Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Ok Tata! Now Jet Set Go!

This afternoon I was surprised to see this news flash on my laptop that the Tatas were seriously contemplating re-entering aviation, albeit in partnership with the Tony Fernandes founded Air Asia.
Now this makes for an interesting development and frequent fliers, who have really gotten used to being treated as lumps of shit, will really be too happy to see a new carrier dawning and flying into Indian skies.
Traveling in the last few months has become really disgusting to say the least.
Visiting home now literally burns a hole in my pocket, with fares getting jacked up artificially to capitalise the lack of capacity after the exit of Kingfisher. Last April, Neeti and I traveled to Delhi on Jet Airways and paid about Rs. 3500 for each ticket one-way. By June of 2012, the fares touched upwards of Rs. 8000 a piece.
The so called LCCs were no different. IndiGo and GoAir were just about a tad lower at approximately Rs. 7500. So for the two of us, a return travel would cost us Rs. 30,000 or upwards, which really is unreasonable. The result - we got an upgraded internet connection for Skype or Facetime chats with folks back home. Man, that's understandable because we have mortgages to pay off!
And then quality of service on board on Jet Airways has gotten awful and pits. Food is bad to say the least. I would prefer avoiding a meal on board and rather fill up my tummy before the flight rather risk having the crappy food on board. The sole exception being breakfast, which still is quite palatable.
The filth on board Jet Airways is also to be seen to be believed. The windows are are rarely cleaned. The upholstery is dirty. The inflight magazines are normally dog-eared. On a flight back from Chennai a few months back, my window had vomit stains on it. To make matters worse, I could not get an alternate seat. The flight was overbooked, I was told.
Now that brings me to the other mystery - earlier this week I traveled to Hyderabad. While booking my ticket, I noticed that flights operating on the Mumbai - Hyderabad sector had been reduced by a third - only one flight was operating the full service Jet Airways code, while all other flights during the day had been shifted to the low cost the Jet Konnect code. Fares, in the economy class, were atrociously high at about Rs. 15000 (low cost?) except the 6.30AM flight which was priced at about Rs. 5000! The obvious answer is that Jet Airways was resorting to artificially reducing inventory to jack up prices.
It did make sense for me to take the 6.30AM flight into Hyderabad, with the lowest fare, relax at the wonderful airport for hour till my colleague flew in from Chennai before proceeding into the city.
My rant on Jet Airways would end with a suggestion - they should change their tagline from "The Joy of Flying" to "The Pain of Flying"!
I would give some credit to the likes of IndiGo and GoAir for being honest with the service they give on board. True they would not give you a hot meal tray on board, which isn't a worry for frequent fliers with credit cards like the Citibank Premier Miles or those with Priority Pass cards (that come complimentary with HDFC Bank credit cards) - with these cards they can access airport lounges, have a warm meal and then catch up on sleep on the flight.
So who needs Jet Airways afterall?
The other carrier that irritates the shit out of me is Emirates. You fly out of Mumbai at any hour and you'll an Emirates docked at the international terminal. Get into Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Delhi or wherever  at any hour - you'll see another Emirates aircraft there. They have upwards of 180 flights out of India a week. These guys are milking the Indian market and taking traffic out of India to Dubai and onward to Africa, Europe, North and South America, and are supposedly making loads of money. Little wonder that the Economic Times called Emirates India's national carrier!
But then the likes of Jet Airways have turned myopic and pulled out of New York JFK, San Francisco, Johannesberg and Milan (oops, my rant on Jet Airways hasn't ended)! Mr. Goyal perhaps needs a lesson or two in market development - he should not expect he would make money the moment he enters a market. Perhaps, its the myopia of Jet Airways that is giving Etihad the jitters now, though other issues are being publicly cited. 
It is sad that a country with over a billion people, which is just about on the cusp of becoming a superpower in the next 20-odd years doesn't have a carrier reflecting national prestige, proudly flying India's flag in alien skies.
And then you have Air-India, where a pilot craving onion kachori run riot and make an unscheduled stop at Jodhpur! How bizarre can things get? And some others rap out their genuine rants on YouTube, against the unions and the management and the governments and God knows who!

In this context, the Tata - Air Asia venture could be a breath of fresh air provided they can overcome the lobbies of Emirates and Jet Airways that are well entrenched in corridors of power and are able to scale up both on domestic and international skies.
It's probably time we said Ok Tata!

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