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01 May 2012

Long travel back to India...

After almost a month of very pleasant stay in the US of A, I am back in India today.
What a long travel ....
Started off from Batavia to Buffalo at 9.00 AM in the morning. Buffalo to New York JFK Airport by Delta Airlines starting at 12.30 and reaching JFK at 1.40, wait of about 6 hours at JFK, starting from JFK at 7.30 PM to Paris CDG  (reaching at 8.30 AM the next day) and then after two hours at CDG flying to Bangaluru by  Air France and after about 10 hours flight, reaching Bangaluru at 11.45 PM. Reaching home at 1.30 AM on the 1st of May. Total Travel time 31 hours of which total flying time, approximately 18 hours.
As I said, what I long travel...
Even during this tiresome and hectic travel, I couldn't help notice some major differences between US and India. US is a product-centric economy, where products are cheaper compared to Services. Understandable, since there is less population and services need people to deliver.
This gets exemplified in many ways. One is the cost of services. Maids to clean your apartment are hard to come by and those who do are very expensive. When you go to shops, most of the time it is for you to explore and pick up stuff that you want. Help and guidance are hard to come by. In gas stations, you have to fill the gas on your own. In airport, you have to search for your trolley, rent the trolley by paying about 3 dollars and load and unload your luggage in the trolley on your own.
In India it is totally different. There are people everywhere. (We even export people to people starved countries like US!!!) Services are cheaper in comparison to the products. For example, if you go to a gas station, you will find an attendant to fill gas for you and another one to swipe credit cards and collect payments. In airport, trolleys are available in abundance and you can get people to load and unload your heavy luggage by paying a minimal tip. Till now, maids are available to clean your apartment at a reasonable rate. And finally, when you go to most of the small shops in India, you will have someone to take your orders and deliver the same, sometimes even at your home...
One of the areas where this difference is starkly manifest is in the airline check in. On my way to Sanfrancisco, I went to the United Airlines counter at Buffalo Airport. A solitary lady was sitting there. There were no customers waiting in line at that counter. I was a bit baffled if I have come to the wrong counter.
"Can I help you?" asked this pleasant lady as I approached her.
"I am flying to SFO by United. I need to collect the boarding pass" I told her.
"Do you have any check in luggage?" she queried.
"No" I answered (honestly since I did not have any check in luggage)
She pointed me to a Self Check In Kiosk. "See that Kiosk there? you go there, enter the trip details, print your boarding pass and directly go to your security check in." She suggested helpfully, and a bit perfunctorily, signalling end of conversation.
Contrast this with the situation in India. Yesterday night, as I landed in Bangaluru airport, I counted the following people helping you (?) to enter India.
1. The immigration lady at the airport guiding passengers to the proper immigration lines (required)
2. The immigration clerk (required)
3. A manager standing behind the immigration clerk ensuring that things are going smoothly (required?)
4. (Beat this) a guy standing just after the immigration ensuring that your passport has been stamped. I fail to understand the purpose of this person. What is he doing there? Ensuring that no one enters illegally in India after a 10 hour night flight from Paris? (Why would someone want to do that?) Is he there to oversee that the immigration clerks do their work properly? If that is the case, what are managers (in Step 3 above) for? What the heck is he doing there, opening your passport and verifying that it has been stamped by the immigration guy? Nonsense...) (absolutely not required)
5. There is a cabin baggage check immediately after you pass the guy in step 4 above. I fail to understand the purpose of this luggage check. Purpose of checking the cabin baggage is to ensure that no unwanted material enter the aircraft. What are these guys checking the cabin baggage for, AFTER you have entered the country? Are they checking that 3 ounces of aerosols and 200 grams of toothpaste do not enter the country? Don't they thoroughly scrutinize the check-in luggage for any unwanted material at the Boarding airport as per international standards? So what is the purpose of this 'holier than thou' baggage checking? (Absolutely not required).
My theory is that this is designed to delay your next step of going to collect your check in baggage. This delay hides the inefficiency and delay in the unloading of the check-in baggageng, if you see what I mean. 
6. Did I also mention the presence of two doctors sitting there just after immigration to give you 'yellow fever' shots or something? (Not required for a flight that is coming from Europe)
7. Having crossed the immigration and all the unnecessary steps, you come to baggage claim. There are a bevy of guys standing there to help you (though their services are complementary, you are expected to give them a small tip) (Required)
8. (Beat this) In the washroom, after you wash your hands, there is one guy standing to dispense hand towels. To be fair, he also cleans the place (So I guess he is required, but definitely he should not be dispensing hand towels)
9. After collecting the luggage, as you walk out there are three customs guys standing there just to receive your customs forms. They do not read it, but collect it from you like some zombies or something. (One person required, definitely not three). They could as well have had a drop-box to drop these forms. 
10. The supervisor of these guys mentioned in step 9 above. (Not required)
11. As you go out, there are two exits and two security men, man these gates (Not required)
Most of the people above do not do much work, except ogle at you as you are going through your torturous immigration process. 
And finally as you come out of the gates, there are all these touts who ask if you want a taxi. One they discern any vulnerability or doubt, they pile on you like leaches. 
Too many people to interact with... Far too many people than necessary....
From the time you come out of your aircraft in India to the time you are sitting in your taxi, you have to interact with so many people (14 in all, including the Airport taxi co-ordinator and the taxi driver). Each of this person-to-person touch-points is a source of inefficiency and stress (and a potential opportunity to be cheated) to an outsider who is coming to India. In addition, hidden in each of these touch-points is a Murphy waiting to  unfold.
The problem with too many touch-points is that the accountability gets dissipated and in case of a mess, there is no one to question or accept responsibility. Everyone assumes that someone else is going to oversee his / her work and hence there is no incentive for thoroughness.
And dont' even make me start on the people touch-points as you exit India....


