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India’s Olympic Dream

In airlines, blah, travel on August 10, 2011 at 6:31 am

We’ve tried things the hard way. And it hasn’t worked. If there was a time for India to assert its growing influence on the world stage, it is now.

When the International Olympic Committee next convenes for the arduous task of planning for the next games, the Indian representative should table a proposal, not requiring major overhauls, but only the renaming of the 100 metre dash; To “Flight XYZ now boarding”.

This seemingly innocuous change would guarantee permanent ownership of the top podium position for the next few decades. To be completely transparent, some administrative changes would need to accompany the name change, like replacing the starter shot with a disembodied announcement on the PA system, of dubious sound quality with only the words “now boarding” being clear and distinct. The Indian Olympic Federation wouldn’t even need to go through the grind of actually investing in training for a sport, thus assuring huge returns on little investment, consisting of laying down ugly carpeting around the track and maybe recording an ambient soundtrack consisting of hollering babies. These changes done, all one has to do is sit back and jeer at the supremely trained athletes from the developed world struggling to stay in the frame as they get left behind.

Of course, like any potentially great undertaking, there are risks. If the PA announcement is mis-recorded to somewhere include the words “infant” and “preboarding”, the Indian challenge might well end prematurely with disqualification from jumping the gun as families with teenage progeny hurry to the gate, the said progeny, who are supposedly the cause of their disadvantage, sauntering a good 4-5 paces behind, chewing gum.

Then there is the risk that the Indian representatives might be afflicted by that deadly and unknown disease, “requiring wheelchair assistance”. Generations of scientists will puzzle over the outlying high percentage of 50-somethings in wheelchairs on flights originating or terminating in India. And they will stay puzzled as they will not have access to footage of the 50-somethings laughing and chatting away as they are wheeled to the gate, then springing with Carl-Lewis’esque agility to clamber into their seat once on board.

Not all is doom and gloom as the change might allow for the unleashing of that WCD (weapon of cabin destruction), the wailing baby. I’d challenge any fine-tuned athlete of bristling sinew and muscle to withstand the onslaught of the bawling of a baby that will just not subside. One might raise an eyebrow with the thought, might the opposition not retaliate with their homegrown toddling terrors? I say any such attempts will be akin to pissing in the face of a gale. I doubt that any parents of foreign nationality can show the equanimity that those of our great nation show as their descendant hollers to high hell at 2 am as the other passengers risk inner ear and cerebral damage in trying to stuff the airline pillow around their head.

And why stop at the 100 metre dash, there is scope to take over all the athletic events with some careful renaming of the events to indicate departing modes of transport. I think we have a winning idea here.

Live TV!

In airlines, opinion, Strategy on March 30, 2007 at 1:56 pm

Kingfisher just pushed the envelope of competition for full-service passengers by introducing a feature I’ve never heard of as being available anywhere around the world! Live TV beamed to your console on the aircraft! I hadn’t been too impressed by their move to introduce video screens because the idea of watching a tired collection of recorded snippets did not excite me, particularly since any domestic flight is only going to last about an hour or so and with the meal-service, it didn’t seem like you needed any additional distractions. I’d resorted to tuning into ‘Kingfisher Radio’ with a respectable collection of 70s and 80s rock, but that too had started getting repetitive. But this time around, the screens sported an orange sticker that said “Live tv by Dish TV”. I wasn’t sure what this meant, but flipping through the channels, lo and behold, the first over of the West Indies V New Zealand, LIVE! Was one of the shortest flightest I’ve been on.

This sure gives Jet Airways something to chew on, given that they have added video screens to the business class section? (not sure though). Given that replicating the move would be costly and also be seen as a copy-cat move, what would be a fitting response (without dropping fares)? more elaborate meal options? more attendants at the airport? more flexible pricing? or maybe internet connectivity on flights (but that might be just as costly)?

I don’t see too many options available to them given that they can’t do much about ensuring timeliness of the flights. It will also depend on whether kingfisher chooses to hike its prices (this could be tricky since not many would be willing to pay extra for some channel-surfing) or maintains status quo (the more likely option). One thing is for sure, on lean days, given a choice, most people will choose the airline that offers more frills unless the competition offers a substantial price discount. What Kingfisher is doing can’t be bad for the industry though, it would only serve to more clearly segment the full-service versus the low-cost. Would make for interesting observation to watch for Jet’s response.

p.s: Of the 10 odd screens that were in my eye-line, each of those chose to tune into some form of bollywood gibberish than watch Brian Lara bat. A nation of cricket-lovers indeed…pfft!

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emotionally having good times with joy

In airlines, opinion on January 28, 2007 at 5:39 am

scenario 1: The attendant approaches your car with a friendly smile as you come to a stop outside the terminal. As you step out, he politely asks “Sir, x airline?” and when you shake your head, he loses interest, the smile disappears and he moves towards the vehicle behind you.

scenario 2: The chap manning the boarding gate is glancing at each boarding pass and punching them into the system. As he hands each pass back, he sends you on your way with a cheery “Have a good flight sir”. An uncertain looking passenger approaches and asks him “Can you tell me where the y flight (other airline) to Mumbai is boarding?” The response, a terse “No, I have no idea” as he goes back to loading his flight.

2 instances where the ground staff of respective airlines, while adequately aware of the concept of customer service, have not been briefed about the logic of being equally courteous to those who are not current but could easily become future customers. In my mind, a customer would be at his most vulnerable to switching when he has been at the receiving end of some poor treatment by his current service provider. In either case, a golden opportunity to convince them to switch by making them aware of the treatment they could expect was lost.

The alternate versions of the 2 scenarios:
1. The attendant says “Am sorry you’re not travelling with us sir, Have a nice flight”..*smile*. The passenger lugs his luggage in thinking how it’d be nice to have assistance at this stage.

2. The boarding staff gets the other person standing at the gate (doing nothing) to find out which gate was boarding the other airline’s flight (shouldn’t be too difficult to find out). The passenger leaves very aware of the difference in customer service and the people boarding the coach are reinforced with how they made the right choice in spite of paying 500 bucks more than the other airline.

Also made clear how its all well and good to draw up a marketing strategy that defines customer-service as the axis of focus, but the difficulty of getting it implemented by every last person in the organisation.

Needless to say, this line of thought got me comparing the different airlines I’ve frequented over the last 6 months. The ‘methodology’:

  • While the split is far from even, my cutoff is 5 flights
  • Forced ranking out of 4 on each parameter with differing weightages
  • ‘Check-in’ is the time-spent in line, courtesy extended by staff, speed of transaction (indian still uses manual systems as opposed to sabre or such by the others)
  • ‘Timeliness’ only gets 30% because a large part of whether a flight leaves on time is not in the realm of control of the airline’s operations
  • ‘In-flight comfort’ is a function of newness of the aircraft, legspace, seats

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