Another sector which has seen an amazing amount of turbulence is air travel. Until a couple or so years ago, India had effectively just three airline carriers the state-owned Indian Airlines, and the two private carriers (Jet and Sahara). Every so often, prices went up so much so that it was cheaper to travel to foreign destinations than travel within the country. All that changed with the launch of Deccan Airways. A no-frills carrier, Deccan has been the pioneer which has seen air travel become affordable. Like mobiles, it has started bridging families separated by distance and fueled an increase in both leisure and business travel. Now, any number of airlines are taking off. And just recently, Air-India, the state-owned international carrier, placed a huge order with Boeing for 68 aircrafts.
A Business Week story last September captured the essence of the change: With prices as low as 30% of current fares — often as cheap as a train ticket — the newbies could boost India’s annual air traffic by 30%, to 20 million passengers, within a year, says Kapil Kaul, a consultant with the Sydney-based Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation.
The new discount airlines are using technology to the hilt. A majority of their bookings come via the Internet. They use mobiles to alert users to delays. Here is a story of Shrikant Patil, which highlights the changing face of Indian aviation: I generally need to travel from Pune to Bangalore at short notices of 3-4 days. With Intel it was on Jet Airways and the full return fare is about Rs 14,000. On Spicejet even at 3-4 days notice I am able to fly for Rs 5000 return. It would be much lower if I am able to plan my travel at least a month in advance. Thats a Rs 9000 saving for approximately 2.5 hours of flying time. Spicejet is a true budget , no frills airline, no newspapers, no TV, no magazines, no food except a bottle of water and a cookie. Even though it is a budget airline, it has not compromised on the basics, brand new air planes, a very user friendly web site, call centre with good diction and fast turnaround time with automated boarding. This has been implemented with a laptop and a barcode scanner connected to the USB port. Even full service airline, Jet Airways manually strikes out seats as passengers start boarding the aircraft. I have to date travelled 5 times and last evening the flight to depart from Bangalore at 5.40 pm was initially delayed by 40 minutes and first informed by sms at 2 pm. I again received an sms at 2.30pm informing me that the flight has been delayed by an additional 30 minutes. This allowed me to have an additional unplanned meeting and reach the airport at the rescheduled time of 6.50 pm. The flight left within 5 minutes of the rescheduled time[Spicejet] is a good example of how various technologies have been used effectively to provide value to the customer. They are redefining air travel with all the basics to scale in place.
The interesting sidebar to this story is that the Indian Railways are also working to improve their offerings. Finally, it seems, travel in India is no longer the travail that it once used to be!
Next Week: India Rising (continued)
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