Early morning fog is the bane of the Indian air passenger, especially at the Bangalore and New Delhi airports. Similarly, air traffic congestion and heavy rains are the bane of Mumbai airport. They disrupt schedules which leads to aggravation, quarrels and shouting matches among passengers, airlines and airport staff, creating needless ill-will.
Here are some tips that should help you avoid the disruption and hopefully keep your blood pressure in check.
Fog affects cities such as Bangalore, New Delhi, Jaipur, Lucknow, etc. in the mornings. Typically the fog sets in around 3 am and starts to dissipate between 8 am and 9 am. During these hours, flight operations virtually grind to a halt. Even if conditions are marginal, the airport’s operating capacity is severely diminished, and most Indian airports are already operating at peak capacity, if not above.
Try and fly the evening before fog could set in. The benefits of a valuable morning meeting will offset the cost of a hotel room.
Technology is your friend. Make sure your airline has your mobile number (not your travel agent’s) on your reservation for alerts and notices. Sites like FlightRadar24 or FlightStats or their apps help you track flight flows and delays. Use weather apps like NOAA, Accuweather and Windy. For technical info like METARS and TAF use Aeroweather. Fog is localised. Your airport clearing up doesn’t automatically mean your destination is also clear. Check information for your destination too.
Reach the airport early
Try and reach the counter at least two hours before the departure. If there is a rush, you will reach the counter with time to spare. If there isn’t, you can always check in early and take the time to enjoy a drink, chill out and catch up with your phone calls and e-mails, window shop, or just watch the beauty of planes go by.
Fog causes network disruptions
New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore are major hub airports, and many aircraft begin their daily rotation from these airports. A fog delay at the start will disrupt the national network for an airline. I recommend the evening and later flights since airlines use the buffers built into their schedule to catch up with the disruptions.
Carry or buy your food and entertainment
With the low fares we pay, don’t have high expectations in terms of pampering. If the airline doesn’t give you water or food, just buy it. Rs 500 is a low price to avoid blood pressure and maintain sanity. Airports have many options for food, drinks and entertainment. Better still eat before departing for the airport. Use your premium credit card to gain access to airport lounges. Check with your credit card bank for details.
If you like home-made food, carry a couple of cheese and/or jam sandwiches or parathas from home. Since you cannot carry pickles, chutneys, masalas, liquids and gels past security, enjoy your home-made food after check-in but before security.
When travelling with children, make sure you carry their favourite foods and small toys and keep them occupied.
Don’t want to pay inflated prices for bottles of water? Carry an empty water bottle from home. You can carry an empty water bottle through security. After security fill it at a water fountain. You will also save the environment.
Carry your favourite music or video episodes on your devices with a good set of noise cancelling headphones and enjoy the show.
Keep calm, don’t threaten or get physical
Fog is a dynamic situation. It can envelope an airport rapidly and its dissipation is uncertain. All the staff, like you, are at nature’s mercy.
There is no point yelling at them, it will only alienate them. Have patience, keep calm. Speak to them politely. Understand their point of view.
Don’t make hollow claims that you will never fly the airline again. The staff have heard it a thousand times, and since they have lost your business, why should they bother anymore? You lose every way.
With the global watch on security and terrorism, don’t make a threat against the aircraft, an employee, the airport, etc. It will be treated seriously, and you could be summarily off-loaded. Any physical contact, even a touch, can be treated as a physical assault, and that will earn you time with the police or even jail.
Why do airlines some airlines fly while others are grounded?
Airlines and airports can operate at different levels of visibility. It starts from Cat I (Cat One) till Cat III B (Cat Three Bee). Delhi and Mumbai airports are certified to Cat III B. Bangalore is still at Cat I, but its new runway will be certified to Cat III B sometime in 2020.
However, to operate in Cat III B conditions, all three elements must be certified. The airport, the particular aircraft, and the pilots operating the flight. The costs of training and maintaining a pilot’s certification to Cat III B is very high. Given so airlines only train and certify a small portion of their pilots to this standard. Airlines try and locate the trained crew in fog-prone airports, but add the huge operational complexities of scheduling, rostering, locating, rest-periods, etc. and an airline can be forgiven for not having a certified plane or pilot for your particular flight.
Why do airlines keep you boarded on the aircraft during fog?
As I said earlier, the dissipation of fog is dynamic and sometimes occurs in patches. Pilots keep constant touch with the air traffic control who keep checking the visibility. If the ATC sees a gap in the fog, it tries to get out as many aircraft as safely possible, while it can. The ATC cannot wait for 30 minutes while the flight is announced and boarded. Those planes that are full, and ready to leave will get that precious slot.
Remember, the food and digital entertainment. Add to the list a pair of eye shades, some ear plugs, and an inflatable travel pillow. Carry the pillow around your neck while boarding. Catch up on that sleep deprivation.
Check on-time performance and cancellation reports
India’s aviation regulator, the DGCA, publishes monthly reports on airlines’ performance. This includes on-time performance; rates of cancellations, complaints and reasons; facilities and compensation offered to passengers.
A comparison at the four private airports during last winter, shows that you cannot necessarily equate reputation with actual on-time performance.
The chart also shows how poorly Bangalore Kempegowda airport fares in the foggy month of January, thanks to its basic Cat I runway. Delhi with Cat III B is impacted, but not as severely. Mumbai is just plain over-saturated, and the city desperately needs other airports.
Zero passenger rights
If you are expecting any solace from the government or airlines, don’t. The Ministry of Civil Aviation has done an absolutely abysmal job of protecting passengers’ rights. While the passenger charter, requires airlines to do many things, there are exemptions for virtually everything. In the few places where requirements are spelt out, there are no penalties specified, or a time frame within which airlines are required to take any corrective action.
Just accept it, you have no rights to speak of. Just be a smart traveller. Buy travel and baggage insurance.
Devesh Agarwal is the President of the Bangalore Chamber of Industry and Commerce (BCIC) and runs a blog named Bangalore Aviation.
First Published: IST