In the wake of Jet Airways’ untimely, but not entirely unexpected, collapse in April, most business travellers, like me, find themselves wondering — “what next?”.
Over the years, the homegrown carrier successfully managed to capture the loyalty of most Indian business travellers who, like me, got used to the airline’s wide network, the amazing frequent flyer programme and ever smiling flight attendants. In the build-up to the Jet Airways fiasco, right from its financial crunch right up to its eventual collapse in April 2019, I did not really think too much about the consequences of my world without Jet Airways.
In the last two months, however, the impact of the airline’s sudden demise has become increasingly evident. It has completely disoriented my otherwise seamless flying habits. The vacuum left in the Indian skies has affected the way we Indians travel, at least in the short term. The void is even visible at Indian airports — at Mumbai airport, the entire Jet Airways wing of the terminal wears a desolate look with shuttered check-in counters. The grounded Jet fleet abandoned on the tarmac is a sorry sight for any aviation lover.
For starters, all of us will agree that this situation has completely thrown the prices of flight tickets off balance, due to the sudden reduced supply. For example, in normal circumstances, a round trip between Mumbai and Goa would cost you around `5,000, if not less. Early May, during a vacation weekend to Goa, I ended up paying almost `18,000 for the very same ticket, more than three times the original price! Ridiculous! Similarly, with the cancellation of Jet’s three direct flights from Mumbai to London Heathrow (on a B777-300ER), the demand has shot up so drastically on this high-traffic route. Return economy tickets are almost in the `1 lakh bracket, while we were once paying `60,000. Similarly, business class tickets come with unreasonable price tags, pushing many premium travellers to downgrade. A domino effect in the Indian skies is inevitable.
Then come the additional perks — I no longer get to proactively choose my carrier and flights, like how I did when Jet was around, where I could use my Platinum status to get extra perks. Every trip I made, both for work and leisure, I’d call my travel agent and say, “Book me on a Jet flight”. Now, I, like many others, have been reduced to using the best possible option in terms of price and timings, in most cases a low-cost carrier. So I could be flying Air India one day, and SpiceJet the other, and IndiGo on the third day. No one else offers the same network and options as Jet Airways. This practice of jumping from carrier to carrier was completely unknown to me. I do miss the priority treatment that Jet Airways gave to its frequent flyers — the lounges, extra baggage allowance, free seat selection, that extra greeting “Hello Mr. George, welcome back. Can I get you a cup of coffee?”, and most importantly, I do miss the wonderful inflight service that I always enjoyed. Jet Airways’ cabin crew have been the stars of their airline, and always smiling, always happy to have you on board. It’s hard to change when one is accustomed to something but change, I guess, is inevitable.
By this, I do not mean that the other airlines do not offer the same perks and customer recognition — it’s just that, since I had never really invested in any other airline, I find myself at the bottom of the tier hierarchy, often caught in the middle seat, and even fined for that extra kilo of luggage. It will be a while before things do settle down — before I pledge my allegiance to another domestic carrier (Air India and Vistara are on my current shortlist).
Most importantly, I do miss the slice of India that Jet Airways always gave me on international travel. After a tiring business trip to a foreign destination, boarding a Jet Airways flight back home, with its great desi food, and smiling crew always felt so good.
In the meanwhile, hope does spring eternal that Jet Airways will find worthy investors and make a dignified comeback. And when it does, I’ll be the happiest man in the skies.
For now, I begin a long and tiring process of researching the right frequent flyer programme for myself and then sticking to it. Jet Airways, I miss you…