Saturday, July 15, 2006

Flying on your advance, the low cost way

The low cost revolution might have made travelling much easier and cheaper, but it has not come without it's own pettiness. If the parsimony with ANY feature was not enough, most airlines seem to follow a strange practice when it comes to cancellations. While all of them charge a fee ranging from Rs 500 to Rs 650 for cancelling, most, it seems, donot want to return the money you have paid even after that. Go Air, Spice Jet, Kingfisher, they all give you a 'credit note' instead of a refund of the remaining amount. The idea being that you use the note the next time you travel.

My issue here is that most people who use these airlines seek the lowest fares, and chances are not great that the next time, they will find it with the same airline. On top of that, since these credit notes come with an expiry date of six months to a year, it is unfair to expect the person to use it well within that time. Especially since a lot of their travellers are not necessarily frequent travellers. In fact, going by the Air Deccan claim of 40% first timers on their planes, we would seem to have a serious issue with repeat usage in any case.

Most importantly, by sticking to your money despite charging a cancellation fee, I feel the airlines are simply doing something wrong, and need to be pulled up for it. A better option would be to give the person the option of zero/lower cancellation fees in case he opts for the credit note. One of the excuses I have been given is that the process of reversing credit card payments is too painful, or even that some banks charge a fee. I don't think any of these hold water.

Even a government company like the Indian railway cataring company ( , which books railway tickets for the Indian railways, has a fantastic system where refunds come to you within a week, and in case of errors in booking the ticket, the same day even. Clearly, one case where the private players need to learn from a government monopoly on customer orientation.
Mr. Leaders, pls spare us the cliches

When will the cliches end? After every atrocity in India, we get to hear the same old cliches. About a resilient citizenry (the media had really taken a shine to this one, this time), how we will not be cowed down, and some more garbage. What's more, in the interest of national security, criticism of the security network and political class is also muted down by the media. And these were the same guys who were pillorying the same people for not anticipating the most predictable event in our country's history yet again. The rains.

And then, on top of everything else, comes this headline about our PM. "India will not be cowed down". "We will not be afraid". Wonderful. I am so happy that at least our PM seems to have so much confidence in us. For the truth is, Mr Singh, I am very very afraid. Of a bunch of lunatics who seem to be able to do pretty much what they want, when they want, and wherever they want. I am afraid of them, and our security network, which will probably go ahead and in their usual ham handed way to show results, knock off a few innocent people, or small time goons, and claim that another 'nefarious plot' has been foiled.

Please give us a reason to feel a little secure. By simply making available information more transparently. By showing us where the money is being spent.

Having said that, I am a little tired by two comments in today's TOI.. From Mr Pritish Nandy, and Bachi Karkaria. Mr Nandy I respect tremendously for his views, but I think he let himself down by finishing off his lament with a demand for more money for Mumbai. Perhaps his tribute to the Sena, to whom he owes his Rajya Sabha seat? Ms Karkaria did likewise for entirely unfathomable reasons. Or perhaps she is simply trying to keep a bridge going with the state govt for her paper, which perforce has to indulge in some criticism. I am sick and tired of the argument that Mumbai delivers 30% of Income tax, 20% of excise and more, and gets peanuts in return. The fact is, most of that income tax is paid by earning and doing business with the rest of the country. It is paid by professionals in Mumbai who, every now and then are made to wonder whether the Mumbaikar really wants him/her, if the Shiv Sena is to be believed. Ditto for the excise duty. I mean, if Tata Sons happens to be headquartered in Mumbai, surely you wouldn't ascribe all of TCS's taxes paid to Mumbai? Or TiSCO's?

I think messrs Nandy and Karkaria wouild be better of starting off a move to use the RTI more effectively in the city, to see just how and where the money they get right now is spent.