Ebby said...

Hello Rama!

At your blog via facebook. Nice! I would like to clarify a few things.

The the cabin baggage scanning at arrival is to quantify liquor bottles and electronic goods. Unlike most airports abroad, Indian ones have a duty-free at arrival and people tend to buy liquor there too. At Cochin a/p during scan, if they find liquor bottles it is inconspicuously marked on the side of the bag with a chalk.

FYI the checked in baggage too are scanned before being sent on the conveyor. These too are marked if they suspect liquor or electronic goods. I have seen a seasoned traveler, a nurse who boarded with me from Rome, standing armed with a wet tissue. She wiped clean the chalk mark in one deft action as soon as she whisked her luggage out of the conveyor.

Like you, I have passed through the "zombies" handing over the customs slip all but once. Last month on my return from Singapore, my luggage was quite heavy. Actually it was on account of 7 Kilos or more of Chocolates. This time I chose wisely to procure them from the city so that I could avoid buying them from the duty-free since lugging heavy cabin-baggage is no pleasure. Anyways, probably on account of the x-ray opaque aluminium foil that surrounds each bar of chocolate, my bag arrived with the dreaded chalk mark. And mind you, the so called "zombie" nicely asked me at the gate whether I had any electronic goods in the bag. I said that it contained mostly chocolates! He politely asked me to put it through a near-by x-ray scanner and took me to the monitor. After studying the image for a while he joked about the large cache of chocolates and asked me to go. I have seen people with excess liquor also being stopped in this manner. Not "Zombies" eh?

The passengers at the Immigration check are usually an assortment from the many flights that land in quick succession. International flights of Air India carry domestic passengers. Sometimes, international travelers inadvertently pass along with the domestic ones. Hence the cross-check for passport stamping. Two such cases were reported in quick succession at Cochin a few months ago. Luckily the passengers were still in the vicinity when the mistake was noticed.

Happy blogging.



Ram said...

Hello Ebby

Thanks for your comments. The Electronic scanning in Airport is a recent phenomenon. It was never there in 2009-10.
While I agree with your observations, I think that to subject all the passengers to too many checkings just to identify a very small percentage of 'wrong doers' is to kill baby with the bath water.