Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Ease of Indian Air Travel

One underrated aspect of Indian travel is that most airline tickets are refundable. Not entirely refundable, but with a reasonable fee (typically somewhere between Rs. 250 - 1000 per direction), you can get out of a ticket. With the Indian Airlines faction of the Air India pilots striking, this refundable property came in quite handy over the weekend.

I bought tickets for a quick day trip up to Amritsar to hit the two major sites in and around the Punjabi city: the Golden Temple and the Wagah ceremony at the Pakistani border. We were scheduled on JetLite (the discount version of Jet Airways) for the trip there and Air India for the return. Originally, I had decided on the Air India flight because it was just under Rs. 1500 (like $35 per ticket), and it's just fun to say you can buy a one-way ticket for $35 so I jumped at the opportunity. Unfortunately, on Wednesday came the strike.

In light of the strike, which hit random flights, the group I was buying tickets for (which consisted of the wife, my Indian boss, and my American boss, also known as three people I should probably try to keep happy) decided to error on the side of "let's make sure we get back to Delhi on Saturday night". Thankfully, for around $20 per person, we were able to make the switch and get onto a Kingfisher flight back an hour earlier. The most surprising thing was that Kingfisher had done the right thing and elected not to gouge potential customers. Even buying the ticket the day before the flight, the price remained constant (about Rs. 4000) to the one I had ignored ten days previously in favor of Air India.

The airport seemed busier than usual. The non-Air India counters were full so it took more time than usual, but it was faster than it could have been since my Indian boss somehow talked his way to a shorter line and we jumped over after were quickly checked in and through security. Our JetLite flight was ultimately delayed about 90 minutes, which was annoying but wasn't the end of the world. The dude I ultimately sat next to on the plane was headed back home to Amritsar for the first time in two years after working as a laborer in Australia. He had arrived in Delhi from Australia last night, had his Air India flight canceled, and was still in good spirits after spending the night in the airport and a fresh delay from a new airline.

Even with all these challenges, I've got to admit, the entire air travel process in India is easier and more customer friendly than that of the United States; that is, as long as you're fine with getting frisked, an act which is performed on 100% of air travelers in India.

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