The dominoes started tumbling even before the actual flight. While I was to fly to Mumbai after my week in Goa, my 3 other friends were to fly to Delhi. A couple of weeks before the flights, an insipid representative from SpiceJet called and informed them that their direct flight to Delhi on the night of July 25 had been cancelled due to 'technical reasons'. He offered them so many apologies that, after a while, it became an automatic response to everything my friends said, whether he heard them or not.
"Would it be possible to put us on another SpiceJet flight the same day?"
"Can you put us on another carrier?"
In between all the apologies, he offered them a SpiceJet flight that left the next day, without offering an accompanying overnight stay amount or package. Sorry.
Our SpiceJet flight from Kolkata to Goa (via Mumbai) was at 8 in the morning on July 20; so, we wanted to get there somewhere between 6:30 and 7. The Kolkata airport is quite some distance from the city, taking about an hour even without early morning traffic. In order to leave at 5:30, we had to wake up at 4:30 am, even before the sun had risen - quite an achievement in that Eastern city.
Blurry-eyed and dishevelled, we stumbled into a moderately crowded airport. While 3 of us busied ourselves with the scanning of our many bags, the fourth - a lady - headed to the check-in counter. The SpiceJet executive behind the counter immediately waved her aside for the gentleman behind her, even though she indicated to us a few metres away approaching. She wasn't happy that the executive chose to bypass her even though the rest of us would have been there with our luggage in a few seconds.
"I was here first; I was in the queue."
The executive reacted as if he had been stung by a personal slight. His face hardened, his eyes narrowed and his lips tightened. He replied with unmistakable menace in his voice.
"Where is your ticket then? Show me your ticket."
After our lady friend had swallowed her irritation, we cleared security and went to sit in the waiting area. We were just preparing to sit, with our behinds sticking out seeking the chair, when a SpiceJet staff member hurtled towards us and commanded in a booming voice that would have been more apt to bring errant soldiers in line during a morning hike.
"SpiceJet Mumbai Goa? Go and board!"
"But it's only 7. Our flight's not till 8."
"It's a base flight. So, boarding is early. Go!"
We settled down in our seats in the plane with a sigh, hoping that the worst was behind us. I was seated in Row 15, the emergency exit row - necessary due to the extra leg space it afforded my lankiness - while my friends were in Row 24; we hadn't managed to secure 4 seats in the emergency exit rows. Soon after the flight took off, the air hostesses came around offering food and beverages for sale. I had been up since 4:30 am and hadn't eaten anything since dinner the previous night; I was really looking forward to breakfast, whatever the airline chose to offer me.
SpiceJet has a pre-registration option, where fliers who register and book their meals before the flight will get serving preference during the flight. I only knew of it because my friends had been talking about how they had had to wait on a previous flight for their food. The air hostess came to our row and asked my neighbours if they would like anything to eat or drink. They placed their orders and were served. I looked up a couple of times from my book but when she ignored me and moved on, I went back to the book thinking that my neighbours had availed of the pre-registration option and that I had to wait my turn. I waited while my neighbours finished their meals. I waited while the air hostesses came by with a trash bag to collect remnants. I waited while the aisle cleared out and everybody settled back in their seats with a full stomach.
Then, I got up to visit the restroom. I passed my friends in Row 24 and noticed that they had breakfast boxes in front of them. They confirmed my suspicions that they had indeed been served breakfast and were amongst the many passengers who were now nodding off satiated. Incensed, I headed back to my seat and pressed the button above my head calling for service. A full minute passed before an air hostess came by to see what I wanted. I spoke in a quiet but firm voice, one that I reserved only for extreme anger.
"Why is it that no one has offered me any food or beverages yet?"
"Oh, we did ask you," the air hostess replied confidently, "but you said you didn't want anything."
"You did not ask me," I replied in the same level voice. "You asked this gentleman [my neighbour, who now looked slightly alarmed at the prospect of being dragged into an argument] if he wanted a chicken sandwich, but you did not ask me anything."
The air hostess sighed audibly and asked, "What do you want now?"
I ate my breakfast and drank my coffee, but I did not enjoy them.
At Mumbai, a large part of the flight cleared out. We had a wait of about an hour before we took off for Goa. Some of us slept, others read and some just stared blankly out of the window. An announcement was made to all the passengers travelling onward to Goa to keep their boarding passes handy. A nondescript executive walked down the aisle, stopping at each row and checking boarding passes. He brusquely demanded mine and I complied, unhappy at his grim countenance. When he reached Row 24, he checked the passes of the 2 friends who were awake. The fourth - the lady - was asleep. Her husband, seated beside her, informed the executive that she was sleeping and that she was travelling with him. In response, the executive leaned over and yelled at the sleeping lady.
"Excuse me, madam!"
The lady expectedly awoke with a start; the husband stared at the executive incredulously.
"Are you mad? I just told you that she is with me and that she is sleeping."
"But I had to check her ticket," the executive replied defensively.
"So, why couldn't you just have asked me?" the husband insisted. "I told you she was with me."
Every single SpiceJet employee that we had encountered that day had given us terrible service, almost as if it were part of their training manual and this is how they had to treat every customer every day. The only one remaining was the pilot and I was secretly thankful when he landed the plane safely.
While circumstances might make me take another SpiceJet flight in the future, it will never again be an airline of consideration or recommendation. Change is already taking place; I just chose to book an IndiGo flight - where I have had many lovely on-time flights - over a SpiceJet one, despite it being 1 hr 15 min later and a little bit more expensive.
How can this sort of service experience be prevented/remedied? What must SpiceJet do to ensure, from a long-term perspective, that their customers are pleased rather than aggrieved?