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Thursday, 28 July 2011

Of Airlines, Aeroplanes and Flying in India

Everything I say here is for the ‘cattle class’ (I hope I can safely jibe myself without having to resign from any post). Flying, it seems, has become such an everyday affair for everyone – flights are no longer empty, airports no matter how large always have a queue, and lounges, no matter what precious metal stage you reach in your loyalty, are always full!

Every airport is reflective of the city, or so do I believe: Take for example the Mumbai airport where you can see houses sharing wall with the airport boundaries, or the Bangalore one where the first thing to greet you (apart from touts) is the Yahoo! board, or the Chennai one, where they have stripped all the frills and have made the airport as basic as a train station; or probably even lesser, and of course the ‘all shine and gleam’ Delhi one!

But there’s hardly anything you can do about the airports, except probably pushing your way to put your luggage on the checking machine first, even when you know you’re probably the last in the queue.
What you can however do is choose your airline. But I doubt even this statement. Because if you’re a right minded Indian you’ll always fly the airline which is offering the lowest cost, unless your company is paying for the flight. Therefore I am not sure about the point of this post, but I believe it would be helpful to someone in this world who might chance upon this.

p.s. I used to read the in-flight magazines, but have stopped doing so now, so low recollection as to which were good ones, however as a general rule - it is always better to start reading it from the back!

First up – full fare airlines

1. Air India / Indian Airlines -

Like the Emperor of erstwhile who has now lost it’s glory, Air India, crippled with all the corruption and slack attitude continues to burn millions of Rupee each time they fly. But from a consumer point of view, if you ignore strikes and forget the Mangalore plane crash, Air India is not that bad an option to fly – and here’s why:
  1. Prices don't go berserk over short periods of time (because their planes never get full!) and there’s a 5% online discount while booking b/w 12 Midnight to 4 AM (!!!)
  2. Flights are generally cheaper than other full cost airline
  3. Cancellation is not a pain – you lose only some 500/700 bucks
  4. Planes are quite old, but that’s not all that bad because the legroom is a little more than today’s plane – however, safety might be a little rickety!
  5. They get to fly first, land first and land nearest to the exit gate!
  6. Food is not that bad
  7. Flight attendants are
  8. Doesn’t make hue and cry about which loyalty member gets what seats – everyone’s equal (so basically you can get extra legroom seats without being platinum etc.)
  9. FF program is pretty decent – however, given the uncertain future of the airline and absence of cross-connect with other loyalty programs like that of AMEX or Starwood; not a great option to bet on!
  10. No idea about the lounge – don’t expect it to be much of a fanfare!
  11. Net – Net, good option to fly a full fare plane at cheap rate but I am sure you’d avoid it if you can!
2. Kingfisher Class

The new emperor of the skies, Kingfisher is Mallya’s dream. Launched in 2006 and laced with brand new planes, Kingfisher is all set to paint the sky Red. However, still under the burden of great debt which the numerous planes have brought along – the beer business is keeping it aloft for a while; incidentally from where it borrows its name! Here are some observations:
  1. Prices vary in stupid curves, sometimes the prices of economy class go higher than than of business class. Their variables of yield pricing are too touchy!
  2. Cancellation on a non refundable fare can be a little costly – refundable fares cannot be booked online unless the prices have reached that level (you’ve to call and book)
  3. New planes with in-flight entertainment: movie choices are pretty bad, but it keeps people engaged nevertheless
  4. Food is fine, I absolutely adore their cookies (for which you have to ask for separately). In fact one of the things in full fare airlines is that you can ask for food any number of times and ask for anything like cookies, sandwiches etc.
  5. During web check in only a select set of seats are available to you based on your loyalty membership
  6. Flight map to select seats is horribly bad – call to make sure that you don’t choose a non recline seat by mistake (or let me tell you – 24 A, F; 25 B, C, D, E are non recline!)
  7. 26F (emergency exit) is the seat to choose if you want to have a flight attendant sit opposite to you during take off and land (but the seats got no window!!!)
  8. Flight attendants are usually good (not just looks guys, behavior too!)
  9. Rewarding Frequent Flyer program and services – especially tie ups with Amex and Starwood (SPG). Awesome lounges, and preferential treatment as you become more loyal. It is especially helpful in case you are running late to the airport (45 mins deadline is VERY strict otherwise)
  10. A single flight booked online (500 miles) + web check in (250 miles) + miles (250-800 miles - depending on price bracket) = around 1000-1500 miles per flight ; around 10500 points gets you one Delhi - Mumbai Full Fare Ticket / 7000 gets your Kingfisher Red
  11. Super irritating announcements by Yana Gupta in Hindi. I hate them (like I love them)
  12. Net – Net: Great option for domestic flying with good connectivity (but have heard that it’s extremely bad for international sector)
3. Jet Airways

