One of the most telling signs I saw during my recent visit to Dubai was betel leaf stains outside a really swanky and modern metro station. It was the Union Station, one of the two big junctions for Dubai’s only two metro lines, Red and Green. Those guilty of perpetrating this nuisance were Indians.
Two evenings after this sighting of mine, an Indian friend and his wife were fined 110 dirhams (roughly Indian Rs. 1650) on a metro train, because she had food in her mouth. The couple’s pleas that they had just finished their dinner outside the station where they had boarded the train did not cut ice with the cops, who have been implementing the no-food-no-drink-on-the-metro with almost dogmatic precision.
Of course this helps to keep the Dubai Metro spotlessly clean.
Nonetheless, the fact that my friends had to pay a fine which was not exactly fair merely goes to prove that Indians have created an image that is not exactly flattering for the community. The fallout of this can be manifold.
Another friend working as a top executive with a leather firm in Chennai says that during one of his flights on Lufthansa, he got around talking to the captain who said that the India sector was the most difficult for them. The kind of demands Indians made could be unnerving.
All this, however, does not give anybody the right to package Indians as one whole and treat them callously. For some years now I have been flying Emirates, mainly because they have three flights out of Chennai everyday with excellent connections to Europe, America and Africa.
But, of late, the standard of Emirates that is reportedly as good as that of Singapore Airlines, seems to be falling. My flight from Chennai to Dubai last August was delayed by about 90 minutes, and there was not as much as an announcement – forget an apology -- explaining why this was happening. The passengers were left fuming.
What is more, I found the cabin crew particularly rude on that flight, the food positively bad and the seats too cramped. One hostess literally shook me out of my sleep to collect my blanket! I have never ever faced this during the 30 years I have flown across continents.
During another Emirates flight from Dubai to Chennai a few days ago, I was appalled to find dinner being served a full two hours after the plane had taken off. And this was a flight which departed at 9.20 at night, covering the distance to Chennai in just about three-and-a-half hours. Now, would it now have made better sense to have served the dinner by 10 pm allowing the passengers to sleep for at least a couple of hours before landing.
Obviously, India does not appear to be one of the Emirates’ priorities.
Admittedly, Indians themselves must take a part of the blame for the kind of treatment they face.
Yet, yet, carriers like Emirates must realise that in today’s fiercely competitive world, they cannot afford to get slack on hospitality. The Indian carrier, Indigo, for instance, is proving to be a formidable competitor on the India-Dubai sector, offering tickets which are far cheaper than those of Emirates. And Indigo, my friends say, has an impeccably courteous ground and cabin crew.
Now what more do travellers want?