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On Time Delays

With the characteristic swinging movement of the head interspersed with pendular oscillations that is characteristic of India, Sri Lanka, and to a lesser extent Nepal, Madhav Lohani at the GMG counter in Kathmandu replied, “The flight is on time, but one hour delayed.” While similar, the movement has different meanings in these countries, but the wisdom of Mr. Lohani’s statement removed all ambiguity.

The 12:20 flight which had been rescheduled for 20:20, was now scheduled to depart at 21:20. The TV monitor meanwhile still kept up our spirits with the 20:20 departure time. I was meant to have been traveling on the Biman flight earlier in the day, but that flight too had been cancelled. No one from Biman had been on the counter to explain, so I only learnt of the news when a friendly porter confided in me. Had Mr. Lohani been there, surely his head would have nodded while he said, “The flight is on time but one day delayed.”

My friend also arranged for me to meet the station manager, and his generous embellishment of my CV with appropriate gesticulations convinced the official that I was an important passenger. In a country where VVIPs lurk under every blade of grass, the station manager was not going to take a risk, whether the plane was ‘on time’ or not. The plane from New York had never arrived the previous day, the hapless official explained. He himself had only been informed an hour ago. He left with my ticket, my porter friend in tow. The necessary endorsement was done, and my friend returned with my ticket, with appropriate scribbles on the backside. He refused bakshish, but helped me through the reverse journey through security. On the way to the taxi, he did whisper that the Biman salary was very low. After nearly twenty years in service he was still hired as a daily worker and received no pension. Having convinced himself that I was important, he felt, I could perhaps make a difference. The right word to the right ear. He didn’t quite believe my answer when I explained I had no such powers.

I had no way of knowing why the flight was delayed. There had been no announcements, and certainly no one at Biman had felt the need to explain or apologise, but one can guess. Rahnuma, on hearing I was trying to catch a GMG flight had sent a warning SMS. Yesterday’s GMG from Delhi had been delayed from 10 in the morning to 10 at night. Even then it had arrived at 2:48 in the morning rather than the ‘expected’ 1:48 am. “The flight had been delayed, but was not on time.”

Harun ur Rashid of GMG did under siege from enraged passengers admit their flight had been grounded, as had another flight the day before. Predictably, the  ‘on time but delayed’ flight, became an ‘on time but cancelled’ flight. We made new friends on the microbus taking us to the hotel. Biman jokes appear to be the new fad. The fact that GMG had asked Biman to come to their rescue brought the house down. Our choice today of rescheduled GMG or Biman flights was particularly ironic.

Apparently the chief adviser had been flying on the GMG flight from Delhi. The traffic jams every time a VVIP passes through the streets are things we have reluctantly become used to. Roads may be dug up, barriers placed, a meeting arranged in the middle of a busy street or an office unexpectedly closed, for some reason that the public would never be informed about. Public servants never considered themselves the servants of the public. Elected representatives never felt the voters had entitlements. Who will remind our VVIPs that it is the taxes paid by all those people, bumped off planes and stranded in hot streets that pay their salaries? Lack of accountability is a dangerous disease. A government that has come in with the express intent of establishing accountability and transparency needs to set a very different example. Not the message one gets on hearing ‘the election is on time but two years delayed.’

Stop Press: As we prepare to board the coach for the airport for the now ‘confirmed’ flight at 4:00 pm, Sweta from the hotel intercepts us by saying, the flight is not confirmed and there is at least another two hours delay. It might be a long two hours!

Published inBangladeshcultureGovernancePeopleShahidul Alam


  1. Amit Bhargava Amit Bhargava

    Dear Shahidul,
    Last time I was in BGD, I was booked on Biman, for Kolkata – Dhaka – Kolkata.
    After flying in the Biman’s flying coffin from Kolkata to Dhaka, I fought with them to endorse me on GMG on the way back. 2 1/2 hours and a trip to the Motijheel office is what it took to get the endorsement.
    On reaching the Airport, the Biman flying coffin left on time. The display board kept showing GMG was leaving on time even after more than 2 hours after its schedule departure. They felt no responsibility of either correcting the display or informing the passengers even when they were fully aware of the fact that the plane scheduled to go to Kolkata in the evening was standing at the tarmac since that afternoon for technical reasons. Not even a glass of water was made available in the departure lounge, that we were not allowed to leave.
    Most of us had connections to New Delhi. 3 hours later under pressure from other passengers, the GMG flight took off. Thank god in a different plane. Those with fair skin and holding economy class tickets were upgraded to Business…. Brown skinned were not so lucky….
    When I landed in Kolkata, my Kingfisher Airlines flight to New Delhi was taking off. The immigration and Customs took those with immediate connections out of the queue (quite surprised). The GMG people said that it was their responsibility to arrange for our flights and hotels if needed.
    While I missed my Kingfisher flight and fellow passengers their connections on Jet (a partner of GMG), the GMG officials took a U-Turn. Connecting flights became our responsibility. We were told that we must pay for our hotels…
    While Kingfisher accommodated me without asking a question on the flight the next morning (even after having a web-check in on a non-refundable ticket), GMG people had new stories all the time.
    I called up the GMG MD next morning and heard all the Intl.’ travel rules.He promised that future services of GMG will not be like this one and took all pains to explain in what hurry this airline was started. However your post suggests otherwise… Maybe the Bangladeshi Media can play some role in asking GMG some hard questions.


