Friday, November 28, 2014

#Spicejet, to CEO Sanjiv Kapoor and all the puny consumers

This is a short and bitter story of how consumers get taken for a ride by airlines in India - in this case, Spicejet. Here's what happened.

Three of us booked the tickets in August for a trek in December - yes, planned well in advance, and booked through*. Bangalore-Delhi-Dehradun and back. We were part of a bigger group of 12 people. Another person in the group booked the same flight a few days later at a much steeper price (just to travel together) Here's the ticket. 

A few days left to go, and I received this text. Nothing alarming, just the timing of the return flight got changed a bit.

Dear SpiceJet customer (PNR-HY89TQ): Your flight SG 2326/SG 509 dated 14-Dec-14 from Dehradun to Bengaluru has been changed to SG 2326/SG 223 due to the introduction of our new winter schedule and will be operating via Delhi with the revised departure time of 04.35 PM and the revised arrival time of 10.15 PM. We regret the inconvenience caused. Please check the flight status at or call +919871803333 / +919654003333, if you have any queries or concerns.

Great, new winter schedule. Now that may not be childish as an excuse, but it did sound rather off. Would you not be planning for winter schedules in advance, I mean you're a freaking travel company, right?

The message was not bad, we were arriving 25 minutes early on our return leg. Anyway, I decided to check the link to see what was happening. This is what is possible on their web site. The flight date is a mandatory field which will give you just 4 options - 4 days: day before yesterday, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Now, airlines may have their reasons for doing so, but why sent me there in the first place, if you know in advance, that I will not be able to check the flight status? 

So I decided to call the numbers they provided. I hung up after 7 minutes of listening to shitty music. I did wonder, how people could panic, if the issue was much graver than arriving a few minutes early. I need not have wondered because 2 days later the opportunity came alive for me....with this SMS.

Dear SpiceJet customer (PNR-TBYKJA): Your flight SG 2327 dated 06-Dec-14 from Delhi to Dehradun has been changed to SG 2325 with a revised departure time of 03.05 PM due to operational reasons. We regret the incovenience caused. Please check the flight status at or call +919871803333 / +919654003333, if you have any queries or concerns.

Just great! Operational reasons. The excuses start becoming realistic. 

In effect, on our onward journey we would reach Delhi airport at 9.15 (after waking up at 3 in the morning for our 6.30 flight from BLR) and will have to heat our heels in the airport for 6 hours. I mailed my friends saying I'm checking some options near Delhi airport to keep us occupied for those hours. I mean it's just not done, the rest of our party will be having fun in Rishikesh while we waste away at the airport or around there. I was typing out a joke about how our party in Delhi in those six hours would rival the frolic in Rishikesh, when this e-mail arrived like a bolt from digital ether. 

I was like whaaaaat? The entire flight from BLR to Delhi and Delhi to Dehradun is cancelled due to operational reasons? Please do not reply to this freaking mail? Please call to be booked on an alternate flight so that I can listen to your alkaline music? 

Like anyone else, I freaked out and called the other four people to salvage our vacation in the mountains. A week left for the trip meant that rates had shot up. One way to Dehradun was costing around 20 grand per head. In the end, we booked a steep fare to Delhi and decided to take a cab to Rishikesh. We could not cancel the trip, because 8 people will already be there. And that got me thinking, what about the others? The families who booked tickets, the international travelers, just about anyone else. What if I could not afford to rebook? And there is not one word about refund in that mail. Is there no f*cking accountability? Am I just a PNR number for you, that you can toss around at will and I adjust accordingly? 

Background: Spicejet has been in financial trouble for a while. The company has been in the red for a while, with pilots quitting and what not. Questions had been raised of late of it's ability to be a "going concern". Mr. Raghuram Rajan (RBI) said a few days back that some of the so-called industry-captains are anything but that, and more like people who chew on the public (he was more polite). 

