Tag Archives: Southwest Airlines

Air India Sticks it to the Poor

Over the past eight days, I boarded thirteen separate flights as I hopped across the Asian continent. I spent the most time in India. Actually, I spent time in “both Indias,” a phrase my Indian colleagues used. I visited the skyscraper-heavy financial district in Mumbai and met families in slums nearby. I drove past the most expensive house in the world and walked through one of the world’s poorest shantytowns. Both Indias.

As a connoisseur  of fine airlines (e.g., Southwest, my favorite), India’s airlines impressed me. I flew Jet Airways several times and they did everything right: Prompt departures, quick boarding, no fees, and friendly service. It was hard to believe this upstart airline didn’t exist just seven years ago. Actually, seven years ago, there was only one airline in the country: Air India.

Air India - Source: iFreshNews

Until 2005, the Indian government held a monopolistic stranglehold on the aviation industry. Air India was the only show in town. And it was a really bad show. Prices were sky-high, service was terribly low and Air India consistently lagged in innovation. It is a classic story of government-intervention-gone-wrong.

The real victim of Air India’s failure, however, was the poor. Not only could they not afford to fly, but they also were continually forced to bail out the floundering “business.” As taxpayers, they were on the hook for Air India’s failure. Created under the auspices of “protecting the Indian people,” Air India did exactly the opposite. The vitriol for the company by the people of India is apparent. On my final flight home, I thumbed through the pages of The Telegraph, an Indian newspaper. The editorial title about the airline summarized the country’s sentiment: “A long, sordid and pathetic tale of failure.” 

Riddled with inefficiencies and waste, Air India was actually crippled while I was in the country. The entire staff has gone two months without salaries and they were on strike last week. The editorial reviled in the failures of the airline, noting for example, that they recently purchased new planes without doing any price negotiation whatsoever with the manufacturers.

Jet Airways and a handful of other upstart airlines like IndiGo and Spicejet are charting a different and refreshing course, however. Led by aggressive Indian entrepreneurs, these budget airlines deliver on their promise to customers. And, they bring abounding opportunity to the poor. The data doesn’t lie: Since 2005, air traffic in India has tripled, fare prices have dropped dramatically and the quality of service has increased.

I’m an admitted believer in the power of entrepreneurship and the free markets. While not without its warts, I’ve argued that capitalism is the “best broken system” for the most vulnerable in our world. There is a role for government in helping the poor, but Air India illuminates that sometimes the best social service they can do for the poor is unleash the Indian entrepreneur to be the solution. Jet Airways, IndiGo and SpiceJet are up for the challenge; and the world is opening up to low-income Indians as a result. SpiceJet’s motto says it all, “Flying for Everyone.”

We love… Southwest Airlines

It would be inappropriate to kick off this series (“We love…”) with anything other than Southwest Airlines.  Alli and I hold a deep, perhaps excessive, love of Southwest Airlines.  But really, what’s not to love?

Southwest

We both fly often. A few years ago we began recognizing that our flight experiences with Southwest were markedly different, in a good way, than our flights with other airlines. The whole process, from purchase to deplaning, was smoother–and even enjoyable. Our lauding should not come as a surprise. There is a reason SWA has posted a profit for 36 consecutive years (in a deeply struggling industry) and has hosted more customers than any other US airline since 2006.  A recent poll (Oct 16, 2009) by Consumer Traveler echoed our feelings:

Southwest2

Here are a few reasons why Southwest has become like family:

  • Flight attendants with personality. They are often funny, and they don’t take themselves too seriously.  Here’s an example from a recent flight. “And for you, sir, hot pancakes and bacon for your in-flight breakfast meal.” – flight attendant, while handing me a bag of peanuts.
  • They perform miracles. About a month ago, while traveling from Denver to the Dominican Republic (with a one-day stopover in Philadelphia), I mistakenly forgot my passport in Denver. To make a very long-story short, the Southwest crew agreed to voluntarily carry and deliver my passport to me. No other airline was willing. There was no reason for them to oblige, but they did. If they hadn’t, I would have been forced to skip the trip I was leading to the DR. Above-and-beyond.
  • No seating chart. This speeds up the boarding process significantly. No looking at boarding passes while finding seats. No lag while first class passengers board. No inefficiencies. Love it.
  • No bag fees. Thank you, SWA, for not nickle-and-diming me.  This has many positive repercussions. For instance, passengers don’t try and carry-on six bags, resulting in the overhead bins filling up to capacity by the time the first wave of passengers has boarded.
  • Cheap fares. It’s uncommon to find better fares. When you add in all the fees other airlines charge, it’s extremely rare to find better fares.
  • They provide lifetime free flights to customers who write blog posts about why they love Southwest.*

*This has not yet been verified, but we’re hopeful.