Airlines should stop cutting corners, says aviation secretary Rajiv Nayan Choubey

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New Delhi: Airlines must address passenger grievances quickly and ensure high service quality, the aviation ministry’s secretary said, adding the ministry will step in if things don’t change.

The warning follows various complaints on social media by air passengers and a damaging report by a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture this month that criticised the training process adopted by the airlines.

“I will certainly accuse airlines of their inability to address individual passenger grievances in a speedy and convincing manner. It is there where I think airlines are guilty in my opinion,” civil aviation secretary Rajiv Nayan Choubey said in an interview.

Hiring the cheapest manpower and running the cheapest airline won’t ensure quality, Choubey said, adding airline staffers should be trained to offer a high level of service.

“You must go and train your people and tell them how they have to conduct themselves,” he said adding airlines have been communicated this message.

Airlines deny the charges.

“We believe the ministry’s comments do not apply to us or our staff,” Vistara said in an emailed reply, “Our staff are trained and empowered to do the right thing, not just blindly go by the rule book.”

AirAsia said it makes a “great investment in hiring and training” of all frontline staff. “All our ground operations staff undergo a comprehensive 21-day training at a state-of-the-art custom made training facility. Cabin crew recruitment follows a 4 tier selection process assessing everything from aptitude to attitude of a candidate. The training is an extensive one for three and a half months covering the entire gamut from safety to security to customer service,” the airline said.

Emails to IndiGo, Jet Airways, SpiceJet Air India elicited no responses despite reminders being sent to them. GoAir declined comments.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture had called out InterGlobe Aviation Ltd-run IndiGo for “discourteous and rude” behaviour of its employees towards passengers, saying it was an “institutional” problem.

The committee also cited high cancellation fees and steep airfares during important festivals and events.

Choubey said while the government is not stepping into the commercial areas “as of now”, it can’t be ruled out.

“As of now, we have left it to the airlines but as and when we feel this is something which needs to be handled, we will step in,” he said.

The ministry is coming out with a bill of rights for passengers, which will tell them what they can or cannot get from airlines during flight delays, cancellations and so on, Choubey added.

New York-based former Jet Airways chief executive officer (CEO) Steve Forte said government should frame rules, but let market forces dictate passenger choices.

“…you cannot have a hybrid system. It does not work. Once the decision is made to deregulate the skies, it should be left alone and let the market forces do their work. Government should provide adequate protection shields for passengers to avoid discriminatory practices on the part of all carriers, particularly in the event of arbitrary flight cancellations, rerouting and violation of passenger rights. Heavy fines may be assessed in those cases,” he said.livemint