My worry is this. How do we allow this in this country? This airline announced the best deals all the way till 2015 (I think so, Spicejet, you cannot sue me for this) and mopped up public money. Only to leave us in the dark for winter schedules or operational reasons? You see it right? - Cash flow issues, so what do we do, Mr. CXO? Announce discounts for services to be performed in the future, collect money from toothless consumers, give excuses, cancel flights, and give it up their arse, without even thanking them. 

The Marans of the world (Sun Group) are out of power in both the state and the center. Is that contributing to this, I speculate.  

Verdict: Please ditch this airline. As for us, I'm keeping my fingers crossed about this return journey from Dehradun to Bangalore. You know my worst fear these days? An SMS from Spicejet that says, 

Dear PNR, your return flight from Dehradun to Bangalore has been cancelled coz we messed up, royally, like Kingfisher. You saw it coming, din't you? You can call us for awesome music. By the time you see this text after your awesome vacation outside mobile coverage, you will be totally screwed. Awww, poor, poor PNR. Call us if you have to rebook or you could log on to*

* or have not been hurt while writing this post.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Idiot’s Guide to Interstellar

The story in about 500 words: Earth is dying. Bunch of people go hunting for better locations through a wormhole near Saturn. Brave souls have gone before on reconnaissance missions and 3 habitable planets have been shortlisted. Planet 1 is a waterworld, and does not work. Planet 2 is screwed up because Matt Damon, the perennial data fudger, went there first.  With no fuel left for the roundtrip to earth, the hero jumps into a black hole with his robot, leaving Anne Hathaway to sling away gravitationally to check out on her boyfriend in Planet 3. And the rest is history. (There is a family undercurrent, but I will let that pass.)

Interstellar is not a physicist’s wet dream as a lot of people would like to make it sound. And no, you don’t have to know too much science to depreciate it. Just let your imagination run a bit wild.  Here’s all the ammo you need:

Wormhole: A thingie that lets you travel far without travelling far. Sort of like a trapdoor in the universe.

Black Hole: A celestial body which performs a function quite opposite to that of a rectum that most non-physicists know of. This one sucks up everything with its gravitational pull, including light. In the movie, we have a “gentle” gargantuan black hole, so that we can avoid a tragic ending. 

Event Horizon: Tipping point associated with a black hole. There no going back once you have crossed it – more like the edge of a cliff. 

Gravity: Duh

Time: What the clock shows. Time is not a constant as we know it. In different parts of the universe, time moves at a different “rate”. Like an hour in “Waterworld” equals seven years in Tibet or any other place on Earth. As in, I could spend an hour there and come back to see my son in High School. Nolan’s fascination with time effects did not end with Inception, apparently.

Drones: Flying pilotless vehicles used to bomb suspected terrorists these days. They feature a drone in the first half – zero impact on the movie. Don’t drones heat up while flying in the air? I dunno, coz people touch it after it lands. And yes, it’s an Indian drone (maybe that’s why) which was being controlled by Delhi Mission Control before they lost control.

Plan A/Plan B: As the names indicate, these are strategic management initiatives to save the world. Not much impact on the storyline, though they like to keep you guessing. 

They = Us.

Love: We know this concept, but its power is less understood, is all they’re saying.

Morse Code: Part of the back to basics campaign. Dots and dashes do script an impossible turnaround.

BTW, except for the farm (thank God, Murph burnt it down) and the township, there are no visuals of any other parts of dying earth, even for some visual effects. Christ, the Redeemer or the Pyramids would have looked good with the dust storms and all. That said, I wonder what was happening in the Middle East at that point.

As an aside, look out for the number of times “Do not go gentle into that good night” and “Save the World” are repeated.

Verdict: Did I enjoy it? Not exactly. I was waiting for some magical touch, which never came. No grandiosity, no visual spectacle, and don't get me started about the pathetic screenplay. Watch it, because you will sound uncool otherwise. I will not prefer a second sitting. At around 3 hours, Interstellar is boring in a lot of places, and could use some heavy editing – around 55%. 

At the risk of re-meming:

PS: Un-pixellated video streaming through a wormhole. My foot. I'm no wormhole expert. But that's just not done. And that Romilly guy was there alone on that spaceship for 23 Goddamn years. I hope he had access to some nice stuff.