With Air India completing two years of operation in Australia, Madhu Mathen, the Manager of Air India in Australia talks to Indus Age. Excerpts from the interview:
Air India has completed two years of operation in Australia. What has been the response to Air India’s return to the market after a long hiatus?
I must say that passengers have welcomed Air India with great enthusiasm. I remember a friend of mine living here telling me many years ago, that for Indian Australians travelling earlier via Singapore to India, the sight of the familiar tail of the Air India aircraft on the Singapore Airport tarmac was the first whiff of home ! With the commencement of Air India flights from Sydney and Melbourne, home got a lot closer. In fact we believe that we have brought India and Australia closer –literally and figuratively.
Tourist arrivals from Australia to India have grown dramatically. In terms of Tourist movement from Australia to India, for the first time, Australia figures in the top ten tourist arrival countries for India as well.
To put it simply, why should a passenger from Australia choose Air India ?
I can answer that in two words- Non stop. Dreamliner. These two words sum up our basic product proposition. We are the only carrier that operates non-stop to India and we are the first carrier to launch the Dreamliner aircraft in Australia.
In addition to this, our generous baggage allowance of 30 kg in Economy plus an additional 10 for Frequent Fliers. Our recent Facebook Frequent flier campaign “ Gain weight now ! Ask us how ?” has been a resounding success and passengers are queuing up to register for our Frequent Flier Program. We are the only airline that gives 10 kg additional baggage allowance to Frequent Fliers immediately after registering and without the need to attain any tiers.
What have been the challenges in re-establishing Air India in the market after a long absence ?
One of the major challenges has been how to correct the perceptions about not just Air India, but about India as well.
In my my sales presentation, I would declare that the New Delhi Airport was far superior to any airport in the whole of Australia and New Zealand. In fact , it is the world’s best airport in its size category. This would be an eye-opener to many travel agents who have not travelled to India in recent times and still harbor memories of the old Palam Airport.
The second perception I tried to correct was about Air India aircraft – the fact that we operated the world’s most technologically advanced aircraft, the Dreamliner. And the fact that we have one of the word’s youngest wide body fleet , with an average age of just 3.6 years. There is a perception that Air India aircraft are old. This is because not many people are aware that Air India embarked on a re-fleeting exercise a few years ago by placing an order for 111 new aircraft, including 27 Dreamliners. In fact, Air India was one of the launch customers for the Dreamliner as well as the first airline to bring this aircraft to Australia. The last of these new aircraft ordered will be delivered in the next two years.
The Dreamliner is said to be a sophisticated aircraft, but did it have its share of technical glitches as well ?
Like any other new technology, the Dreamliner also had a few teething troubles initially. But all that is in the past and today, passengers just love the Dreamliner experience.
The single biggest distinguishing feature of the Dreamliner and the breakthrough technology that it boasts is the cabin pressurization. Unlike all other conventional jet aircraft which are pressured to 8000 ft altitude, the Dreamliner is pressured to 6000 ft altitude. At 6000 ft cabin pressurization, which is essentially more akin to terra firma than 8000 ft, more oxygen is absorbed into the blood stream resulting in lesser fatigue. Our Dreamliner passengers walk out after a 12 hour non stop flight feeling no fatigue at all and ready to go !
Then, there are special sensors to sense and counter turbulence, resulting in a smoother ride and the extra large windows, which can be dimmed at the touch of a button. The cabin air in the Dreamliner is cleaner and healthier, because of the special air filters that block out all impurities and odours.
There were press reports that the Australia operation was incurring losses for Air India and that the company was seriously considering withdrawing from this route, like it did from Toronto a few years ago. How is the financial viability of the Australia operation ?
Again, I am happy to declare that all this is history. Without going into details. I can say that the flight is doing extremely well financially for the company. In fact, the next step for Air India is the increase in number of flights to Australia. It is only a question of when ?
So after all those negative press reports, I hope that you can set the record straight.
How did this turnaround happen ?
Well, we defined ourselves as not just an Indian carrier, but a global carrier. As our advertisement says, we are ‘truly Indian and truly global’.
We marketed our seven European destinations aggressively. New Delhi is excellently positioned as a hub for Europe travel from Australia. Secondly, the passenger gets to fly the Dreamliner all the way to Europe. Thirdly, the lean season fares have been so attractive that some travel agents have been marketing our Europe fares as ‘2-in-1’, that is, Europe and India for the price of an India. Ticket.
Within India, we offer free onward connections to eleven destinations and onward connections at nominal cost to forty other destinations.
You don’t connect to Europe, do you?
On the outbound journey to Europe, there is an overnight transit at Delhi. But rather than being a product handicap, this has turned out to be a welcome feature for tourists. We offer free accommodation at the four star air side Hotel Eatonsmart. Passengers transiting to Europe do not need an Indian visa as they stay at the air side hotel. On the other hand, passengers who would like to have a quick experience of India can do so as well, without any additional fare.