This is one of my usual rants after a trip to the USA. Early this month I left to the US for a business trip which included Mix ’08 conference in Las Vegas (my third in a row). I normally fly BA from Chennai straight to West coast because it is the shortest and has minimum stopovers (or) fly with Singapore/Malaysian Airlines due to their service and food. This time I decided to fly with my favourite Airline – Jet Airways as they fly to the US now and I also got a good deal for Business class (Jet calls it Premium class) at Rs.190,000 ($4750) roundtrip with taxes (Chennai to Newark (EWR) via Brussels & back).
The first experience was in Chennai Airport (which used to be my airport of choice in India) where it was total chaos from entering till boarding, maybe because it was a Friday and there were at least 8 to 10 flights taking off within a few hours window. You normally see Jet Airways friendly staff everywhere for domestic sectors, surprisingly there were not even one outside the counters and the counters too were thinly staffed for this international sector which was running full as well.
The minute you boarded the experience starts to be a different one and the in-flight service for which Jet is famous for was excellent. I got an absolute flat-bed (which the air hostesses makes it for you on request), big flat screen for entertainment, night-suit & a designer personal hygiene kit. Each seat in Premiere also provides you with USB Port for charging and 110V AC Socket for charging. Two things Jet can improve on the in-flight experience, one increase the selection of food (like Malaysian they can do a buffet on wheels) and the second to improve the number of regional languages (Tamil) & comedy video contents.
Jet flies 3 flights currently from India (Mumbai, Delhi & Chennai) which arrive in Brussels one after other in say 10 minutes gap of each. And they take off to 3 destinations in North America (Toronto, New York JFK, Newark EWR) in 10 minutes gap of each. So you have a good hub and spokesmodel for choice here. When you land in Brussels, there is hardly any ground staff from Jet to guide you to the lounge or for other assistance. The good thing is that in Brussels Airport, Jet Airways has a well-equipped lounge on their own with a good spread of breakfast selections.
When you land in the USA (Newark EWR) the lack of ground staff from Jet Airways continues. Even though I was flying Business, my bags took more than 45 minutes to arrive in the belt and no one to help you on that. Since I had to go to the West Coast (San Jose and then to Vegas) I decided to spend the day in New York with one of my early mentors and good friend Mr.Shivraj who is an independent IT Consultant there.
For the return, I started from Seattle flying to Newark (EWR) by Alaska. Since Alaska doesn’t have a baggage alliance with Jet Airways yet, I couldn’t do through check-in, which means I have to get the bags and check in again manually in Newark. And once I arrived in Newark there was hardly any signs or directions to which terminal other airlines are flying from. The good thing, the airport had information staffs everywhere who guide you correctly. I went to AirTrain counters where they guided me to Terminal B (That’s from where Jet Operates). I went to the Northwest lounge offered by Jet Airways (for which you have to go to a separate gate and security check) and found they carry nothing other than liquor and orange juice, absolutely nothing to eat. So I came out and had the only good vegetarian item I could find (Pizzas) at the gate. The return journey was more pleasant in Brussels, with Jet Airways ground staff taking good care of passengers, guiding them to lounge, etc. The Jet lounge at Brussels didn’t have a shower but they arranged for one at the near-by Diamond Lounge on their own – free.
US Airports and Carriers
Compared to other full-service airlines in the USAA, I found Alaska to be more on time, efficient and cordial service. One thing I don’t understand is why do they want to charge for the Entertainment (Digi Players) and for the measly food they serve on board. United, Alaska and all other carriers in the US, charge you like $5 or $10 for a frozen food packet and for Entertainment screen. This is the same procedure even on flights over 4 hours like the one I took now from Seattle to Newark or the earlier one I took from Newark to San Jose which was like 6 hours. They charge like $250 or more for the coast to coast and they still want to charge $10 more :-), it is not that I am complaining about the additional charge it is the lack of good choice in food. I see all the flights I travelled on this trip were running full and I read that they are making good profits for the last 12 to 18 months. Still, all the flights you travel with US carriers are old and ageing, which I can understand because many of them after 9/11 are still in bankruptcy protection or just out. What I don’t understand is the lack of service mostly in-flight (I certainly don’t believe it to be racism), complete indifference to paying customers which you don’t see anywhere in Asia. For example, in the Alaska flight today they missed for several seats serving juices & snacks. When I asked (so too few other customers) she just brought her own selection and that was it. I was offered an Orange Juice when I asked her that I actually want a Tomato Juice, she just ignored it (I am sure I was very clear) banged the cup and left.
One of the things you will find it clear once you have been through few US airports is that they have a total lack of infrastructure and space for security screening. Almost all the airports are old and ageing, when they were planned there was no concept of passenger screening so it all happens in long lines in cramped corridors.