Sunday, 23 November 2014

SpiceJet's sudden flight cancellations earn travellers' ire

MUMBAI | NEW DELHI: After bringing cheer to a dispirited travel market with flash sales this year, SpiceJet's sudden spate of flight cancellations have earned it the ire of the passengers. The airline's call centre and travel companies selling its tickets have been inundated with calls from angry passengers who have received text messages informing them that their flights have been cancelled.

"The calls have increased manifold in the last one week.We are trying our best but have had to abandon some of them. The network has been jammed too," said a SpiceJetBSE 14.96 % customer care executive.

Anand Murthy, a journalist in Chennai booked a flight to Guwahati in September to attend his friend's wedding.Three days prior, Murthy got a text message on his phone saying the flight had been cancelled and he should contact the customer care to re-book.

Murthy couldn't reach the customer care and posted it on the airline's Twitter page.He promptly got a call in two hours, but the next flight available for rebooking was a week after the wedding. "I opted for a refund but the amount wouldn't be a fourth of the price I would have to pay for the last-minute booking of an alternate flight. I had to cancel my trip," said Murthy.

The Kalanithi Maran-controlled airline has cancelled close to 40 flights in the past few months as it has cut its fleet size by returning planes to lessors. It has returned seven of its Boeing 737 planes since July , bringing its fleet size down to 43 currently.

Apart from cutting flights across the country, the airline has stopped flying to destinations such as Surat and Mysore, said a spokesperson.

"Customers are very, very angry with the airline. We have been getting a lot of calls. The refunds aren't always as quick as in the promised period of five days," said the general manager, sales at a major online portal.

"We get 1,200-1,300 calls from customers every day . We can't take 10%-12% of the calls and club them under abandoned calls. Because of SpiceJet's cancellations, the number of customer calls has increased so much, the chunk of abandoned calls as a percentage of the total has increased to 25%," said the executive director at an one of India's biggest offline travel agents.

Neither of the travel company executives wanted to be named for fear of spoiling ties with SpiceJet.

"Our concerns are two -the safety should not be compromised and passengers should not be inconvenienced. We are monitoring the situation to ensure the same," said a senior DGCA official.

The airline's chief operating officer Sanjiv Kapoor didn't respond to text queries.Meanwhile, rumours of an imminent investment in the airline shored its stocks up.

SpiceJet's share price closed up 14.9% at Rs 16.06 on media reports that the airline is close to announcing a share sale deal soon. The Sensex rose by less than 1%.

SpiceJet has desperately been looking for funds over the past one year and the market has been rife with names of potential investors.