Another travel scam?

HolidayIQ got this email recently…

Hello,

How are you doing! I hope you are fine? I’m sorry i didn’t inform you
about my trip to Scotland for a program, I’m presently in Scotland and
got mugged at a gun point by some armed robbers on my way to the hotel
where my money and other valuable things were kept including my
passport. I would like you to assist me with a loan of 1620Pounds to
sort-out my hotel bills and get myself back home.

I have spoken to the embassy here but they are not responding to the
matter effectively,I will appreciate whatever you can afford to assist
me with,I’ll Refund the money back to you as soon as i return, let me
know if you can be of any help. I don’t have a phone where i can be
reached.

Please let me know immediately.
Regards

DR.THAMMAN

Travelocity India

Travelocity is coming through (and not just by buying up Indian companies) – looks like they have some of the better flight deals in the region. I recently found a Bangalore – Singapore return (economy of course) on Singapore Airlines for Rs 11,200. And a Bangkok return for 13,600. Both of which are better than the normal fares offered by m0st travel Agents.

So, if you have the time (or the necessity!) to do research f0r good flight deals, I suggest Travelocity India.

Houseboats

One of the unintended consequences of my change in status from a relatively well-off management consultant to a ‘scrounging-around-with-a-wild-gleam-in-the-eye’ entrepreneur, has been the big change my relationship with Cars.  Over the last 5 years it has swung from ‘quite interested’ to ‘fairly uninterested’. And a corollary to that has been my growing fascination with another form of transport – Boats.

I love the quiet non-motorised types.  This obsession with boats seems to be genetic – like some of those namelessly horrid diseases, this one too seems to skip a generation and latch on to every alternate one. My grandfather was so besotted with the whole boat thing (although I can pardon him for it, for he lived in a part of Kerala where boats were a natural form of transport), that he published a longish ditty on his boat wanderings and presented it as one of his gifts to my mom when she got married to his son. And, if you are interested,  it was titled Mankombu yatra – although  you would be hard-pressed to find it in the sinister book collection that Google is putting together, you can always write to me to get a copy. Of course, a pre-requisite is that you be able to read and write Malayalam.

Anyway…so boating is in my genes, so to speak. Latent for the most part, but there nonetheless.

A number of years ago, I was on a training course (in Kathmandu, I recollect) and the course instructor turned out to be pretty interesting. He was an Englishman who had forsaken his country to go to Spain and live on a boat. Yup, that is right. He had no home anywhere in the world other than on a boat. And his job required him to hare off to various countries of the world to help with training courses and then come back always to his boat/home. I couldn’t think of a better life then and I cannot think of one now.

Bad airport models 101 : Kochi airport

Anyone who has used Indian airports know that most of them are truly terrible. And if you have ever read the various international surveys of airports across the world, you will know that India’s airports always make up the tail end of these lists. Quite clearly, the Indian airport scene is bad.

The new Kochi airport was heralded as the beginning of the brave new world. Unfortuantely, Kochi airport to my mind is the absolute worst structure of airport management that has been devised yet. Let me tell you why.

There are 2 ways of running an airport. The first is the traditional way where the government runs it and where everyone using it is miserable. The second is where the government finds out that it knows very little of running modern airports and gets a specialist, private sector operator to run it on a day-to-day basis.

Kochi airport unfortunately has got the wrong end of the stick. In a peculiar parody, the money for the new Kochi airport has been put up by private sector investors and its operational management is in the hands of government bureaucrats and the public sector. In fact, most of the operations at the airport is managed by Air India, one of the world’s worst airlines (ranked in the bottom ten by Zagat). Pretty crazy, huh?

I was reminded of all this when I read a HolidayIQ review by a frustrated user of the airport. Here is a link to that review.

Low-cost Asia

Asia is awash with low-cost international airlines and many of them are already flying into or are about to fly into India. And so, if you are looking for an international holiday ex-India, the place you must start your search with is a low c0st airline.

Tiger Airways flies from bangalore – I flew with my family on Tiger last winter and we got a delightfully cheap fare to Singapore (Rs 9000/- return per person). I checked again recently for summer and it is as good. This April, you can take Tiger from Bangalore to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) via Singapore for about 15k return.

Another low-cost to watch for is Air Asia, the Malaysian low-cost. Their inaugural sector from India is ex Trichy (and, no that is not in Cambodia, my metrosexual friend – it is in Tamil Nadu). You can fly Trichy to KL for a little over 11k return.

Going westwards, there is Air Arabia. Well discounted fares can take you to Sharjah from a number of airports India – Ahmedabad to Sharjah should cost you about 10 to 11k.

The good thing about these low-costs is the fact that most of them have new aircraft, which beats flying the aging fleet that is generally used by the full service guys ex India. The drawback is their lack of ‘service’,  the worst of  which is the draconian inflexibility on your bookings.

And so, if you want to set new standards for personal decadence in these times of recession, here is a thought. Fly a low-cost to a big international Asian city. Then check-in to the nearest Four Seasons for some serious pampering.  Just remember, these days even the Four Seasons are probably open to negotiating rates.

Janata Khana vs Economy Meal

Ever wondered about the story behind the food they serve to you on trains? I have, often. And, I had my aha moment a few days ago, while idly surfing the net early one Sunday morning. (Yes, that is a dead give away, isn’t it. That I read commercial circulars of the Indian Railways before breakfast on Sundays clearly shows I have no life whatsoever).

Anyway…

I stumbled upon an old IR circular (2003) from the Railway Board to all General managers, that set out detailed instructions for serving food to Passengers.

The most obvious strand running through the circular was the fine balance between wholesomeness and parsimony expected from purveyors of food on trains. Or as Commercial Circular No 33 of 2003 says,  “vegetables supplied along with the meals should be seasonal to make it affordable and also to ensure good quality and freshness.” 

I have always believed that the Indian Railways is the only commercial government entity in India that thinks it has anything resembling responsibility to its customer. (Air India marks the other end of the spectrum). And I was glad to find out that the attitude comes from the top. As the Circular says in point (vi) of its Other Recommendations, “menu should definitely have variety and the same menu on lunch and dinner for the day should never be the same’ (bad grammar, good intent. which is the kind of priority I like.)

However, the mysterious workings of bureaucracy are never far in Indian life. And so it is here too. “The existing Janata Khana and Economy Meal have been merged into one category and is called Janata Meal with increased quantity”

If like me, you too have no life, read the full circular here.