    Hey Shahidul,
    Never before have I understood so clearly how closely ‘globalization’ actually (dis?) connects us all ! the upcoming -global -opportunity exploiting – GMG, with its delayed but-on-time flight from Nepal that was to bring you into Dhaka, kept me and my friend, Prem Kumar Aman (marked on this mail) in Dhaka, waiting, hoping, fuming, and above all guessing. The flight scheduled for Saturday morning 10.30 rescheduled to Saturday evening 21.20 , then cancelled, then re-endorsed for another carrier Sunday 07.00 finally was airborne at 16.45 ! Well in time, no doubt, just a day and a half- late. I also realised that flight schedule information at GMG is a closely guarded secret, that only the occasional hysterical or violently inclined passenger can worm out. That weekend, my friend, Kathmandu mirrored Dhaka.
    Meanwhile, the guessing game was being played out in a GMG sponsored hotel GRAND PLAZA -with its phones, air conditioning, broad band and dial-up connections, lifts -all there ofcourse, only not working!! resembling a prison more than a hotel. We in India have this concept of ‘karma’- while I dont claim to quite understand how it works, I think I understand why it works- in absence of any other dependable or actionable information, it keeps murder and suicidal tendencies in check in the average everyday being. Somewhere along the line, we stumbled upon other classified information – GMG has only two aircrafts, one of which was to fly you in on-time and fly us out on time, which I guess, it eventually did- seeing that we are both home, right!! Perhaps the other aircraft was similarly engaging our brethern and sistern on other soils. See how inextricably our lives are linked?
    We enjoyed our visit to Drik and met up with your colleagues too. Very impressive.

  3. Subbiah Arunachalam Subbiah Arunachalam

    Dear Shahidul:
    You write so well! And you make excellent points. You
    must succeed in achieving your goals!
    While on the subject of efficiency of airlines, let me narrate one of my worst experiences.
    A few days ago I read ?Tyler Br?l? on the unthinkable: A seamless flight? in International Herald Tribune, 6 April 2007. Immediately I sent this comment to IHT:
    I am so glad to know that there is at least one airline in the world which provides great service and which cares for its customers. I am a frequent flier with Lufthansa, and once when I was returning from Guatamala my LH connection at Mexico City was delayed by three hours and my flight arrived late at Frankfurt and I missed my flight to Chennai. The girl at the LH help desk was anything but courteous and friendly. She ill treated me, told that I was traveling on a fake ticket, that Lufthansa was not responsible for the delay, I ought to have arrived at Frankfurt on time and that I had to buy a new ticket, and so on. She took my ticket for photocopying and after a while said I never gave her my ticket and I had lost it! All because, I guess, because I was not White. Finally I came by an Air India flight to Bombay and took a Jet Airways flight from Bombay to Chennai more than 10 hours behind schedule. LH had not transferred my luggage to Air India and it arrived four days late. I lodged a complaint to Lufthansa on arrival but they never bothered to admit that the behaviour of their staff was wanting. Nor did they compensate me in any way. I wanted them to forward my complaint to the CEO of Lufthansa. But the officers at their Delhi Customer Service never did that. I would be grateful if you could forward this letter to the CEO and the Chief of Customer Service of Lufthansa. Unfortunately JAL does not fly the routes in which I travel!
    If there is one airline that needs help from JAL in the matter of customer service, it is Lufthansa.
    [Subbiah Arunachalam]

  4. Sara Hossain Sara Hossain

    From: Sara Hossain
    Subject: Re: [shahidulnews] On Time Delays
    Date: April 8, 2007 11:21:36 AM GMT+06:00
    understandable frustrations, and absolutely on point criticism, but rather a disconnect with the final glib comment?
    should civil society now clamour for immediate elections, so we can see the return to office of all those people of undoubtedly extreme integrity and impeccable credentials (support of the arts, sponsorship of exhibitions, flowering of broadcast media, with just a little bit of heavy duty financial crime abuse of power and yes folks abuse of human rights along the way)?
    perhaps thats the kind of democracy some of us want, but not all and likely not most.

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