and rightfulness in refusing me a Visa but at the same time, I cannot find any rationale for them not explaining their stance and being very rude to me as if I have a criminal record. I had valid documents and logic to support my application. It simply was a very inhuman behaviour. I sense some racial discrimination here which my friends also had told me about.

2 (a). Air France
I asked the airline if they could allow me the access to their lounge but the lounge supervisor simply refused it sighting the reason that this facility is only for the business class travelers even though I was ready to pay the necessary charges to use it. Here they tried to soothe my pain by giving me three snacks coupons, which I had hard time to accept with all that agony going around in my mind and body.

When I told them my concerns for a bad health after all this and asked them if they could upgrade my ticket to an upper class with the option of my paying difference. The duty supervisor took a note of this and told that it could only be done if there are seats available and I can get it checked with the crew members at the time of boarding.

4. The Charles-de-Gaulle Airport
I had heard very highly about this airport from my friends and colleagues but quite candidly, it turned out to be a place better only then hell for a stranger i.e., a non-French. I ran around the airport to find a suitable place to sit and get relaxed but after almost 6 hours of search, finally gave up and have to make myself contend with sitting in this unruly corner which only the most underprivileged citizens of any country would find comfortable to spend a whole night (after a frustrating day).

I am even more surprised to notice that this huge and fabulous (?) airport does not even have a commercial lounge for emergency use by a hapless passenger. To make the matters worse there is no cloakroom where I could have put my luggage and get relieved of the tension of its security. It’s quite unbelievable that if you run out of your water bottle you’d have a hard time in finding potable water as all the shops are closed by 21:00 Hrs and I cant notice any tap. Of course there are vending machines but if you don’t have Euro coins with you it won’t help. I tried locating some water resource and finally could notice it only in the police office. When I requested for a glass of water they denied it very inhumanly. On my asking for an alternate they suggested me to get it from the toilettes. Can anyone claim it to be a civilized behaviour from responsible people? I doubt if they could’ve dared to give the same advice to any of their fellow French.

It’s all the more laughable as I notice one big placard at the CDG airport terminal B on “Passenger Rights” issued by the European Commission. It details about different unforeseen circumstances and the enforcing passenger rights on them. I doubt if here “Passenger” include non-Europeans.

Next day
2 (b). Air France
At the time of boarding I inquired about the availability of an upper class seat from the crew but was told by the flight Marshall that they are full. After half an hour of the departure I could very easily see that almost 15 to 20 seats are unoccupied in the Business Class. I couldn’t believe this and very clearly told the flight attendant that there was no need of the Marshall telling me a lie and he could’ve expressed his inability to upgrade my ticket without doing so. After some time the Marshall himself came to me. He gave me the reasoning that at that time they didn’t anticipate that so many seats would go empty. I find this explanation quite laughable.

During all this frustration (it no more is as I’ve come to terms with it), I found one common theme in that almost every process is so rigid that even if somebody wants to help you, s/he won’t be allowed to do so. I simply cannot appreciate it even though I am myself a big advocate of procedures in both my personal and professional life.

Today for the first time in my life so far, I am feeling what the plight of a stray dog is as my position is no better than him and quite surprisingly, I am not feeling bad about accepting it.

Quite ironically though, this day will always be one of the most significant days of my life as I am feeling more proud to be an Indian. So what if, India is still considered to be a third world country by many so-called civilized nations and it still is ranked very lowly in the Human Development Index by the UN, it still is the most humane place to live in for all practical purposes. I can claim (with no fear of rebuttal by anybody in this world) that we Indians relate to every bit of pain felt by anybody even if s/he is not one of our fellow citizens. I salute my country and its entire people for their empathic, sympathetic and more importantly helping nature.

Ritesh Garg

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Customer Service Delivery – A Mirage?

Customer Service Delivery – A Mirage?

No question could ever be so open ended as the one above. Ask any executive who is working as a CSD (Customer Service Delivery) executive in any of the product / service company and s/he would give you a bad stare in your face as if to point that it was indeed a stupid query and which doesn’t merit any answering. Such is the state of affairs that many consider it to be a “punishment posting” if they are asked to serve in the dreaded CSD unit by their peeved bosses. Why is this perceived so? With my personal experience I can deduce that in most of the cases the situation is not as bad as it eventually shapes into and the only reason of it getting into a rotten apple is when people try to run away from their dark silhouettes (read bad karmas) and when they simply can’t find an escape route they inadvertently end up going bonkers! Isn’t it true? Think of it. An organization which is into the profession of selling delicate services makes tall claims only to be exposed by one of its duped customers who refuses to take it lying down and that’s when the misery of this braggart’s CSD starts.

