In the after noon of Jan 2007, we were sitting in the departure lounge of Dabolim Airport. We had just wound up our great family vacation in this middle class male dominated family’s’ favorite destination, Goa. We had a spent great time on beaches with sunshine and not to miss, babes. We were seven pax and one infant Eshi, the daughter of Dabbu and were waiting to catch our flight to Lucknow. The kids were playing around and were rushing to the front glass walls of the lounge to get a glimpse of take offs and landings of planes. This airport is usually busy in the tourist season. Weather in Goa was also perfect particularly for north Indians like us, accustomed to extreme winters and chilling fogs conditions back home in the month of January every year. We were there to board our flight back to Delhi and from Delhi, we had our onward journey via a train to Lucknow, our final destination.
Our flight was scheduled to take off at 15:30 and we were expecting to reach Delhi by 17:30. We had ostensibly sufficient time in hand to travel to the railway station and catch the popular 22:00 Lucknow Mail to Lucknow. Dabbu and I had planned ahead to get the confirmed tickets on railways before we left Lucknow for Goa. He had deputed his personal staff to get the tickets and had kept the ticket in the safe custody of his better half. I had asked Dabbu earlier in the trip to see the ticket, just to get the feel of seat numbers etc, but did not stress it beyond a point. Dabbu flaunting his smile at my curiosity had asked me to stay cool. Now an announcement came for the delay of our flight to Delhi by one hour and I got little worried and started calculating backwards the time taken to reach New Delhi Railway Station from the IGI Airport. The now swanky terminal 3 was not in existence then. I fairly calculated that even if flight lands by 18:30, we would have more than three hours to reach the New Delhi station to catch comfortably the 22:00 Lucknow mail. I asked Dabbu again to check our exact departure time and the coach number etc so as to gauge the time and direction taken once we reach the New Delhi Station which had around 15 platforms. Dabbu, irritated by the circumstances and irked by my queries asked his wife to pull out the ticket from his purse. She got it out and passed on to Dabbu, who in turn handed over the ticket to me with an over confident smile.
I opened the fold of the ticket and looked for the departure time first on the right hand bottom of the printed ticket. The time shown there was 19:30. I read it gain. It was still the same. I then looked at the other details. It had all the adult passenger details but the train started from Old Delhi and not New Delhi. Now I panicked. This train actually was not the one we had known till now. It was Kaifiyat Express starting from Old Delhi railway station at 19:25 and not the 22:00 Lucknow Mail. I asked Dabbu, ” Which train have you booked?”. Dabbu said it was Lucknow mail of 22:00. But the ticket said otherwise. I literally thrust-ed the ticket in Dabbu’s hands and asked him to read it at least. He read it now and much to his shock, found the details as they were. On the other hand our flight to Delhi, originally scheduled to reach at 17:30 had already been delayed for one hour and was reaching at 18:30 only. In this scenario, we had only an outside chance to catch the train in 60 minutes gap. It was going to be tough really.
Dabbu was now almost sweating and he was avoiding eye contacts with me. Dabbu called his staff. The staff told him that he had got the ticket of Kaifiyat Express instead of Lucknow Mail because only in that train all confirmed tickets were available. Dabbu said few, not to be quoted words, to him, but that was it. He also realized that he ought to have checked the ticket himself. We were all tensed now, except the kids of course. The kids as usual were at their games. We were nervously checking each clock we could and were now facing the grim possibility of spending our cold winter night in some Delhi hotel by spending our ‘by the end’ trip meager resources. To increase our misery it got further delayed by 15 minutes. We were really tensed now and boarded the flight wishing for some chamatkaar(miracle) only!
In the flight we kept on looking at our watch and then at the ticket and kept on thinking of all possible permutations and combinations in our ‘to be herculean effort’ to catch the train in the rush hour traffic of Delhi. I kept on fidgeting nervously. I inquired more than once from the air hostess about the probable time of flight arrival at Delhi. But things continued to look gloomy and i was developing all sorts of nightmares on spending a night in Delhi and also the possibilities of 8 persons getting a confirmed reservation even next day. We also knew also about limited cash in the hand towards the end of the trip.
