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IndiGo delay at Mumbai – a lesson in poor communications

Thanks to its strong, and consistent, on-time performance, Gurgaon based IndiGo, has grown to become the largest domestic airline in India, by passenger numbers.

On Tuesday, 4th September, along with my better half, I experienced one of the rare delays that occur at the airline, and it was a doozy. A humble request to read the story till the end. Trust me it is worth it.

My wife and I were on IndiGo flight 6E 423. Mumbai to Bangalore. Scheduled Time of Departure (STD) 15:05. Aircraft operating this flight VT-INO. An Airbus A320-200 with a capacity of 180 passengers, but on our flight there were only about 80 passengers on board (POB).

An earlier IndiGo flight also from Mumbai to Bangalore, 6E 212, to be operated by another A320 aircraft, VT-INP, got grounded due to a failed windshield wiper motor. In the torrential monsoon of Mumbai, a wiper is a critical equipment. This flight cancellation grounded about 125 passengers on that flight.

The boarding gate was quite chaotic with passengers from three flights mulling around. Boarding for our flight 6E 423 commenced late. Around 14:50, 15 minutes ahead of the departure time, instead of the normal 30 minutes. After we were all seated, and almost ready to go, around 15:10, there is a rush of passengers.

The managers at IndiGo decided to transfer about 97 passengers from the cancelled earlier flight 212 to our flight 432. It was a perfectly sensible decision. Our flight had spare seats and was going to the same destination.

The comedy of errors began from here, and is a classic case study on the disastrous effects resulting from the lack of proper communication, and conveying of strategy, from seniors to juniors, from administrators to executors. It also highlights the multitudes of processes, people, and resources that need to come together, in the right sequence, at the right time, and at the right place to ensure trouble-free on-time operations, and how a slip-up in just one of these factors can make a royal mess of things.

The 97 6E 212 passengers were not given fresh boarding passes, the airline wanting to save the significant time it would involve printing them. Sensible, but this was not communicated to the cabin crew on board 6E 423. So when there were the seat overlaps, there were some ruffled feathers. The smart cabin crew realised the situation and sorted it out. All passengers seated by about 15:30 (+25m behind schedule).

In the mean time the flight crew realised that adding all these passengers meant extra weight, and that requires extra fuel. We passengers cannot be expected to get out of the plane, and push, if it runs out, now can we? So that involves fresh paperwork, fuelling slips, flight release papers, and new load and trim sheets, some of which need to be prepared AFTER the fuelling is completed; and since it was pouring cats and dogs, the fuel bowser would take about 30 minutes to come.

The plane needed additional fuel, and by now 16:00 (+55m behind schedule), so did some of the irritated and hungry passengers, since most of us left home before lunch. With no finality on when were going to depart, many passengers were giving the cabin crew a piece of their mind. Can you imagine the ruckus a lack of food would have created at 35,000ft? Additional catering was ordered.

While these steps were adding to the delay, the time limit of the ATC clearance expired. So now a new flight plan had to be prepared by the operations team, who were already overloaded thanks to mother nature, then filed with air traffic control and a new clearance obtained. That too was done.

As a grand finale, since passengers from the cancelled 6E 212 were boarded haphazardly, the flight passenger manifest did not match up. So that took some more sorting out.

Arrrrgggghhhhhhh!!!!!!

Final push back 16:45 (+1h40m behind schedule). Take off 17:03. Landed in Bangalore 18:15 (+1h45m behind schedule).

And the kicker to this comedy of errors ……… Around 15:30 just about when the 97 passengers were boarded on to our flight, IndiGo central network operations, diverted an aircraft incoming from Goa to Mumbai, to perform the previously cancelled 6E 212. They needed to ferry the balance 30 passengers to Bangalore and also perform the Bangalore to Delhi flight 6E 122.

I think that replacement aircraft carried the balance 30 pax and left around 16:00 about one hour before us!!!!!!

Now I am sure, there is no way on earth IndiGo can claim the delay to our flight due to “circumstances beyond their control”. If anything, our flight delay was created specifically by the airline’s station mis-management team. I wonder what form of compensation can I claim from the airline for subjecting us to this comedy of errors?

I think the best compensation will be for someone senior at IndiGo to take the time to determine what were the root causes of the failure, put together an 8-D report and develop a procedure and checklist for transferring passengers from one flight to the other.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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