Laveena and I were excited about our Easter weekend plans in Dubai. We were booked on the Jet flight 9W 542, scheduled to depart at 0920 hours from Mumbai on Thursday April 2nd.
As boarding time neared we walked to our gate and waited. A short while later a heavily accented announcement indicated a delay due to bad weather conditions in Dubai.
The new time on the airline departure display monitor showed 10:20. I ordered my second Americano and had a second breakfast as my eyes repeatedly redirected to the monitor to keep a check on the new departure time. At 09:45, it said boarding. Laveena and I walked to the gate, surprised that Jet had started boarding just 35 minutes before the scheduled departure. Once on board, the captain announced that due to VIP movement, there would be a further delay and that we were number 4 in line for take off. He added, that dust storms in the Middle East was the prime cause for the initial delay and that we would be airborne soon. The captain also said that ATC at Dubai was yet to give us clearance to land, but he was hopeful that the 3 hour flight time would resolve this issue.
As we neared Dubai, the captain once again made an announcement that visibility was down to 50 meters and that the flight had to be diverted to Muscat. At this point I did pull up my window shade and noticed that what was usually supposed to be a sea of blue and whites, was clearly a thick cloud of light brown dust. I was glad our flight was being diverted. All along the passengers remained calm as this, was an Act Of God and the airline was simply following directions keeping the safety of it’s passengers in mind.
We landed in Muscat and were told that since several flights had been diverted, the unscheduled stopovers resulted in a crowded airport. We hence taxied to a remote bay and would have to wait until the ground staff boarded the aircraft with further instructions. At this time we believed that our arrival into Dubai would be delayed by 2 maybe 3 hours. I called my brother Aiyaz in Dubai who confirmed that he hadn’t seen a storm of this intensity in his 25 years in Dubai. However, thankfully he said that the dust seemed to be settling and that two or three aircrafts had landed in Dubai in the last 15 minutes. Good news, which brought a smile to our faces.
Here is where our ordeal began. An hour on the tarmac and no ground personnel had boarded the aircraft. I put my window shade up and noticed an Air Arabia flight pulling up near us. Within minutes a Shell fuel tanker drove up and Oman air ground staff assisted in re-fuelling the Air Arabia air craft. This got me thinking, “ hey that’s unfair, we were here first.” Our captain didn’t seem to mind cause he continued to give us the silent treatment. The cabin crew had no information either. Two hours later, still nothing. Passengers started to get restless and hungry. Little children began to cry. Since this was a turnaround flight, lunch had been loaded from Mumbai for passengers who were to have boarded at Dubai. The captain asked for this lunch to be served to us, which immediately made us realise that we were to be here for at least another hour. As lunch was served, I was getting more and more unnerved as the Air Arabia flight was refuelled and ready to leave and the Jet Airways ground staff had not even approached our aircraft yet.
More than 3 hours later, the captain announced that since we were parked in a remote bay, a ladder could not be provided nor could refuelling take place. I knew this was untrue as I had watched the incident with Air Arabia where both the ladder and the fuel had been provided in a hurry. It made me wonder, did this have something to do with India’s relations with Oman or was it a Jet Airways problem due to pending parking charges or other payment issues. Several children were now crying and were increasingly getting restless. A few passengers marched up to the cabin crew and demanded an explanation. They had nothing to share and passengers began to complain that this felt like a Hijack.
Anyway, we did finally taxi to a parking spot closer to the main airport, where almost four hours after touching down at Muscat International Airport, a mobile stairway was brought to our aircraft and the doors were opened. There was an almost immediate rush of passengers to breath some fresh air. A few passengers suffering from claustrophobia were feeling faint and begged to be granted permission to walk on the tarmac. They were brashly warned by the insensitive Jet Airways ground staff that the local police would be called if they put their foot on Muscat soil. At this time, word spread hastily through the cabin, on the prompting of one of the cabin crew that the flight was being sent back to Mumbai.
