Is Jet Airways ready to take advantage of Indigo’s slip?

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Lately there have been a number of unpleasant incidents with airlines. In India,the ground staff of Indigo Airlines manhandled a flyer on the tarmac. Another Indian Airline, Air Asia, was in a spot when a woman flyer lodged a police complaint against three staff for harassing and one of them for inappropriate behaviour. The airline said the woman had been abusive when asked to shut down her mobile phone before take-off.

Do these episodes and the bad press the low cost airlines have attracted, ring in an opportunity for a full service airline like Jet Airways? After all the difference in fares has significantly narrowed. They are minor, if at all, when you add extra charges economy airlines levy for practically everything. But is Jet Airways equipped to take advantage?

A delayed flight

Exactly two years ago, I took a Jet Airways flight from Mumbai to Bangalore. The flight was delayed, but boarding was completed in time. Owing to traffic congestion in Mumbai airport, the aircraft was not cleared for take-off for an hour. During that time, with doors shut, the aircraft grew distinctly uncomfortable as cabin temperature rose, almost certainly above 30 degrees C. 

Most passengers doubted that air-conditioning had been switched on and demanded to see the Captain who seemed to be obliviousto the situation or uninterested. Fortunately, the cabin temperature dropped within five minutes after the plane took off. But a sense of dissatisfaction had taken root. Passengers had spent more than half hour in the heat.

Comfort and care….a lack of both 

I enquired with a steward and later, when we landed in Bangalore, with the Captain about the uncomfortable conditions. I learned that the air conditioning had been switched on the whole time and set at 24 deg C. However, the idling engines could not generate enough power to cool the cabin sufficiently. The fact that the plane was 18 years old played its part too.

The steward was sincerely apologetic but the Captain was not contrite. He pretty much said he did everything by the book.

Passenger comfort in old planes 

Air-conditioning of older Boeing 737s and ATRs, is significantly less efficient than that of new generation planes. Besides, old air filters and ducting reduce the efficiency of cooling and heating. Admittedly, planes do not usually spend much longer than 15 minutes between push back and being airborne. But when they do, especially in the hotter Indian cities such as Delhi, Chennai, Amritsar, and Kolkata, the experience can be very unpleasant. Jet at that time had a comparatively aging fleet. In November 2015, 22% of Jet Airways’ fleet of 115 aircraft were older than 8 years. That hasn’t changed. All 180 planes today are 7.9 years or older. Compare that with Indigo’s 5.9 years.

On time? 

On time performance (OTP) is perhaps the most important value driver for flyers, especially business travellers whom Jet tries to woo. In August and September 2017 Jet’s performance was poor at 66% and 70% and was fully twenty percentage points behind Indigo’s.

Jet flies six different models of aircraft, Indigo only ONE. As soon as possible, Jet should rationalise its fleet to one or two types of aircraft, and modernise it. The burgeoning power of low cost airlines has effectively clipped the pricing power of full service companies. A modern and rationalised fleet will cost less to operate and maintain, and provide greater passenger comfort.

A kind word….? 

Till that is done, they can sensitise the cabin and flying crew to care a little more for passenger comfort. Sincere enquiries and expressions of regret go a long way to reassure customers. From recent incidents it would seem Indigo has more to learn but Jet Airways has eight times more passenger complaints per 10,000 customers than Indigo.

Are you ready Mr. Goyal? 

Gaining share of market is very difficult in an oligopolistic market. The Indian airline industry is highly concentrated with one airline (Indigo) sitting on nearly 40% of the market. Add to that the challenge of regulation. On very rare occasions a player may be handed an opportunity when a major competitor slips. Sadly, Jet does not appear prepared to take advantage.

V N Bhattacharya 

Business & Corporate Strategy

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