So what should a poor CSD executive do in this tricky scenario wherein s/he entirely relates to the client’s agony but at the same time has no option but to stick on to his/her ground first to evince loyalty to his/her employer and also to minimize the damage (which unfortunately always is thought in terms of its monetary value) thus earning some brownie points for his/her annual appraisal? It thus becomes a vicious circle and the aggrieved customer ends up bad mouthing about this insensitive culprit. The unfortunate part is that most of these culprits chose to ignore such customers and move on in their lives myopically thinking what damage a lone drop (the aggrieved customer) from the ocean (the entire target set) could do to its business interests! It’s a fallacy which is their undoing, of course in long run.

There are few CSD executives who take it on to them to make good a bad customer experience and would go out of their way to ensure that it eventually turns into an unforgettable (and possibly cherishable) experience for their life time. Such is the sensitivity & empathy of these CSD personnel that the hitherto irked customer becomes their best pal for the moment and s/he leaves handling of his/her grievances entirely in the hands of these brand ambassadors. This is how a CSD function should work and indeed be made enjoyable (unlike when the executive goes home and curses himself/herself for his/her professional miseries). Why should they pay the price for their organization’s compromised / unhealthy / unethical business practices / strategies? These executives should indeed earn the best rating points on pro-rata basis (for all such customers who got annoyed for some reason but became repeat customers later on) in their performance appraisal and should be made mentors to the rookies.

Long live the customer. Long live CSD.

(C) Rits Original

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

iMAX Gravity - just fall for it!!

iMAX Gravity - just fall for it!!

For whatever reasons, I was getting desperate to have a dekko of Gravity (in not just 3D but IMAX 3D) @ the famed IMAX Wadala ONLY though I hate the very thought of travelling that far, just for a damn movie & considering the fact that the far better approachable PVR Phoenix was also running it in THE IMAX 3D version. On a public holiday I somehow let my craving rule over my rationality & booked the ticket at a steep price of 630 bucks apiece. Yeah, there was a slightly more affordable variety at 430 on menu as well but for once I just couldn't allow any possible mediocrity to come in my way of a well hyped experience.

On my way to the theatre I was having a guilt consciousness even as I struggled to reach the venue (just for the 2nd time in all of my seven years in Mumbai, after the premiere of Jodha Akbar on 14th Feb. 2008) which for some inexplicable reasons has been set up in a far off (from the main Mumbai suburbs on Western line) & secluded surroundings which in itself is a great dampener.

Before the movie screening began they ran the trailer of "The Hobbits" & those 2-3 minutes were just mind boggling to arouse the interest for the main course on offer. As the grand opening sequence began (would you believe it’s a 20 minute single long shot!) I immediately realized that the movie is without the sub titles! Zeejus Christ, how am I gonna enjoy this engrossed affair without them? I just hate any Hollywood offering without they making life easier for people like me who learnt their alphabets when they were just on the cusp between an adolescent & a teenager and who didn't exactly grew up among the most ornamental accents within their earshot range.

Anyway, who cares when the sound & video quality of the auditorium appears to be at least 100 times more profound than ever! When you feel the smoke inside the space suit’s helmet (due to heavy breathing of the protagonists) as if it's on your retina (when there indeed is nothing around your face, apart from the 3D glasses of course) you know you gonna get every single penny's worth with rich dividends. I, before realizing my basic handicap, felt getting the drift myself in THE SPACE like the two astronauts in lady killer George Clooney & the tomboyish Sandra Bullock!

Half way through this tale of a survival you notice that this is all about Ms. Bullock. Oh baby! What a life time award winning performance & that too while eclipsing Sir Clooney! Sandra, you can safely retire on a high after this and not allow any sure shot degradation from here on (unlike our revered cricketers) as you just can't better it! As Doctor Astronaut Ryan Stone she huffs n puffs (literally) all through the 90 minute length of this Alphonso's labour of love (what fitting first name for the director of this masterpiece). Her vulnerability is so very believable that you feel as if she is portraying your own fears & insecurities (albeit in space). What command over her body language! Priceless. I had an infatuated teenager's crush on her after Speed but now I am retrospectively in love with her!

