Three reasons airlines in India will come out strongest from the recession

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Jet Airways recently hinted that the worst is over for them and they expect to break even again in the middle of this year. And this is mostly because of the drop in fuel prices (obviously!) as well as the prudence shown by the management in cutting unprofitable routes, including that the San Francisco. And I don’t see this as an isolated case.

After my recent interactions with key airline executives in India, including the CEO at SpiceJet, it is my belief that airlines in India will not only be one of the first few to emerge from the recession, but also come out the strongest.Here are three key reasons for this conviction.

1. Airlines that stand by their customers in bad times win hearts – brand matters


Just look at what’s happening in the western airlines in this recession. US Airways recently started charging for blankets, and they already charge for water (which can even be a health hazard!). Ryanair is famous for being the most hated airline in Europe, since it hardly takes care of its customers. Interestingly, bad times have not resulted in a disregard for customer service in Indian aviation.

Recently when I flew from Bangalore to Jaipur on Indigo Airlines, I was greeted by my name before being served soem beverages. Now, that’s a first. I’ve never been greeted by my name in an Economy Class on any airline before, let alone on a low-cost carrier!Jet Airways recently won the Best First Class award, and Kingfisher does everything it can to uphold its 5-Star Airline status.

Did someone forget to tell these airlines that “we’re in a recession”? Probably not. But their focus on keeping the customer happy will pay off in the long run. Those who’re still flying will never ditch them. And when good times return, these same happy customers will generate enough brand awareness through word-of-mouth to bring in new passengers.

2. Being nimble and resilient pays off

Unlike other airlines that’re expected to do well in the recession, especially Middle Eastern ones, most airlines in India do not have any special privileges like reduced oil prices or backing from a government with deep pockets. This has forced them to act on their own to cut costs to remain aflot in these difficult times. And they’ve done so smartly too. Instead of bothering the customer with frivolous charges like in US airlines, Indian carrier have cut costs where it matters.

Kingfisher Airlines has swiftly postponed plans for more overseas route launches (Singapore, Hong Kong) – since they tend to be resource heavy at the beginning. Jet Airways too has not shyed away from cutting glamorous but bleeding routes like that to San Francisco. Moreover, they’ve both either delayed the delivery of new aircraft, or leased them to airlines like Turkish and GulfAir. Most airlines in India have switched to focused marketing efforts, rather than blanket campaigns to get more bang for the buck. And Kingfisher and Jet Airways have set aside their competitive aspirations to forge a code-share alliance to save costs – as Lisa Markovic explained in a recent interview with SimpliFlying. It is this resilience and fast action that will pay off well in the end.

3. It’s the economy, stupid!

In the last 50 days, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in New York, Singapore and Delhi/Bangalore. And the word “recesssion” has disappeared from the local vocabulary in that order too. India’s GDP will grow 7.1% this year, according to data released today. In what way is this a recession? At best it’s a slowdown from previous years’ growth of close to 10%, but c’mon guys…this is not a recession. And if anyone has any doubts, just head over to Marthelli in Bangalore or Gurgaon, just outside of Delhi, to dispell all the myths. And this economic growth translates to the aviation industry too.

Talking about the Indian operations, Kenji Sugino, Director – Sales, Administration and Marketing, ANA recently said “Despite the global slowdown, India is one of the growing markets for ANA. We are positive about this year and are expecting good load factors and sales margins. We are going to play strategically in the Indian market this year.”

More than anyone else, it’s the Indian carriers that will reap the best rewards of a still-active Indian economy, if they play their cards right. And till now, they haven’t let most people down when it comes to crises handling.

What do you think? Are Indian carriers indeed doing it well, or is this a mirage? How soon do you think airlines in India will recover, and which international airlines would give them competition? Let’s discuss…

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