Monday, March 4, 2024

Off to a flying start

A recent survey among apac countries finds that Indian flyers are practical and discerning. unlike other nationalities, they’re unwilling to forgo bathroom privileges, legroom and free checked luggage in order to save money

By Shobha John

Over the last decade, aviation in India saw many somersaults and turbulences. As the sector got used to the concept of low-cost carriers (LCCs) with the start of Air Deccan in 2003, its clientele too changed. From government servants availing of leave travel concessions, defense personnel and rich businessman who could afford to fly, one saw the entry of people who travelled by trains in LCCs. Air travel became a necessity and according to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, in January 2015, domestic airlines carried 62.45 lakh passengers as compared to 51.47 lakh in 2014. Of this, more than 60 percent market share was of LCCs, confirming their popularity with the Indian masses.

Globally, LCC growth led to a boom in air traffic, be it Ryan Air, South West Airlines or Air Asia. For passengers, it was a win-win situation as far as costs go.

Even on international routes, LCCs gained ground. A survey done last year by Martin Consulting LLC, an Asia-based aviation consulting firm, found that on flights between India and the UAE, Indigo had garnered 8 percent share of the route market. Compare this with 7 percent for Jet Airways and AI Express and 4 percent for SpiceJet. As for weekly flights between both India and Dubai, Indigo had 56. Though nowhere close to the 113 for AI, it is better than Jet’s 49. Not bad for a Johnny-come-lately.

And this preference for LCCs was illustrated in a recent survey among Asia-Pacific travelers, where it was found that over the last one year, 51 percent of the flights Indians took within Asia were on LCCs. Across the Asia-Pacific, Malaysians were most likely to use LCCs.

The survey was done by Northstar, a consulting firm, for Expedia, one of the largest travel companies. The survey was conducted among approximately 3,200 travelers across countries in the APAC region, and included India, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Taiwan. It was done to study the trade-offs between fares and frills.



av2 - CopyThe survey found that the most important parameter for Indian flyers was an airline’s safety record, followed by saving money. Men were more willing to sacrifice amenities to save money as compared to women. Also, those under 35 years have taken more LCCs flights (53%) than full-service carriers (FSCs, at 47%). However, those over 55 took fewer LCCs than their younger counterparts (36% vs 47%). While those under 35 years were more likely to give up legroom and carry-on luggage while flying, those above 55 were more willing to give up full-meal service.

The survey found that over the last two years, Indians ranked second highest after Malaysia among APAC countries for those most likely to have flown an LCC. In fact, 92 percent of Indians surveyed said they had flown on an LCC. While SpiceJet and IndiGo were equally popular, among international LCCs, Air Asia was popular, with 37 percent of Indians having flown it over the last two years. Air Asia’s Tony Fernandes deserves a big “thank you” for that.



Mark D Martin, CEO, Martin Consulting LLC, says that in India, air travel, even by its conservative figures, has grown nearly twice in comparison to its peers in Europe, Africa and the US. “The Indian traveler is discerning and knows what service he wants, be it from FSCs or LCCs. He is not willing to pay for something he doesn’t need and that goes for his meals. His needs are clearly defined by his lifestyle. And that’s the reason we see rising sales of business class seats as well as economy,” says Martin. The practicality of Indians can be seen from the fact that 20 years back, they would lug around suitcases weighing 20 kg. “Today, flyers sport tote bags, backpacks and overnighters that collectively weigh just about 10 kg.”

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Among international LCCs, Air Asia is the most popular; Indigo is going great guns in India as evident from the graphics; SpiceJet is slowly getting back into the groove; LCCs are being increasingly used by passengers in India

av4 - CopyAnd it is this discerning power that came out in the survey, where, after Australians, Indians were least willing to make sacrifices to save money while flying. Bathroom privileges (18%), legroom (19%) and free checked luggage (23%) were the things they couldn’t forgo. However, they were willing to let go in-flight entertainment (52%), full-meal service (50%), pillows and blankets (45%), being able to choose a seat in advance (46%) and snacks and beverages (43%).

Much of the preferences for certain things among various nationalities comes from their cultural ethos and LCCs the world over customize their services and products for the local market. So while LCCs such as Lion Air, Air Asia, Ryan Air and EasyJet charge for water, in India, a glass of water is complimentary and charging for this basic requirement goes against our culture, says Martin. In FastJet, an African LCC, flight attendants take Polaroid pictures of passengers and charge $5 for them. In India, taking pictures isn’t even allowed during flights.  

However, when it came to customer service, FSCs won hands down, with 78 percent Indian fliers saying they would receive better service here. Only 7 percent thought that they would get better service on LCCs. But at the same time, 58 percent Indians said they would be willing to accept a slightly lower level of customer service to save money. This part of the survey is along expected lines as FSCs are known for their service, be it hot towels, warm meals or beverages. But don’t forget, every little privilege and fancy frill on an FSC is billed into your ticket. At the same time, FSCs could learn a few things from LCCs—how to ensure quick turnarounds of their planes while maintaining a squeaky clean aircraft cabin, which is mainly due to less cargo load and fewer beverages.  



And what are the reasons for Indian fliers opting for LCCs? The topmost reason is to replace a train journey (67%). That’s the highest for any APAC country and is not surprising considering the condition of Indian trains. The second reason is to replace a bus journey (46%), for trips with at least three family members (45%), for a trip with friends (44%) and for trips to visit family and friends (45%).

However, they are least likely to consider LCCs for a honeymoon trip (9%) or a long-haul flight (15%).

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What’s also significant is the time factor. Indians (41%) preferred LCCs for flights up to three hours, but if it approaches five hours, that figure drops to 27 percent, and tumbles thereafter. As for 8-hour flights, a mere 9 percent of Indians would opt for an LCC, and for 16-hour flights, the figure dropped to a dismal 2 percent. In general, younger flyers were more willing to fly longer on an LCC, with 35 percent under 35 years willing to fly more than three hours compared to 27 percent among those 55 and older.

Often, hotel and flight bookings were done together. In fact, 41 percent of Indians often or always booked these together as a package. They were the third nationality to do so after Taiwan (53%) and South Korea (45%). Also, 45 percent of Indians agreed that when booking a flight on an LCC, they splurged on the hotel.

All the nationalities ranked their carry-ons as more important than bathroom privileges. But those from Japan were most fastidious about bathroom privileges and gave it the highest priority, with only 2 percent willing to sacrifice them to save money. Malaysians were at the opposite end of this spectrum and deemed toilet facilities least important, with nearly half (47 percent) saying they would give up an airplane bathroom to save money.

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Air-hostesses from Indigo Airlines, which has the highest market share among domestic airlines

As for customer service, 76 percent fliers were willing to accept a slightly lower level of it in order to save money. Travelers in Thailand were most agreeable to this tradeoff (93%), followed by those in Hong Kong (91%). But travelers in the Philippines were least likely to sacrifice this service to save (56%), followed by India (59%).

“At the end of the day, the priority for LCCs,” says Martin, “is to give the traveler what he paid for, and that is travel, nothing else, while for FSCs, it is to give the traveler an experience he’d love so that he keeps coming back for it.”

And that’s exactly why FSCs and LCCs will thrive together. It all depends on the type of traveler you are.  


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