One of the profit making airlines, Jet continues to rule the blue sky. A public limited company; Jet has the largest market share in the Indian market, and it a popular airlines for International flights. However, the battle with Kingfisher is on, and since no one is reducing prices – it probably will come down to a better loyalty program! Here are some facts:
  1. Prices vary just like Kingfisher, but seems to follow at least some order of restraint.
  2. Website is much better, cancellation is less costly and one can book refundable ticket from the website itself.
  3. Planes are great, but only a few have the inflight entertainment systems installed
  4. Choosing seats is not based on your loyalty membership and thus is awesome! The flight map also gives all details as to which seats are non-recline etc; and where’s the wing etc.
  5. Food is great, flight attendants even better! {a better way to put this: I find Jet ki air-hostesses best, they are awesome lookers without being um, Kingfisher-ey!}
  6. FF (Frequent Flyer / Loyalty) program is comparable to Kingfisher, but their treatment of preferential guests, not so. In fact it can be pretty cold at times! One of the reason of this might be the fact that Jet has way too many loyal members now :D The no. of lounges too seems to be lesser than that of KF.  
  7. A single flight booked online (500 miles) + web check in (250 miles) + miles (250-800 miles - depending on price bracket) = around 1000-1500 miles per flight ; around 10500 points gets you one Delhi - Mumbai Full Fare Ticket / 7000 gets your Jet Lite
  8. Net – Net: Good option to fly on select sectors, however if you also happen to fly internationally – choose this as your airlines!
4. Low Cost Airways

Preference order:
  1. Jet Konnect /Jet Lite (You can get Jet Miles on this)
  2. Spice Jet
  3. IndiGo
  4. Go Air
  5. Kingfisher Red (previously Air Deccan) – Haven’t Traveled
Any contradictory / additional observations, signore signora?

Bonus: Case Study on SouthWest Airlines
Bonus 2: If you want to get cheap flight tickets - please don't use website like Cleartrip or MakemyTrip - just bloody book your tickets well in advance (from the airline website)


  1. My Air India flights from Delhi to Ahmedabad have in-flight entertainment while that from Delhi to Singapore had nothing except giant scary air hostesses to stare at.

    And I disagree on the Kingfisher front, their international flights are just as good as Jet Airways(domestic, no clue about international), which is saying something. Also, I would put their Red fleet above all the other low cost airlines, you get free food. :P When it was Air Deccan it used to be AWFUL though, there was no prior seat allocation, and mosquitoes in the aircraft. IndiGo, they claim, is always on time, and I haven't had a contradictory experience yet.

    More importantly, I find Jet ki air-hostesses best, they are awesome lookers without being um, Kingfisher-ey, if you know what I mean. :P

  2. Yeah. Jet too has in flight from Blore to Mumbai but doesn't have one for Blore to Delhi (which is infact a much longer flight!) But mostly AI/IA have old plains which don't have IFA system. Sometimes they operate international planes (Boeing 737s) on domestic connecting routes which have IFA!

    Never traveled in a plane (except once in BA) before 2010. So no clue about 'Air Dhakkan' as it was popularly called.

    Indigo is always on time, AND LAND BEFORE TIME, because they have additional buffer built into their flight timings etc. which is kiddish!

    Completely agree with Jet with hostesses thing :D Infact, I am inlcuding it in the post :)

  3. Oh cmmon, you stopped where 'cattle class' starts gaining interest. To be frank I've never got to travel in the 3 airlines you elaborate on, probably because like a 'right minded Indian' I select the topmost flight which comes up on ixigo!

  4. Air India managed to misplace my baggage my flight in a Domestic flight. On top of that, they had the balls to be rude enough on the Baggage Lost Counter. Flight Attendants are horrible

    On the LTC's- The fact that I have to pay for a water bottle,pisses me off - hence a rating of 1 on a scale of 5 - but again they are cheap.

    Go Indigo and Go Air - Both suck in terms of sticking to their schedule

    Spicejet - Good food. They really stick to their ad campaign

    Yet to experience Kingfisher and others but agree to Jitin. The Cattle class won't really find much off a value in the post. The High Flier class again won't find value in this post, as they would already have their loyalties in line. All in all - good effort- but in vain

  5. Don't know what LCC you traveled in - but they give water for free, man!

    Baggage counter people are rude, without exception in every airlines. Be it British Airways (oh, they are known for their rudeness), or Kingfisher, or Air India. Imagine if the part of your JD was to hear angry passengers shouting sum of all their frustrations all day long, day after day. They become immunne to caring for such expeltives after some time :) Actually even after finding baggages no one thanks them (I tried doing that and that guy looked aghast :D)

    Someone from some airlines, might see this and rope me in for some freelance consulting :D

  6. P.S. Cattle Class was supposed to mean economy class, but lol Shashi Tharoor - we've found a new definition for that here :D

  7. Hey, hey , hey! Why have you stopped reading in-flight magazines?

    Have you ever read JetWings? The one on Jet Airways?

  8. Nice post (or may be am happy just because I had been waiting for one ;) )

    I would try to try Jet Airways sometime soon. :)

  9. @Sosha - Yeah, I have read it; I particularly liked the bit where they tell you where all can you go to. Any particular reason for your liking?

    @Surbhi - Thanks :), Yeah Try!

  10. @Novacaine: Glad you read it. The particular reason: I work on JetWings :)

  11. A-O Teri to! That's cool! WoW I mean :) [ok, so to complete: I don't read IFM only because I carry by own book or I sleep as soon as I settle in the plane]

    But then, I am sure I am going to read it from cover to cover the next time I get a chance, any particular section to watch out for? :)

  12. Nice Assortment !! Btw not all kingfisher flights have that non-reclining row. Only big ones do!! Also the air hostess seat is just next to those non-reclining seat and it is generally the first row next to the emergency window. So the best place to ask for( if you reach airport really early) are the window seats on the second row of emergency window. You have reclining seats, really good leg space, and great air hostess view(she would be sitting face to face to u).

  13. :) No particular section. Issue themes change each month, accordingly, my contribution in terms of stories changes too.

    So yeah man, don't stop reading JetWings!