The New Zealand trekking guide had reported for her flight to Bangkok at six in the morning, but her Royal Nepal Airlines flight took off at two the next morning. She got a skimpy packet lunch.
A Nepali academic's early morning flight to Bangalore was cancelled, so he was transferred to the evening Delhi flight. After waiting at the airport for nearly 12 hours, he was told that flight was also cancelled. He abandoned his trip. Hundreds of passengers who had been bumped off another Delhi flight that week couldn't take it any more and gheraoed Royal Nepal Airlines staff, chanting slogans.
In the past month, there were a lot of horror stories. Many vowed never to fly Royal Nepal Airlines again and travel agencies started booking clients to other carriers.
Despite having shed most of its routes in the past two years, the airline is struggling to maintain existing schedules with just two 757s. And when both jets get grounded with technical glitches like they did twice in the past month, RNAC earned a lot of abusive nicknames like 'Royal Nepal Always Cancelled' or 'Royal Nepal Absolutely Corrupt'.
Managing Director Mohan Khanal admits the fleet utilisation leaves no margin for error (see interview, p7). But he says the state of the airline reflects the state of the country and the carrier is paying for political interference and corruption of the past 12 years that has caused a once-reputable airline to take a nosedive. On Tuesday, schedules were once more thrown haywire after a catering van dented one of the jets. The plane is being repaired and expected to fly on Friday.
"It's been a string of bad luck, but hopefully we are out of it now," Khanal told us. For the immediate future, the airline is doing some serious belt-tightening by cutting freebies and allowances and the board has approved an immediate lease of a third 757 to stabilise schedules. News that Indian private airlines may soon be flying to Kathmandu has also lent a sense of urgency in the airline to get its act together.
For the longer term, management is awaiting a report commissioned through ICAO to examine the airline's nett worth for the privatisation effort. The report is said to favour going into a joint venture partnership with a big international carrier, allowing the government to keep a 45 percent stake and selling a 5-10 percent stake to
Royal Nepal Airlines employees.