The International Writers Magazine: A Bad Travel Experience
Orbiting with Orbitz: An experience we dearly paid for
Prof. G. M. Prabhu, Iowa State University
(Author’s Note: This article has been written to help others avoid the pitfalls which beset us on our recent vacation to India.)
We wanted to get away from the cold winter of Iowa. And what better way than to head back to India and show our children a part of their heritage. My children, Krishna and Mythili, were very excited to see the Taj Mahal and learn about Indian history during the Mogul empire. So we booked a sight-seeing trip from Mumbai to Delhi-Agra-Jaipur. Not knowing any better, we used the travel company Orbitz (http://www.orbitz.com/) for our international tickets and Orbit Elite (http://orbit-elite.co.in/) for the sight-seeing trip in India.
However, instead of enjoying our vacation, we were beset by many pitfalls which we hope you will avoid by learning from our experience. Travel companies like Orbitz and Orbit Elite give the impression of being professional by presenting printed itineraries in binders, but they hide their lack of transparency under the veneer of glossy printouts with very poor services delivered underneath all their PR hyperbole.
The first red flag occurred after we had booked and paid for our tickets ($1,500 per person). A month before our departure date, we received an e-mail stating that our return date was changed from January 10 to February 6 (nearly a month later). When we called to inquire about this date change, we were told that the dates were changed because of bad weather – bad weather which was forecast two months before the departure date? I’ve never heard of such advanced and accurate forecasts before! Which planet are these people living on to peddle this kind of nonsense?
After several phone calls to “supervisors,” we thought the situation was rectified. However, upon reaching our destination and calling the airline to confirm our return journey, we found, to our surprise, that one of the tickets was not confirmed for January 10. The airline told us that while a reservation had indeed been made, they did not receive a payment. Orbitz had collected our money and not paid the actual airline to issue the return ticket. Once again, we were forced to call several more times. We were able to secure a return ticket for January 17 (one week later and we incurred additional expenses).
This was just the tip of the ordeal. Orbitz had booked us with United from Chicago to London Heathrow and connected us with Air India from London Heathrow to Mumbai. The connection time was one and a half hours. When the Chicago flight was delayed by an hour, we had to literally sprint through Heathrow, take a bus to another terminal, and go through security again without a boarding pass because United could not issue us Air India boarding passes in Chicago. We just barely made the connection – we were the last ones to board the Air India connecting flight. On the return flight, we were not successful and missed our connecting flight (transferring from Air India to United in Frankfurt). This is because Air India, whose name should be changed to Ground India and whose license to operate should be revoked, does not still know that it has always taken them more than 2 hours to board a plane for the last 20 years that I can remember – some corporate MBA with an ounce of commonsense should have realized by now that boarding should begin at least 2 hours prior to departure instead of one hour.
Lesson to be learned: Never change international carriers in Europe, unless you have ample time to make the connection. Do not be fooled into doing this by some travel company offering you a “cheap” deal – it is simply not worth the hassle.
After reaching Mumbai, we embarked on our 6-day sight-seeing trip to Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. The Orbit-Elite package promised us transportation, stay at luxury resorts, and tour guides. The cost was roughly $600 per person for 5 persons (local domestic airfare was extra and came to $100 per person). A car picked us up from the airport and the car and driver we got were the best parts of our 6-day vacation. Although we were promised tour guides, no one called us and told us when and where the guides would meet us. And all the tour guides were scripted to take us to shopping places where they would get commissions instead of places that were useful to us. It was a pathetic and appalling display of shamelessness by wasting our time on such shenanigans.
The misinformation about tour guides proved to be a systemic problem in Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur and all other places where we were told that guides would show up. In Agra, we were ready at 9 AM, but the guide showed up only at 10:15 AM. And whenever we called Orbit Elite to inquire about the guide, we were told that someone would call us back. NO ONE ever called us back from Orbit Elite – a cell phone call in India costs roughly 3 cents a minute and this level of cheapness on Orbit’s part is unfathomable – that when a customer calls in to ask about the services that have been paid for, there is no direct response made to the customer. And the hotels where we stayed (with bed bugs and all) were supposedly upscale luxury resorts, but when we inquired later about the prices of these so-called resort hotels, we were told that such breakdowns are not given to customers after their money has been collected and that “we just operate on package deals.” The resort hotels which were booked in the “package deal” turned out to be very ordinary with poor front-desk service and an indifferent attitude to simple customer requests.
A friendly tip to visit India: If you do want to visit India from the U.S. and take a ten-day tour of Delhi-Agra-Jaipur, contact Say Travels (http://www.saytravel.com/ ) or Smartchoicetravel (http://www.smartchoicetravel.ca/) – their rates are very reasonable – $999 per person which includes air fare to and fro from New York, stay at luxury 5-star hotels, entrance fees at all sites covered, and a dedicated tour guide for sight-seeing. Certainly beats our 6-day price of $700 per person from Mumbai, which did not include entrance fees to the sites (which are outrageously high for non-Indian citizens).
All I can say about the trip is that it left a very bad taste of India for my children who were looking forward to learn about their heritage, least expecting such pitfalls to be inflicted by Indians on persons of Indian origin. When we brought these issues up with Orbit Elite’s office in Mumbai, they just shrugged it off, treating it as a part of our “learning experience.”
Such fly-by-night travel and leisure companies are symptomatic of greedy, mismanaged, and unaccountable corporations that snare customers without giving them a detailed breakdown of the actual horror of their package deals. Their corporate culture promotes profit at any cost over customer satisfaction.
If you want to avoid being victimized, shanked, and tortured, I would strongly recommend that you vet your travel company first.
© G. M. Prabhu Feb 2010
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