Absolute silence of the space is brilliantly captured. The sound effects used for showcasing the tranquillity of the outer space & for depicting a space shuttle's innate unnerving calmness are indeed so ethereal. Visual effects are just beyond description though the canvas is not as monstrous and vivid as was in the James Cameron's Avatar. Delicate umbilical cord like space tandem rope to heavy meteoric showers to the raging fire in the space shuttle all of it look so credible!

Riding entirely on the Bullock's shoulder this motion picture is one for the collector's library. I won't be surprised if it's Blue Ray version actually helps doubling the sale of 3D televisions in the inflation hit festive season. I would have to look for a sub-titled version to allow me savour this queen of the dishes among all firang offerings. One thing is for sure though. My next Wadala visit doesn't look like is going to take 6 years now even if that means that my wallet would have to take some serious beating. BIG Cinemas, could you be one of my blog sponsors please?

Go guys, you have earned some shameless indulgence for yourself in these times of completely despicable Besharam performances.

(C) Rits Original
Typos be excused (since as usual it also is typed on Evernote free version on my Galaxy S4)

Monday, October 14, 2013



Never before have I become as conscious as I am right now even as I am struggling to put words to the myriad thoughts which have been doing an indulging juggernaut for close to a week now since THE NEWS broke. I confess that I have longed to valiantly do justice to my sense of restlessness all this while before I could eventually manage control over some outrageous thoughts to put here.

At the outset, I run the risk of being stoned to pieces by all of my readers for daring to do what I finally believe remotely justifies my randomness (my apologies for this verbal diarrhoea already).

Many of us have faced at least some form of addiction to one or more of some (in)famous drugs, even if it was for a short time, active or passive. Marijuana, Cocaine & Heroin fervently fight among themselves to claim the tiara befitting the queen bee of the world's illicit drugs not many know that it is the (comparatively) humble and perfectly legal Nicotine which is hardest to let go once it clutches its addict in its vice like tentacles.

Drawing parallel in real life one could name a battery of icons (which are adored the world over) in one breath but if an Indian were to be asked to name a personality that has become a part of their nervous system it has to be unequivocally The Great "T". You give them a choice to name few more and they would have a hard time recalling who should come even remotely close in this one man "league" of extraordinary gentlemen. Sorry Mr. Big B, for all the adulation you might have received since the time you broke the popularity Zanjeer it is the dainty maestro (who was just born then) who has transcended beyond individual frustrations to have not only emerged as the SOLE & UNANIMOUS Superhero in the last quarter of a century but has also ensured that his legacy is not transferable to anyone who dares to wear this smiling assassin’s shoes. Do I add any incremental value to the debate by stating the cliché that "He has reined over the collective conscience of the entire nation all these years".

Am I ready for the D-day when HE would do his famous little squat one last time in full public glare? How could you even ask an addict who probably got a high on HIS bespoke straight drive before she learnt her alphabets two & half decades ago to suddenly be pushed into rehabilitation centre? So what if the centre warden promises her to provide for no less intoxicating (& ostensibly addictive) cannabis cultivated in the farmhouses of Nazafgarh, Ranchi & Delhi? Could a heady concoction of all of them be even one tenth as hallucinating as THE ORIGINAL? I don't even feel like laughing over this puerile curiosity.

HE gave us the sense of belief in being able to do a Superhero all the time while still being a shy, coy boy next door. Who among us have not bunked countless lectures and/or shut our lives of everything else just to be able to focus on HIS exhibits? Go, find me a soul who has not shadow practiced the famous "Upper Cut" in the Pindi express all these years! I won't be surprised if you even end up sharing the romantic euphoria like feeling your granny had while expectantly sitting cross legged on that corner couch of your living room. Who is now going to bring that captivating, childlike exuberance back to our ecosystem that had the charisma to cast a spell on generations? Where is the father of "Dolly - The Sheep"? Can't he clone HIM in the next five weeks? I don't have the time left for me to LIVE the way I so very fondly cherish.

"Main to loonga wohi khilona, machal utha Dina ka Lal!"

(C) Rits Original