Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Our one experiment with Jet Airways

This is a difficult post to write. I am unsure as to how readers will construe it.

Before I start, permit me to use the phrase that all Jains use at the end of ParyushanMichaami Dukdam – please forgive me. I am not an expert on the airline industry or on marketing. I am a washed up lawyer.

This post raises several issues, on several fronts, all inconsequential in the larger scheme of things,

Nevertheless, here goes.

We fly international often, always in business class. All on our own money, not debited or charged to a company account or a client. We have had our share of bad experiences. BA lost our bags, I mean totally lost. We got compensation. 4 months later the bags turned up. Yes, we kept the compensation. Emirates has missed loading our bags onto our flight. The bags turned up at the hotel on a later flight. We have missed flight connections on account of delays. Nothing unusual or out of the ordinary. Everyone has had an experience with an airline.

We have never ever flown Jet Airways internationally. British Airways [BA] was our carrier of choice for many years, for several reasons. BA was excellent, efficient and the Pursers, Stewards, Stewardesses [cabin attendants] were top class. If the plane was to crash, I have no hesitation in saying that they would save me. They knew everything and had seen everything. BA was a force to be reckoned with. They had excellent flight connections from London, the aircraft were good, the crew, though reserved, did their jobs perfectly and efficiently. Everything was good though dull solid and reliable.

Then came the big brash moneybags – Emirates. We flew Emirates once and were totally gobsmacked. For less money than BA you got so much more. The fantastic aircraft the Airbus A 380 – which really brings romance back to flying – was deployed across the Dubai London sector. They gave you cars to fetch you from home and drop you to the airport and then take you from your destination airport to your destination hotel, both ways. All this was included in the price of the ticket and the service was absolutely reliable. The staggering lounges in Mumbai, Dubai and London. The totally over the top ability to use your mobile on board – send Whatsapps, SMS and emails - while 38,000 feet up. The bar on board! The simple pleasure of walking to the back of the airplane, ordering a drink around a real bar and drinking is really exquisite.

Then Emirates started competing with BA. Emirates has an inbuilt handicap when compared to BA, and, this is that when flying to London you made a stop in Dubai. This is a distinct disadvantage as you spent more time and had to change planes. As a result, BA still held that edge over Emirates. Emirates had to offer something more than BA to entice a passenger. Initially, that something was the super service and add ons with a lower price. Once the passengers grew Emirates started to charge almost as much as BA. So the price advantage was gone. You now simply got more for your buck i.e you got a brilliant product to negate the disadvantage of the Dubai stop. This was disturbing. Our little bubble of pleasure and hedonism was pricked. Now it would cost us the same as BA to have the same pleasures, albeit you still got a bigger bang from your buck flying Emirates rather than BA.

Up steps our long standing, long suffering (from my tongue lashings), travel agent Milind. He offers us a fantastic fare to London, Rs 1,00,000/- lakh less than Emirates and probably Rs 1,20,000 less than BA on business class to London on Jet Airways [for two persons]. That is a lot of money. I was hesitant, HRH the Queen of Kutch was not. Book the tickets she said, you are fool, she said, you don’t have any value for money!! Her rants reminded of the Tennyson poem – The Charge of the Light Brigade

Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred

So here we are, inside a Jet flight to London Heathrow.

Before boarding, I checked the aircraft registration number VT- JEH. You should read about how to do this from the earlier post on Calcutta. The aircraft was 8 years old. That is old. I must say the cabin was adequate. The seats comfortable, the entertainment system acceptable but that was about it.

Alas, at the end of the day, after so many years of flying to London, Jet Airways seems like a start-up, amateurish, a joke, something that no one in their right minds can take seriously. Honestly. I felt like I was in a Mumbai restaurant. I was surrounded by Gujjus, Jains and Khandelwals all vegetarian. 95% of the passengers were browns like you and me.

The food, good grief! Very tasty, but do you want a Hot and Sour Soup and Kori Gassi on a flight to London? Seriously! It may have warmed the cockles of my Mango [Manglorean and Goan] heart to have Kori Gassi but so much masala in a closed environment for 9 hours? The other options were grilled Prawns, but Prawns on a flight are like MRF Tyres, and for the vegetarians there was Subz Kofta. Chenna Payesh for dessert. All a bit stomach turning for me.

