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Flying, Indian style

Posted by anandrr on November 23, 2007

kingfisher airlines

Sure India has its discount airlines, but we also have airlines that remind you that flying can be pleasant. Take my flight from Bangalore to Chennai. I flew Kingfisher, run by our own Vijay Mallya trying, as we can see here, to be our own Richard Branson (Mallya also publishes an annual Kingfisher swimsuit calendar, but of course). Chennai to Bangalore is a mere 300 km, which means that the flight begins its descent almost as soon as it has completed its ascent, the plane spends just over half an hour off the ground. It costs about Rs 2000 ($50). Bangalore airport is but a glorified bus-station. Passengers are treated a little worse than cattle, there is a permanent state of mayhem, and God forbid you’re there a mere 30 minutes before the flight leaves, there is really no hope of navigating your way to the plane on time. Everything about the experience from the time you get in the cab to the airport to the time you get on the plane serves to remind you that the place is booming far ahead of its infrastructure needs. But once you get in the flight, it’s an entirely different story. As soon as you get in the flight, you’re served a cold beverage. Follow this up with a little token gift bag: your headphones, a token gift (a branded pen in my case), some candy, and a freshener, all complimentary. I mean really, the headphones cost them so little, they don’t want them back. As soon as the flight takes off, they handed me a meal, quite rich for an early morning breakfast: a granola bar, a “desi sandwich,” a cookie, a bottle of water, and coffee (or chai of course). And you land even as you finish off your meal. Quite excellent service. Just what you expect when you pay top dollar to go from point A to point B. (An equivalent train fare between the same two points costs about 10 times less).

But I can’t shake off the feeling that this richness is not long for the world. On a Rs 2000 flight, almost 75% of which went to taxes and surcharges of different kinds, all of this service and meals and so forth must have put them back at least Rs 100. When business is booming and there is no dearth of customers at any price point, this is all well and good. But at the first hint of margin pressure, what easier way than to cut this and gain about 20% on margins? After all, wasn’t it the case that flying Pan-Am was all fun and sophisticated until the discount airlines and the discounter airlines came along, redefined the lowest common multiple, and these days domestic travellers in the US consider themselves lucky if the flight attendant flings a bag of peanuts in their general direction so they and their two neighbors can all compete to see who gets it first?

I also felt like I had a wider seat and more legroom than I was accustomed to. I’m not entirely sure whether it was really the case that Kingfisher has plenty of legroom and seat width, or that I was now in a country where obesity isn’t an epidemic.

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One Response to “Flying, Indian style”

  1. HE is a industrious Man and great scholar.

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