I came back to Chennai after a 5 days trip to Cologne (Germany) for TIC 2009. INFITT had appointed Cox & Kings (Chennai office) as the official Travel Agency for the conference since nearly 30 participants were from Tamilnadu & many first time travellers. Cox & Kings (Trade Fair Division) came up with a package deal costing about Rs.84,000. This included:
- Air India Airfare (MAA-BOM-FRA-BOM-MAA) Transport from Frankfurt to Cologne and back
- Accommodation in Ibis Koln 2** Hotel (Twin Sharing)
- Buffet Breakfast
- Local Travel from Hotel to Conference venue
- Daily Indian Dinners in Indian restaurant
- Return group airport Transfers (Frankfurt to Cologne and back)
- City tour of Koln with cruise, Dome, museum with Entrance Ticket
- Overseas Medical Insurance
- Cox and Kings Travel bag
- Services of a German-speaking Cox and Kings Tour Manager
Out of the 30 participants from India, we had about 15+ take up the package from C & K. Initially the airline was Emirates (via Dubai) but it was changed to Air India as many of the participants were from Universities/Colleges that required they fly Air India for UGC funding and for official Tamilnadu government delegates have to fly only by Air India. After my experience I am not surprised why Government has to force this dictum – without which no self-respecting traveller will put up with awful Air India Ground service.
Air India and its awful service
I haven’t flown Air India for long-haul flights, so I was very sceptical. I hate the transit in Mumbai and will always prefer to fly international directly from Chennai. I consider the Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport’s transit service to be the lousiest and most inefficient way to transfer passengers between International-Domestic terminals, I am surprised this same pathetic service continues even after privatization (to GVK). I was told that I don’t need to do the transfer from Domestic to International (or vice-versa). Everything went well as told during the onward journey, AI191 from Chennai to Frankfurt, departed from Chennai International Terminal with customs/immigration done in Chennai itself. We landed at Mumbai International Terminal and continued the journey to Frankfurt from the same terminal – thereby saving me from the horrible terminal transfer. But I was not fortunate enough on return, the flight AI144 from Frankfurt departed 3 hours delayed and hence we missed the connection from Mumbai to Chennai (same flight number). We landed at 2 AM today instead of 10 AM (yesterday) in Mumbai and the flight from Mumbai had departed at 1:15 AM as scheduled.
We were asked to claim baggage and get out of Intl. The airport in Mumbai and transfer to domestic airport to catch IC571 17:35 (15 Hours wait in Mumbai to go to Chennai). I checked online and found seats available in many of Air India’s morning flights but I was not offered a seat in any of them. So instead of waiting 15 hours and losing a full working day I bought a ticket in KingFisher leaving Mumbai at 6:25 AM and reached Chennai, paying Rs.5000+ extra for Air India’s fault.
As always, there was simply no Air India staff to help us – I suppose all Air India ground staffs will hide inside their cabins fearing Passengers Queries. They probably have read Mahatma Gandhi’s quote on Customer Service wrongly – you wonder whether Air India Ground staff consider the customer(s) to be a nuisance who disturb their peaceful naps. Even if they do a pathetic service (which they do) Government of India may never penalize them and is more than happy to even bail them out!
To be fair Air India flights were modern, neat & clean, entertainment consoles worked and Crew were friendly and helpful.
Cox & Kings
Overall Cox & King’s service from the time of booking to completion was good. Their account manager and tour manager who accompanied us both were professional and nice. I wish the side-seeing tour they had planned for us was thought-of and executed better. The Indian Food offered in a local Indian Restaurant (Ganesha, Cologne) on all the days was very nice and tastier.
This is my first trip to continental Europe and it was more or less just as I expected. We spent a good amount of time seeing the Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral) and the nearby shopping streets, we got used to using the Tram (S-Bahn) service to commute from our Hotel to New Market area. Since our sight-seeing trip was on Monday (weekly holiday for Museums) we missed seeing the museums including Cologne Chocolate museum or EL-DE Haus. The City has River Rhine running through it, which gives it many beautiful places. We took a boat trip on the river and also went in the Cable car. Other than these activities we didn’t find anything else to do in Cologne.