Tuesday, February 24, 2009
"All doors open to courtesy."
I envision a scenario in which, before my next visit to India, I am faced with certain choices.
Would I prefer to arrive at my destination within, say, one day of the original promised time, during which period I would not be verbally attacked by the razor teeth of the ill-tempered stewards? Or would I fly with British Airways again?
Would I take my chances next time with Malaria, with the possibility of fever and stomach trouble and misery and discomfort and hazard to my health? Or would I agree to swallow daily a pill that, on paper, protects against the dreaded illness but in truth leads one to wonder from one's sick corner how much worse Malaria could possibly be?
In each case I would gladly choose the former: at times it seemed that anti-Malaria tablets and British Airways conspired to turn my trip to dust, and I vowed to consign both of those entities to a distant shelf, never to be utilised again.
During our evening in Hyderabad, when it seemed as though nobody would come to tell us anything at all, a British Airways representative arrived with a smug smirk and the notion that he would soon pacify the crowd of travellers.
Soon forty of us had gathered around his desk as he explained that there would be no flight to Calcutta that evening due to infrequent service to that destination; that British Airways had been gracious enough to set us all up in hotels; that we ought to make the best of it.
Those who were devastated by the turn of events- in particular I recall one half of an intended wedding party- including business people who had little time to spare, grew more outraged as the representative continued to deliver his well-rehearsed speech.
"Some of us are losing money!" somebody cried out. "We have companies, we can't afford this time loss!"
Heads bobbed furiously.
Somebody else asked if we could pay for a flight by ourselves and later be reimbursed by British Airways. Suddenly the representative's shirt collar seemed too tight and he realised his would not be such an easy task.
"No, no, British Airways couldn't promise that."
Questions flew forth; it seemed that British Airways could not promise anything, rendering his presence little more than a thinly veiled distraction.
Spouse began to direct legal questions at the fellow, who soon looked as though he might melt in his suit.
The representative had made an appearance but could tell us nothing, assure us of nothing and inform us of nothing, not even the likelihood of the next flight to Calcutta.
All the while voices were being raised ever so gradually as frustration increased. For my part, I suggested loudly that the money British Airways was spending on our hotel stay was nothing compared to the amount they would part with if we all got together and sued the airline.
I was unable to offer much in the way of such bold comments, however: my anti-Malaria tablets, which had first stirred trouble during the six hour delay on the plane, were causing painful knots and cramps inside my stomach that forced me to slip out of the crowd and locate a seat for myself as the representative, no longer grinning, was being assailed by an impatient group that no longer tolerated being treated like collective fools.
"Are you all right, Madam?" Through rushing eardrums I heard a concerned voice nearby. I glanced up to see the hotel manager bending over me. His face bore a worried expression.
Being overwhelmed for a long moment by his astute observation and thoughtfulness, which I had not expected, and my natural instinct leading me to insist that I was perfectly fine, I decided to be truthful and suggested that perhaps I did indeed need a doctor or some sort of medical adviser.
In ten minutes I was gratefully clutching an array of medicines designed to aid my well-being, and my appreciation of the hotel and its staff rose to unprecedented levels.
The near-riot was still in progress, although it was clear to all present that nothing had changed and nothing had been gained, and slowly people were trickling away to their rooms.
I was struck by this: for every slick mouthpiece and empty-suited representative one meets in the world, there is a professional, courteous employee who goes above and beyond the call of duty to ease the distress of a stranger.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 11:46 AM