Experiencing The Winds of Change

Dubai by night

Just got back from Dubai, and guess what? I flew Pune to Dubai and back – thanks to Spicejet’s direct flight, eestraight to Dubai, no stops in between.

I used to be (still am) a big fan of full-service carriers like Jet Airways, Cathay Pacific, Qatar Airways, Delta, Emirates, Singapore Airlines – the experience of flying these airlines is fantastic and they spoil you silly with the little things (personalised service, inflight entertainment, frequent flyer miles, wide-bodied aircrafts) to the extent that one starts expecting that level of service every time one travels. And I like being relaxed and comfortable on long flights, because that’s what it takes to ensure I arrive fresh at meetings or conferences. But none of these carriers fly direct to international destinations direct from my city – Pune – with the exception of Jet Airways which flies to Abu Dhabi.

And that’s where the LCCs (Low Cost Carriers) like Spicejet come in. The LCC’s have changed air travel and very much for the better. The first time I flew an LCC was almost a decade ago when I flew Southwest in the USA, and the sheer chutzpah of the cabin crew, the coolness of the pilots and the witty repartee on the flight, changed my notion of which little things make a flight enjoyable. Southwest to my mind, is the very best even today.

At this moment in time, neither the pilots nor the cabin crew of LCCs in India have the witty engagement skills of Southwest crew. But that’s precisely why God created Netflix and Apple Movies.

The advantage of the LCC business model is that they can do what full service carriers can’t always afford to do – connect the little cities to the metros and bigger hubs. And although in India, the initial LCC wave didn’t really do much for innovation in air travel due to lack of little airports and because they were busy competing with the big carriers on cost for traffic in the main hubs, the new wave of Indigo, Spicejet, and the emerging Go Air might up changing things in the long run.

The past week was very productive with a flurry of meetings in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah and I was fortunate to connect with a lot of very interesting people in different industries. Temperatures in UAE were 36-42 (felt like 45-50) but one felt it only when you were outdoors which was only when I was getting into a cab or out of it. Public transport is pretty efficient, cost effective and very comfortable in the UAE. Coming to think of it, there’s a lot to learn about town planning and efficiency from Dubai. There are these clusters of tall buildings that function as self-sufficient eco-systems – ground plus first maybe second for supermarkets, restaurants, salons, bookshops, business facilities and the like, and the upper floors for residences. Homes are designed for efficiency, comfort, and for work and personal life segregation. As I sat there one evening looking out at the traffic flow by way down below, I wondered why apartments and townships aren’t planned more efficiently in Pune? What exactly are premium rates for if not for premium design and premium thought processes from the great builders of our city? Hmm?

But back in Pune, the first news I heard on a fresh Monday morning sent shivers down my spine for just a minute – Cathay Pacific had laid off 600 staff (25% of its management staff, and 18% of non-managerial positions) as part of a 3-year reorganisation plan. Meanwhile, Singapore Airlines has also announced a strategy review.

Before I left Pune, I was already trying to digest and consolidate the impact of the approximately 58,000 jobs cut in the Indian IT sector recently. I now know more than five dozen people across the world (a third of that in India, a dozen in Pune itself) who have been laid off in the past few months. The bigger numbers are reported by media, the little ones (which stack up to bigger numbers) escape unnoticed. There is a good that will emerge out of the retrenchments, but it will take some time for that to become apparent and the road will be hard.

The cuts at Cathay and review at Singapore Airlines may well end up being harbingers of other reviews and cuts across Asia and the Middle East region, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Indian carriers and industries start taking a deep look at their models and customer engagement approaches. I am definitely hoping Real Estate, IT, Retail, Transportation rethink the value delivered to customers for every Rupee spent, because customers look beyond the marketing and the discounts and goodies – nowadays, they look at the real value delivered to them for the buck they spend.

Honestly, there’s a tough time ahead, but I am looking forward to this year because tough times means it is a time to work harder. There are a lot of changes across economies, and businesses and consumers are rethinking paradigms and something good will emerge as it always does from a period of uncertainty.

Sanjay Mukherjee

Sanjay Mukherjee

A Thinker, Writer, and Mountain-Walker,
Sanjay Mukherjee is a Pune-based business consultant. He is Founder of RedstoneSummerhill and The Mountain Walker and also serves as Chief Strategy Advisor for the Hong Kong-based learning technology company, Peak Pacific Limited
Sanjay Mukherjee

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