Aviation International News traveled from Delhi to Mumbai for the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA) conference on Kingfisher Airlines, because at the time it offered the best schedule and most user-friendly Web site for buying tickets in U.S. dollars using a credit card. We paid $310 (or about INR 12,500) for the round-trip ticket. The lowest one-way fare from Delhi to Mumbai ran INR 3,739, available most weekdays, with fares creeping up to INR 4,399 during the first week of January. The highest published fare of INR 8,029–or about U.S. $200–was not available on the company’s Web site for any dates through May 2006.
Deepa Mehra, a businesswoman from Delhi, waited to board the Kingfisher flight to Mumbai that October morning. Wearing tailored trousers, a button-down shirt and leather shoes that could have been purchased at an upscale women’s clothing store in New York City, Mehra represents the new wave of India’s airline business travelers. Young, attractive and single, with a relatively high paying job by Indian standards, she has learned, like her urban professional peers in the U.S. and Europe, that time and money are intrinsically linked. “Time is the most important factor,” she said. “Nobody has the time or energy to stand in that long queue for rail tickets.”
Once onboard the immaculate, bright red and gold Airbus A320, the safety presentation played on video screens located on each passenger’s seat back. Kingfisher Airlines’s high-profile chairman Vijay Mallya, dressed all in black, is shown walking through a bright white room on a cloud of movie set smoke, in between poles topped with models of Kingfisher’s A320 fleet. He invites guests to contact him personally via email with any comments or concerns about “the Kingfisher experience.”
As the video ended, flight attendants began distributing bottles of water and small, customized bags containing an in-flight meal menu, mints and candies, tag bags and pens. Browsing through the Cosmopolitan-like in-flight magazine, it was clear that Kingfisher Airlines is all about service and sex appeal. The UB Group, parent company of Kingfisher Airlines, also produces one of India’s signature brews, Kingfisher Beer–which, ironically, cannot be served due to prohibitions against alcohol on domestic flights.
A hearty and hot breakfast including dessert came with metal utensils and wooden toothpicks. This was on a two-hour flight. While loitering near the forward galley waiting for the rest room–something that, like metal utensils, is prohibited on U.S. flights–we asked the flight attendant if such lavish service is typical of most low-cost domestic carriers in India. She said it is standard for Kingfisher, which, by the way, calls itself a “value-added airline” not a low-cost carrier. It was obvious that not only are Kingfisher flight attendants trained in emergency evacuation procedures, they are trained in sales and marketing.
CAPA named Kingfisher Airlines its “New Airline of the Year” in 2005, praising the company for bringing “a new standard of in-flight service to India attuned to the increasingly affluent and globalized Indian consumer.”