World’s best Low Cost Carrier?

A story of nuts, cabs and social media wins

Low cost carriers. The necessary evil of affordable aviation. They’re simultaneously loved and hated by travellers the world over. The many additional charges over and above the base fare can be frustrating, unless one is mentally prepared!

The Indian aviation market is interesting, in the sense that there are only low cost carriers. While they do all offer a free 15kg checked baggage allowance, there aren’t really any legacy carriers with free food & beverages available for business or leisure travellers.

After Kingfisher Airlines went bust a few years ago the remaining carriers have tightened the nuts and bolts of their ships. The main players are Indigo, Spicejet, Jet Airways (and its lower-cost arm, JetKonnect) and Air India.

Yes, even Air India, a flag carrier generally thought of as a legacy airline, operates as an LCC within the domestic sectors of India.

I’ve flown with all of the above and one airline has consistently stood out to me as significantly better.

This airline is Indigo.

Founded just 8 years ago their business model is built entirely around the Airbus A320 and a hip youthful image. Indigo now has 80 A320s in operations with almost 200 additional planes (of which 20 are A321s) on order.

I’ve now flown about 10 times with Indigo, not only because they offer the lowest fares a lot of the time, but because their planes are consistently clean and high quality, while with Spicejet and Air India I’ve seen some dingy interios and Jet Airways/Konnect has caused me massive travel headaches with their delays.

Another great thing about Indigo is their on-time dedication. While some Indian airlines just generally run on Indian time and will delay you 20 or 30 minutes (late arrival) without even mentioning it (*cough* Jet Airways *cough*) or consistently have delays in the operations of their flights, until yesterday I’d never had more than a 5-minute delay with Indigo.

Which brings me to what inspired me to give them some free promo: Yesterday, on 10 September 2014, I was flying back to Hyderabad from a meeting with my development team in Kolkata. I’d flown there in the morning with Spicejet (10 minutes late arrival but good plane and crew).

Just before leaving for the airport I got an automated SMS and phone call to inform me that my flight would be 45 minutes delayed. This didn’t bother me too much, other than the fact that I was now cutting it close to catch the last airport express bus into the city. At the airport I decided to ask a staff member at the check-in counter if they could ask the bus staff in Hyderabad to wait an extra 10 minutes, but was told by the rather unhappy looking woman that there was nothing she could do.

So what else to do, but to tweet? Once I got to the gate I sat down, fired up Twitter (which I honestly don’t do too often) and threw Indigo a quick tweet repeating my question:

I went on to get some work done, but was interrupted 10 minutes later by my phone ringing. I answer and it’s Rahul from Indigo’s social media team; he quickly apologises for the trouble caused by the delay and asks which bus exactly it is I want to catch — he then promises to speak to the airport manager and get back to me.

Two key impressive things here:

  1. They reacted to my tweet which came at 8:30pm within 10 minutes
  2. They didn’t tweet to ask for my contact details but must’ve checked their passenger manifest for my number. Sharing these details within an airline to your social media team is brilliant

I was happy, I wouldn’t have to pay Rs 700 for a cab because I’d get the last Rs 200 air-conditioned bus. Or would I?

5 minutes later another call from Rahul: It’s a government bus, they can’t hold it.

Damn! Before I could even express my disappointment (not that I was that disappointed. He tried, what more could I ask?) he mentioned that they would provide me with transport and if I could tell him the address of the place I needed to go, or better DM it to them on Twitter.

Woah! Not just did they inform me of my flight’s delay 4 hours in advance, but even though there are dozens of cabs still available even after the last bus, are now offering to drive me home for free! I was thrilled enough to DM them my appreciation and immediately thought I’ve got to write about this!

I just had to report to the duty manager in Hyderabad to get my ride home. Sorted.

This was then where things went a bit wrong. The Indigo staff member I approached in the arrivals hall said he’d spoken to the buses and the buses would all leave 30 minutes later.

Oh.. I’d already posted a Facebook status about my free cab ride, though ☹ Anyway, still better than paying for a cab. I rushed to the bus stop to find… no buses.

They’d left, as scheduled.

Too bad that I couldn’t get back into the arrivals hall to tell off that guy; I’d have to find someone else.

A young and very friendly guy at the ticket counter was able to sort me out in the end and got me one of their staff cabs (they have pepper spray in case the driver tries to pull something funny, which I think is great). 30 minutes later I was home in comfort and speed and it hadn’t cost me a cent (or Rupee).

A few other nice things about Indigo:

  1. They sell a few of their snacks on board in reusable tins (such as the nuts in the article’s cover photo). As I’m still stocking my kitchen this is super handy, and I like nuts! They’re also slightly more reasonably priced compared to the generic cashew nuts on Spicejet (Rs240/100g vs Rs 420/100g). Though I just bought some at my local supermarket for R124/100g so…
  2. Being a young airline they got the unlucky flight code of 6E. Rather than live with it they’ve turned it into an integral part of their identity with inflight magazine, Hello 6E (a world play on “sexy”?) and many other references to it
  3. The standard greeting to passengers on flights is “Ladies & Gentlemen, Boys & Girls”, wonderfully family friendly
  4. Their staff is super friendly and helpful 95% of the time
  5. I flew with them on their 8th birthday and they handed out Rs888 vouchers to all passengers
  6. They don’t use any sort of canned or automated responses on social media

All in all, if you have to travel by air in India (I prefer trains mostly, though they are slower), give Indigo a shot. You can get a 800km/75min flight for just US$35 if you’re lucky, and that’s still with 15kg checked baggage.

Michael Hubbard runs multinational web development start-up, Laine, operating in South Africa & India. He is currently based in Hyderabad, India.

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