This decision defied logic and questioned the safety standards of Jet Airways. The crew had possible been up since 730 am and were in service since a little after 10:30 am. We had flown for over 3 hours and were on the ground for almost five now. And another 3 hours back to Mumbai. Was it safe for the captain to fly us back. When we had met him, his eyes looked bloodshot convincing us that he may have dosed off in the cockpit while awaiting news and some action from the Muscat ground staff. Would not a 25 minute flight to Dubai make better sense given how tired he looked? Would this not be a safter option? Calls to friends and family in Dubai had confirmed that other flights were now landing as the dust storm had settled. The Jet Airways ground staff in Muscat however lied that no flights were landing into Dubai due to the sandstorm. Despite passengers insisting this was untrue, the Jet ground staff stood their ground, lied and insisted that according to the information they had, flights were still being diverted to other destinations. A crew member on being probed said that since we had missed our landing slot, Jet would have to pay a hefty premium to fit in a new one. Completely heartless and inconsiderate toward the current plight of the passengers, the new flight plan to Mumbai was handed over and efforts to convince the ground staff to take us to Dubai fell on deaf ears. A few tired and frustrated senior citizens raised their voices and insisted we be flown to Dubai. Ladies were also present in this united call to be flown to the destination all had paid for. The hard hearted ground staff once again threatened the passengers saying that they would call the local police if the they failed to quieten down. I thought this to be terribly inappropriate, inconsiderate and an unnecessary response to the very genuine heartfelt requests. We were told that the Jet staff in Mumbai would address all our concerns and we would be appropriately compensated, given a full ticket refund or given priority to board the next Jet flight to Dubai.
As we readied to leave, what disturbed us was the fact that Jet had failed to load any food for the passengers in Muscat while the toilets and cabin were also not cleaned.
The captain shortly announced that on behalf of the airline he was sorry and that we were to return to Mumbai. The flight time he said would be a little under 3 hours. As we taxied down the runway, there were no safety checks carried out by the now exhausted crew. Seats remained in the reclined position, window shades were down, movies were being watched on iPads and seat belts were not buckled. I couldn’t help but think that if this was an international airline, passengers would use this as a valid enough reason to sue the airline. Once the sign for the seat belts was turned off, we were served a tiny bag of savouries, with Omani water. We found the crew to be kind and considerate, however the tiredness and extreme frustration could be seen on their faces as they said that they too had hoped for a lay over in Dubai. All along we were assured that we shouldn’t worry as Jet ground staff in Mumbai would offer us a solution to make up for the many unfortunate incidents of the day. While most passengers we spoke with obviously accepted the sandstorm as the will of God, they were mighty upset with the indifferent and callous attitude of the Jet ground staff at Muscat who had indeed treated passengers as if they had hijacked the aircraft.
We landed in Mumbai at 10:30 pm, more than 12 hours after we had boarded. No safety checks were carried out prior to landing either. When the doors opened, there was no senior staff member waiting to see us. A single ground staff member who did meet us said that the duty manager would meet us at immigration. When we arrived at immigration, no one was present. At this time, tempers were running high and irate passengers could not believe the lack of empathy and the total irresponsibility of the airline.
In recent months, many I know have complained about how the service standards of Jet have been on a rapid decline. I witnessed it first hand on this trip and was appalled. Anyway, almost 20 minutes after landing, the duty manager approached us. We politely asked to be put onto the next flight to Dubai, to which she responded, that no such arrangements had been made. We were then told that we would have to check with the jet counter at the airport as to which flight would be able to accommodate us. Extremely frustrated we decided to cancel our trip and return home. An obnoxious Jet Airways supervisor met us at the duty free section. We had to find her as she showed no interest in approaching us. She was unapologetic and clearly didn’t seem to have a hint of training in the service industry as she was curt, inconsiderate, thoughtless, thick-skinned and utterly rude. When I tried to take her picture to complain about her stony attitude, she put up her hand and simply walked away.
It takes a lot to make me angry, but seeing how Jet reacted to our situation, had me seething. We walked to the Jet counter, where a staff member wrote down our PNRs and said that we would get a full refund. When I asked for her to confirm this in writing, she said her supervisor wouldn’t allow it. When I asked for her supervisor, the same heartless lady showed up, like she was doing us an immense favour and simply said, “ you will get your refund, now please leave.” Never have we been treated so poorly by an airline. I feel terrible for those who had family to visit and connecting flights to catch to the west. All in all it was an experience which saddened me greatly as even a young girl with cerebral palsy on our flight was not given any special treatment, while young children and senior passengers were treated with equal callousness.
Jet has fallen in the eyes of every passenger on flight 9W 542 as they put self above all else and were more concerned about saving their money than about the well being of their passengers.
We for one will never fly Jet ever again.