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IndiGo vs Vistara: It's a tough battle

By Anjuli Bhargava
March 22, 2016 13:57 IST
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Indigo, the largest player in the domestic aviation space, cannot afford to ignore new entrant Vistara, says Anjuli Bhargava.

Image: Many frequent fliers are now taking Vistara by choice if the timings on the sector are available. Photograph, courtesy: Vistara
 
 

There is a battle raging between the incumbent, old airlines and the new carriers in India on the 5/20 rule; but there is another battle that IndiGo, the largest private player in the domestic aviation space, may not have seen coming.

Rave reviews of the Tata-Singapore Airlines offering Vistara - in terms of service and especially, food - have begun coming in from all over in the last few months.

Many frequent fliers are now taking Vistara (even if it costs them a few hundred rupees more) by choice if the timings on the sector are available.

I spoke to several frequent fliers - CEOs and consultants - and they have a host of different reasons to opt for Vistara.

Vistara operates from the better terminals - T3 in Delhi and the new terminal in Mumbai - offering far easier and more comfortable check-in and pre-boarding service. There are shorter queues to contend with. At some airports, Vistara has an exclusive security check-in. During rush hour, for fliers pressed for time this can make all the difference.

Flights are, in general, on time. Cabins are clean and the staff is courteous. On-board service is a trifle indulgent and many passengers feel a bit "pampered" or "special".

Many regular but less budget-conscious fliers see value in the premium economy class. But even in economy class, there's more legroom than in those of other airlines.

Last but not the least, it's a well-known fact that the way to the Indian heart is through the stomach.

More than one flier raves about the food (which, of course, is free to boot) offered by the airline; many describe it as a restaurant at 35,000 feet!

Vistara's strong product offering comes at a time when passengers are a bit tired and disenchanted with IndiGo's, despite the airline's efficiency and unerring consistency.

The list of cribs and those cribbing is growing.

To quote a frequent flier: "Indigo is becoming 'cheap' (as opposed to low-fare); it used to be 'smart'.

It leaves you with the feeling that it will do anything to make an extra buck - be it the fast-forward service or the way it charges for every extra kilo of baggage.

Some of IndiGo's latest offerings have partly failed to fly. Take for instance, the new fast-forward service, wherein by paying a bit extra you are entitled to a separate check-in space and your luggage arrives first at your destination.

The problem arises when it doesn't. Run-ins of this sort - I have witnessed a few myself at some airports - leave a bitter taste, as the airline's employees are not empowered to refund the extra amount paid by some passengers.

Inflexibility and adherence to rules to a tee by the staff don't go down too well with an angry customer.

With a credible competitor, comparisons become inevitable (fares on both IndiGo and Vistara are largely comparable) and stuff that passengers overlooked in the past, they find quite irksome now.

At check-in counters, IndiGo has, of late, reduced the number of loaders and you find the person behind the counter trying to check people in and attempting to load luggage on to the belt - especially when there are elderly fliers and women who need assistance.

Even for fliers, who have checked in and have boarding passes in hand, the queues can be quite long. Minor stuff, but irritants nonetheless.

As one flier told me: "Vistara greets you with courtesy and IndiGo with efficiency and hard rules. If you fly regularly, the IndiGo experience is quite tough: long lines, average food, no leg space, an efficient but soulless staff."

This is not to belittle what the largest domestic private airline in the country has achieved.

Its large, loyal fan following remains almost intact. Its network and punctuality hold it in good stead.

The product is mature, one that has delivered under severe passenger scrutiny and remains consistent.

But in my view therein lies the danger. In the airline business, if nothing changes, you may in fact stand to lose.

Passengers are a pretty fickle lot and before you know it you find your loyal base has eroded and flocked to the rival - as Jet Airways experienced first-hand when Kingfisher Airlines first took to the skies and the former whiffed its first scent of real competition.

The new kid on the block has an unfair advantage -just on account of its newness. Its challenge will be offering what it does while keeping a check on costs. 

So whether they like it or not or acknowledge it or not, rats are beginning to nibble at IndiGo's doors.

My unsolicited advice: keep as keen an eye on this battle as on the other one.

Photographs, courtesy: IndiGo, Vistara

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