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IndiGo's penny wise, pound foolish ways

October 02, 2019 08:30 IST

If the airline could work out flight disruption arrangements with other airlines that allow it to put passengers on a rival for the same fare within a similar time band, the goodwill it would earn would be immeasurable. People value concern, says Anjuli Bhargava.

Photograph: Vivek Prakash/Reuters

Photograph: Vivek Prakash/Reuters

In a news report that appeared in one of the dailies earlier this month, IndiGo CEO Ronojoy Dutta claimed that differences between the airline's two promoters have been successfully resolved and peace has been restored.

In response to his "phew" of relief, I have only one word: Hah! A glass once cracked is never the same again and this one is no different.

Differences to my mind would be satisfactorily resolved when one promoter asks to be reintegrated into the day-to-day running of the airline and the other gracefully accepts. Even if it may be a while away for this to happen, there are other problems that have beset the airline of late.

 

I'll begin with the latest. As Mumbai rains wreaked havoc recently, it was IndiGo that found itself drowning in a pool of public anger as 36 of its flights failed to take off on time or were cancelled in a single day. The airline found itself acutely short of ground staff to handle irate passengers and faced a massive public relations crisis. Several passengers are still reeling from the poor handling and many -- including a few who wrote to me -- have sworn never to fly the airline again.

If this can be dismissed as just an angry reaction to a moment, I would not call it a cause for concern. But IndiGo's sheen -- and its efficiency in domestic operations -- has been on the wane for a while now.

I'll cite just one example to highlight why I'm finally putting pen to paper although I have numerous such examples in stock; Since I write frequently on aviation, readers, friends, friends of friends, family and acquaintances have reduced me to an agony aunt, albeit a reluctant one!

A frequent flier of the airline -- who usually takes anywhere between 12 to 15 flights a month, many of which are on IndiGo, on account of its frequencies -- wrote to tell me that she had decided to boycott the airline after facing a spate of cancellations in the last few months, most of which she learnt about less than 24 to 36 hours in advance.

Since her work requires her to be in cities for meetings at specific times, she is forced to re-book -- at a far higher cost -- each time on another carrier operating in the same time frame. Since the cancellations were sudden, she ended up paying almost double the regular fare for each sector.

But her saga is filled with more anguish. In one of the cases, her mother was travelling with her from Delhi to Bengaluru on an evening flight when it was cancelled last minute. Since she had no option but to reach Bengaluru the same night, she and her mother were first sent by the carrier to Mumbai and then Bengaluru, eventually landing there at 2.30 am.

Imagine enduring all this delay and hassle with an 83-year-old in tow! In two cases, she was livid when she learnt of the cancellations only upon arrival at the Mumbai airport (this happened to me recently in February on the Delhi-Dehradun sector so I know how she feels).

I use her example only as illustrative. This has happened so many times to so many people I know that a growing number -- especially those who are more time conscious than price conscious -- have boycotted the airline as far as possible, including some editors and columnists.

The airline is cancelling less than in January and February this year (when the pilot crisis was at a peak) and even compared to its total flights, the numbers cancelled may be insignificant. But the loss of goodwill in every such instance is both immeasurable and irreplaceable.

If the airline could work out flight disruption arrangements with other airlines that allow it to put passengers on a rival for the same fare within a similar time band, the goodwill it would earn would be immeasurable. People value concern.

Lastly, IndiGo to my mind is making the classic mistake of adding fat cats at the top of the pyramid while trying to cut costs at the bottom.

In 2017-18, when it brought in expats at fancy salaries, it failed to add ground staff at airports in keeping with its expanding fleet to cut flab. Had it not done so, it would have had staff available on the spot to handle just the kind of crisis it found itself in at Mumbai recently.

In terms of loss of reputation, it's paid a hefty price for being penny wise and pound foolish.

Anjuli Bhargava
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