Air India has threatened to end its contract with its earlier ground handling unit due to the latter’s alleged deteriorating service standards which are delaying more of the carrier’s flights every month.
Ground handling includes the whole range of airport services–ramp, baggage, cargo handling and cabin cleaning–between passenger and cargo check-in, boarding/loading and deplaning/unloading from the plane.
The erstwhile state-run airline was acquired by the aviation-to-automobile conglomerate Tata Sons last year. Before the government sold it, it hived off its business units such as ground handling. The entity is named Air India Air Transport Services Ltd (AIASL). The units were transferred to a holding entity called Air India Asset Holding.
“AlASL services have continued to deteriorate progressively,” Rajesh Dogra, Head Customers Experience & Ground Handling Operations at Air India wrote to Vikram Dev Dutt, chairman of the asset holding unit. ET has seen a copy of the letter.
The letter said the ground handling unit was “perennially” short of manpower. Other problems included inadequate training, the staff’s “behaviour with customers”, “old, inadequate, and dysfunctional ground handling equipment owing to ineffective maintenance” and “baggage mishandling” among other issues.
The percentage of delayed flights out of total has increased to 12% in May compared to 3.7% in October last year. Air India operated a total of 5,203 flights in May, 2022 and 5,398 flights in October 2021, according to the letter.
The Tatas are desperately trying to improve Air India’s service standards, putting flights on time, making customer service more efficient and booking processes more seamless.
“As you would appreciate that for any airline to be able to deliver enhanced customer experience, ground handling operations such as check-in, boarding, baggage handling and ramp side activities are extremely critical,” wrote Dogra in the letter.
“While we are working towards exponentially improving our customer experience, AIASL is unable to match the requisite pace of change and we continue to face several challenges at the airports managed by AlIASL as ground handling services provider for Air India,” he added.
Dogra wrote that Air India would be “constrained to explore alternative arrangements for ground handling services” at the airports in which the unit provides ground services to Air India.
Further, he said the airline “will be forced to discontinue/scale down AlASL ground handling services at such airports…” in line with the new service agreement between the airline and the ground handling unit drawn up after the Tatas took over.