During the flight however a new idea struck my tensed mind. Only we knew that actually ‘we’ had mishandled our train reservations to Lucknow and were left with no time cushion to catch the train, but it was also a fact that the flight too had got delayed. If flight had been on scheduled time at 17:30, we could have rushed to reach the station and could have got the train perhaps. Now, I had to just say to the airlines that we had actually planned like this only and we had intelligently chosen the train reservation, two hours after the scheduled arrival of the flight! And therefore airline should facilitate our journey to Lucknow! But, was it so simple? Why would airlines bother about a missed train? What they had to do with a connecting train? It was not a connecting flight to which they were obliged to cater to! But I decided to take a decent shot at the possibility of putting airline into thinking that the delay on their part was going to throw our plan out of gear. The numerical strength of our group could also be a strength. With three kids and an infant, we could put our show rather ceremoniously.
I decided to call the air hostess. I told her that we were a group of 8 persons and we had to catch a train at Delhi station at 19:25 and because of the flight delay we were probably going to miss that. The air hostess with a plastic smile said that ,” Sir, only the ground staff at the airport handle these issue.” I was not expecting any other answer. Actually, I wanted to tick all the boxes up the hierarchy because I knew airline would surely not accommodate our request easily. The flight landed around 19:00 at the Delhi airport. The train was at 19:25, so we knew that there was not even an outside chance left to catch the train. At the entrance of arrival lounge there was a small help desk of the airline. My entire entourage of 8 almost enveloped (read gheraoed) the desk. I narrated the sequence of timings and schedules as per my convenience and to sum it up, put all the burden on airline alone. I had rehearsed the lines so much in my mind that I had started to fully believe my own story.
The help desk expressed its helplessness, though after a patient hearing. They said that how could they be accountable for the missed train? I repeated that if the flight had been on time, we would have rushed to the railway station and could have boarded the train and now after missing the train we had no place to stay in Delhi and nowhere to go. I told them point blank that it was their duty now to get us to Lucknow! This was a shocker to the help desk. They were initially bemused at our request. I repeated my demand and justified it emphasizing on the point of eight stranded passengers. Out of 8, there were two ladies, three kids and 1 infant. How could the airlines be so casual in handling us? I did not forget to remind them of their ethical and business duties. The help desk though not convinced by us, were yielding some ground slowly. The senior in-charge was now called after 15 minutes and we repeated our plight with some more spicing. He too softened after some time. Now, the matter was brought to the boss in charge of the airlines at the airport. We saw an opening there.
The local boss of the airline was sitting inside the no passenger zone, but we were given the access to his office. He was a young man and probably a pass out of some IIM etc. He was very polite but after hearing us, his first reaction was that airlines could not be responsible for a missed train. He was perhaps not wrong. I now took a deep breath and used all of my persuasive skills to remind him that he was representing the airline of a man who had risen from the rags of U P to head a huge business empire and this airline could not be insensitive to a stranded group of 8 persons which included kids and ladies in this winter night of January in Delhi. I tried to make him realize that as a bright young officer of a promising airlines he had to be humane, and socially and ethically responsible. He now felt uneasy. I kept on reminding him that if flight was on time we could have boarded the train and would have left for Lucknow. He now decided to do a thorough check of reasons of delays of the airline. He looked at our train ticket. It was a confirmed 2nd AC train ticket. He started to see a reason in our demand. Our persuasive approach instead of confrontational approach forced him to rethink and finally he buckled.
He made us an offer to fly us to Lucknow by the first flight next day, but only at a discounted fare only. I was not sure that what could be the discounted fare, though we had known by then that the normal tickets to Lucknow were for around 5000 bucks for the next day and actually we did not have that much cash left towards the end of our trip. So I asked him what would be the price of discounted tickets? He asked his staff to get the maximum discounts available under his authority. The pricing came out to be approx 9000 rs only! This was a real winner actually, but We concealed our happiness and said to him that it was unfortunate that we had to pay even this much! He said that it was the max he could do. I now decided to get little more ambitious actually. I asked him, ” Where will we stay then in the night?”. He looked into my eyes and took a pause. He knew that a tough negotiator was in front of him and therefore after few seconds offered us free accommodation too for our night stay! I concealed my smile again and thanking him asked him about food vouchers and transport too! This was really ambitious, but I was sure about my lessons from my favorite book, Art Of War by Tsun Zu. Weakened by our persuasion and in order to uphold his moral and business duties duly reminded by me, said yes. I knew that I had a killer deal finally as were going to save not less than Rs. 60000 on our botched up train journey and subsequent air travel, accommodation and food and transport head. We were lucky. I finally thanked this gentleman and came out of his office to join our anxiously waiting group outside. They could not believe that after the goof up they were now getting comfortable air journey and that too with a complimentary stay, food and travel!. Three cheers to our patience and persuasion!!!