Monday, October 27, 2008


“One can’t make a career of serving orange juice with a smile. The in-flight crew soon realizes that” is how Ashutosh Upadhyay, a person who runs a placement agency ‘The Headhunters’ sums up the job of cabin crew in today's Times of India (After Pink Slip - 27 Oct 2008). I believe this is not only the perception of Mr. Upadhyay but nearly every one who travels, or thinks, about air travel. The cabin crew’s job is considered to be that of a glorified server. This is misleading, and may only be partly true. The truth is……

The cabin crews are professionally trained flight crew whose carriage is mandated by regulations across the world. The aim of these regulations is to assist the Captain in providing safe transportation to the passengers while they are on board the aircraft. The aircraft is a very sophisticated piece of machinery and is very reliable, but can have problems like any other machine – the only difference being that this machine is in the third dimension and in a very hostile environment too. Sitting in a pressurized cabin gives one a false feeling of security, as the cabin is maintained at settings that are comfortable for people. This can change any minute. Although the probability of this happening is very low, the possibility always exists. Imagine what can happen to a person exposed to the extreme temperatures and pressures at the flight altitudes.

The regulations lay down the minimum number of cabin crews that are needed to be on board based on the number of seats, not the number of passengers. This is to err on the positive side, keeping passenger safety in mind. In case you have not perceived this earlier – it is the cabin crew’s job to apprise all passengers about the safety precautions while on board. Most people ignore these briefings by the cabin crew, although it is vital for the passengers to be familiar with all of them like belt locking/ unlocking, use of emergency oxygen, actions on take-off/ landing, position of emergency exits, actions on crash landing/ ditching etc. Emergencies do not come announced. So it is best to be prepared and listen to the safety briefings by the cabin crew.

The cabin crew’s job does not finish with just the briefing. They have to ensure that the briefings are complied with so that the safety of passengers is not compromised. Have you ever noticed them going around checking that your seats are upright and the table folded during take off and landing and that there is nothing obstructing the pathways. Most mishaps happen during these two phases of flight and thus these are extra precautions that are taken by the cabin crew.

In case there is an in-flight emergency the cabin crews are trained to fight fires, administer emergency oxygen and any other assistance that may be needed. They are also required to check on the health of the cockpit crew, so that the flight can be conducted without problems.

Once these primary functions of the cabin crew are over, they become the more visible part of the customer service process of the company they fly for. Aviation is also a service industry and thus it is this service that gets highlighted with fare paying passengers. These are secondary functions but have a higher visibility, and thus the perception of most people.

So next time when you travel please try and see what the cabin crew do during the flight.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Phufff......... what news about the aviation sector in the last few days???!!!!

Jet Airways laying off 1900 employees. King Fisher will lay off in the near future. Air India asks 15000 employees to opt for voluntary 3 - 5 years unpaid leave. Spice Jet cuts fares for advance bookings by 15%. Paramount is giving half page advertisements in the newspaper about flights to Ahmedabad from all major regional South Indian cities, via Chennai. King Fisher sells off 3 A340s to Nigerian Airways, defers other orders. It is learnt that Spice Jet is handing over only one way tickets to the expat pilots going home, as per terms of contract, having laid off 30 pilots some time back. Praful Patel wants to bale out the private airlines with some sops - Petroleum and Finance Minister not playing ball. Vijay Mallya is looking for a Rs. 5000 crore interest free loan for 2 years for the airlines. Couple of days back Gopinath had volunteered to buy back and run Air Deccan again. He backed off yesterday, after meeting with Dr. Mallya. So, what does all this mean?

Well only one thing: that the aviation sector which did a vertical take-off a few years ago is ready for a crash landing - and also that I do not need to be an astrologer to forecast this. Are there any options in these troubled times for the global economy in general, and the global airline industry in particular - an industry that can only thrive in times of excess discretionary surpluses with businesses and individuals. This seems very distant in the present context. Will the low cost airlines survive or would they be consumed in the Jet-King Fisher tie-up?

As per me, low cost in India can only survive if they cut costs and reduce ticket prices, as we Indians are very value conscious. Revenues will only increase if the Indian traveller sees value in travelling by air. Time is still not a premium resource for most of us, as yet. I believe we would pay about 1.5 times of the AC-2 tier fare to travel by air if it cuts the journey time substantially - like say Chennai - Delhi. Otherwise we would plan to travel by Rajdhani Express. How do the low cost carriers cut costs? Maybe switch to ATRs with seating of 45 - 70 seats and hop across doing Chennai - Delhi, via Hyderabad, Nagpur and Bhopal (depending on market survey, of course). I do believe that Tier 2 and 3 cities can provide number of seats per day to any metro city.

We cannot replicate the North American model in India. India has a very large rail network which is reasonably well served, unlike North America. Indians are very value conscious, unlike the Americans. The low cost airline target customers are the ones travelling by AC-2 tier, and maybe AC-3 tier - stretching things a bit here though. I am a great fan of the low cost model - a model that gave an opportunity to ordinary Indians to travel by air, a model that broke the hierarchical structure of Indian society by selling tickets for ridiculous prices. I want the low cost model to survive this down turn. How???????

Any ideas any one??

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


GM (G for Goyal and M for Mallya) - I found this description very amusing. However, this news does not augur well for the low cost airlines and for Air India. In case Jet and King Fisher decide to come together (full details of the tie-up is not yet available) then it would definitely sound a death knell for the low cost carriers, for sure, i.e. if they donot come up with some innovative solution to this latest challenge thrown at them. Air India may survive depending on how long the tax payers can continue to bale them out. Both Goyal and Mallya are businessmen and would find ways to reduce seats to just match demand at the prices that make business sense.

King Fisher has already sold three of its Airbus 340s to Nigerian Airways and has opted to defer its international operations, that were launched with great fanfare. Waiting for more details on the deal.......till then, hope and pray that 'the low cost dream ain't over' yet.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


SpiceJet B737-900ER in flight

I was on leave for a week, for the week ending 12 Oct 08. I travelled to Chandigarh and back - Chennai to Delhi by Spicejet, and onward by Shatabdi Express. Return followed the same pattern in reverse order.

I was booked to travel by Spicejet on 05 Oct 08 for the Chennai - Delhi sector for a scheduled departure time of 0540 hrs. The baggage X-ray, check-in, and the drop to the aircraft went as per plan and was done very professionally. The door closing was dot on time. The aircraft and the passengers looked well cared for, and the journey was uneventful.

Flare at Delhi
Totally impressed with the service of this low cost carrier. However, the occupancy figures were extremely distressing. I am a great fan of the low cost model and do not want good low cost carriers like Spicejet to fold up, but if the occupancy remains at the distressing 50 - 60 seat occupancy in a B737-900ER, then it is just a matter of time.

Just after touchdown at Delhi

I travelled the return leg from Delhi to Chennai also by Spicejet, departing Delhi dot on schedule at 0615 hrs. Everything from baggage X-ray, to check-in, to the drop at the aircraft were perfect. The occupancy this time was relatively higher. This airline should, and deserves, to survive...I would pray for that.

I would recommend this airline to anyone wanting to travel in a low cost carrier.