Anyway we both ordered the Kori Gassi and a plate of Cheese. To drink we asked for a glass of Champagne and then I switched to a Gin and Tonic.

The Champagne was served in what a good South Indian family would call – tumblers. I was aghast. In my mind I did not know if I was drinking a beer or a whiskey or Champagne, something of a Heston Blumenthal moment, you know confuse the mind and the palate! Nareshbhai, Champagne is served in a flute, never in a Highball Glass. But then you own the airline, I am just a fare paying passenger.

Champagne or Whiskey Soda? Who knows

The food served was even more interesting. HRH the Queen of Kutch was served her Kori Gassi alongside her rice, and, was served a luscious green chilli. I got a bowl of Kori Gassi and no green chilli. Yes, before you ask, we were on the same flight sitting next to each other. Have a look at the photos. I promise you they are not altered. Why should the food served to two persons be so different when both have ordered exactly the same dish?

My tray - Left to right - Raita, top Tadka Daal, bottom Kori Gassi and a plate of papad, rice and French Beans in tomato sauce. 

No Green Chilli for me.

HRH the Queens plate. The Chilli and the Kori Gassi served on the plate. 

I kid you not. The photographs are untouched and real. Unfortunately I do not have a photo of HRH the Queens whole plate. You will have to take my word for this.

My Gin and Tonic had very little Gin, so like Oliver Twist, I apologetically asked that my Gin and Tonic be boosted with a splash of Gin. Why was I not given a can of Tonic and a miniature of Gin I do not know. Why was I not asked if I wanted a Beefeater or a Bombay Sapphire I do not know. Some gin was simply poured into a glass in a galley.

If that was not bad enough, my Cheese platter arrived. I was simply shattered. Have a look at the limp dried out celery stalk and leave, the pathetic broken Walnut and lopped off grape. However, I should be lucky that I got a packet of crackers with my cheese. HRH the Queen of Kutch was not so lucky. She had no crackers. Finally when the Hostess arrived she asked for some crackers.

My plate with dried Celery, dead nuts and a packet of Crackers

No Crackers for HRH

This is what a cheese plate should look like. This is served at the legendary Ritz in London

The whole experience in flying Jet has been so utterly disappointing. They must know that you cannot compete on price and hope to stay alive. TATA Motors realised this when they could not sell the Nano. There was no way someone will buy a product so intrinsically inferior just because it is cheap. Jet has been an `Indian’ experience in so many ways. Overstaffed - both as far as ground staff are concerned and flying crew - all rushing around doing very little. Jet is clearly catering to an Indian market with the peculiarities and demands that Indians have, while competing on price. I am sure many of the passengers were flying Jet because they are on some sort of mileage programme. All the domestic Jet miles add up, and of you can stay loyal, add to the miles you get in India by flying Jet miles on a Bombay London flight. These miles are useful when travelling on a holiday with family. What I mean is that with passengers flying Jet to get miles, once again you have passengers using Jet for reasons other than the product quality. What happens when those reasons are no important or relevant anymore? You have no compelling reason to use the product and the product itself has no intrinsic quality, except, price. As I wrote, think Tata Nano.

Indians are rich, Indians can spend and Indians like to spend. Why is Emirates, with its vastly superior product at a higher price carrying more Indians than any other airline despite its disadvantage of stopping in Dubai? Think about it. You have to give quality. Think Jaguar, Land Rover.

I am simply shocked at what I have experienced on this Jet flight. It is not bad by a mile. You get what you pay for generally speaking, the product does what it says on the tin. But, in the larger scheme of things, who are Jet competing with? The solid BA with all their plus points or the brash and brilliant money is no problem Emirates? Remember there are several other Gulf based carriers all flying the very lucrative Bombay London – Qatar, Etihad. They too have a vastly superior product than Jet.

How long will Jet survive on this business model or proposition? I am not very hopeful.

Have we become too picky? Was it just a problem with an inefficient and nutty crew? Is this how Jet operates as a norm? I don’t yet know the answer.

Should you fly Jet? In all fairness, yes. You will have a pleasant experience. Yes.

Is it the best, will it wow you, will you want to fly again and again, will it get the romance of flying back? Absolutely not.

So bloody sad.  

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