SHAMELESSLY YOURS…INDIGO ET AL

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Indian domestic aviation has hit a nadir, but only for its passengers. This piece stems from first-hand experience and those of family members. So it is as authentic as it can get. My flying ordeals with IndiGo and Spicejet in recent times have been the worst in decades. And these must be shared because travellers will otherwise be bombarded with the airlines’ side of the story through newspapers, magazines and various propaganda apparatus. Just this morning, the Times of India carried a small piece extolling IndiGo’s performance indicators. It happens to be the first Indian carrier to cross the ten-crore passenger mark in a calendar year, one lakh crore in market capitalisation and to have over two thousand daily flights. Congratulations IndiGo, but this means sweet nothing to your passenger. But then, what do you care?

According to 2022 open-source statistics, IndiGo’s market share by passenger load was about 56 per cent and that of Air India was about 25 percent. With GoFirst filing for insolvency, IndiGo’s share would be touching 60 per cent or more. Two airlines having more than eighty-five per cent market share is bad news. And the biggest having sixty per cent is worse. It means several things, the bottom-line being that the passengers will suffer. It is a case of a service provider becoming so big that it stops bothering about its clientele because the latter has little choice.

Starting from the beginning. The one word that strikes the mind the moment you initiate a booking is ‘greed.’ The dynamic fare policy is grossly misused. Browsing history is captured by booking sites and every time you revisit the proposed itinerary, the fares increase. Discounts mean nothing. If you opt for a senior citizen or defence concession, the website either hangs or informs you that there are no flights available with those fares on the proposed date of travel. Modify your search to regular fares and the booking goes through like greased lightning. Draw your own conclusions.

Second, there are a range of options designed only to make money. Pay money and you are ‘fast forwarded,’ which mean you get priority check-in and priority boarding. These niceties that were available to adults with infants, defence personnel and people with disability now comes at a price. Everything else is chargeable. Even baggage safety, for heaven’s sake. The screen asks you if you want to insure your baggage. One always thought that the airlines had adequate liability for passengers’ baggage for its safe and correct delivery. Seats, that were earlier allocated on a first-come, first-served basis are now chargeable in different categories. Seats with more leg room are the most expensive followed by aisle and window seats (more expensive in the front of the cabin than at the rear), non-reclining and even middle seats. Middle seats, which were free, now command a royal price of Rs 99/=. Page after page, one feels completely cheated at this blatant daylight robbery.

Third, IndiGo’s huge market share claim has downsides. Our airport infrastructure is not geared to cater to this traffic. Since the number of flights have increased, airports start getting crowded from as early as 5 am in the mornings. I had a personal experience at the Ahmedabad airport a few weeks ago when, having web checked-in, facilitated by Digiyatra and without any check-in baggage, it took me all of one hour to negotiate lines at the baggage scanner and security check. There were serpentine queues at the check in counters too, indicative of inadequate staffing to accommodate so many passengers on their flights. Then of course, there are lines at the boarding gates and one more at the aircraft door. Oh yes, another experience at Kolkata airport was of waiting in yet another line for the shuttle buses to transfer passengers from the boarding gate to the aircraft. There were just not enough buses.

Fourth, timeliness and efficiency on which IndiGo once prided itself is all but gone. A family member who had to advance his flight due to an office meeting paid up Rs 2500/= to have the flight changed to an earlier flight reached the airport to discover that the earlier flight was delayed by two hours. Money gone, meeting gone, irreparable damage done. Who pays for such things? On arrival at the destination, there was a forty-five-minute wait for the ladder to get placed at the door because of inadequacy of ground staff. These are all indications of an organisation bursting at the seams, inefficiency, lack of staff, inadequate resources and too much ambition; and poor supervision by regulatory authorities and airport officials.

Fifth, there has been a perceptible drop in the standard of onboard efficiency and service. There are too few attendants to handle flights with 100 percent occupancy. There is no more ‘service with a smile.’ It is clinical. The flight attendant who serves a glass of water carries an attitude of doing the passenger a favour. After ‘pre-ordered’ meals are served, the flight attendants normally ask other passengers if they wish to purchase any food items. Earlier, one could order a cup of tea or coffee for Rs 100/= but during a recent flight when I asked for the brew, the attendant said, “Sorry, Sir. We cannot serve just tea or coffee; it will cost you Rs 200/= and the accompanying snack is ‘free’. I do not see the logic of this strange scheme. Do you?

While the passenger experience is going from bad to worse, the prices of air tickets are rapidly going north. Since the demand is high, passengers are willing to pay the fares and the dynamic pricing policy is not helping either. This is bound to happen when monopoly of the domestic skies and increasingly, international sectors are being handed over to just one or two operators. The regulators and airport authorities don’t seem to find anything wrong with this; and it surprises me no end. If you don’t believe me, visit the reviews on TripAdvisor for more horror stories.

So, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls…take matters into your own hands and shake the conscience of the airlines, regulators, airports authorities and civil aviation officials so that you get the service for which you are paying though your nose, while the airline laughs all the way to the bank. Keeping quiet is as much crime as perpetuating it.

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