Monday, September 9, 2013

Trust the airline for their hotel room?

Delhi used to be "controlled chaos";
apparently it changed when
opening the new terminal
I have been stuck several times in an airport having missed the last flight out, and been left to rely on the airline to get me to a hotel (assuming it is their fault that I missed my flight, in which case they are required to provide accommodations). The question is, would you take them up on their offer for a hotel, or just take care of it yourself? Well, here is my experience and you can decide for yourself if you would want to change your mind after reading this.

I arrived at the counter of the airline in New Delhi with my ticket expecting to check in, when the clerk told me that my flight had departed two hours earlier. They apparently had changed their flight schedules and never notified me. I had made the reservation through an on-line travel site, which might have been the reason, but in my opinion, not notifying me of the schedule change was inexcusable.

I insisted that the airline provide accommodations, which took about 30 minutes and talking to another clerk and a supervisor, and traversing the terminal to find the right people to talk with. The fact that it was one a.m. probably did not help, in addition to the fact that this was India, of course, which is notorious for being organized chaos in everything they seem to do. I waited outside for 15 minutes for a van to show up, which it did, but apparently this van had recently been flooded during the recent monsoon. The inside, including seats were soaking wet. In any case, the van took a shortcut to the hotel through an area where they could have filmed “Slumdog Millionaire,” frequently driving through a foot of water. After about 45 minutes of driving, it finally came to an obscure small hotel, which was probably rated with a half star, if at all, and I got a room with a bed to sleep in.

This was probably the most eventful overnight stay I’ve had. Other times this has happened, the hotels were typically closer to the airport, but often flooded by 100 or so stranded people trying to check in with a reduced night staff. It takes an average of five minutes for each person to check in for a few hours of sleep. On average, you spend 30 minutes at the airport standing in line to get a hotel voucher, another 45 minutes to pick up your checked luggage, and wait another 15 minutes for a hotel bus. You end up getting to your bed at around 2 a.m. with a reissued ticket for the first flight out, typically around 7 a.m. with a 5 a.m. check-in time. You are lucky to get three hours of sleep. 

Image the alternative. As soon as you find out that you are stuck, you arrange for your own hotel, call a shuttle and have them pick you up. You would probably gain at least two hours of sleep. The best thing of course is being able to stay in the terminal, there are several international airports that have a hotel in the terminal where you can rent a room by the hour, but unfortunately, there are only a few of those (notably Singapore).

I know what I’ll do next time I get stuck overnight. Even though it might cost me about $100 or so, it is worth it. The additional rest is more important. The lesson learned for me is that free things are not always the best, and principles such as “they should pay for it,” are not worth pursuing if the result is detrimental to what you cherish, such as rest, lack of aggravation, and  the risks of being in a strange country surrounded by people who don’t speak my language.