The Jet Airways Mumbai to Brussels flight is not too bad as far as timing goes for flights to Europe out of India. It leaves at a reasonable 2 AM (compared to flights that depart at 4 or 5 AM) and gets to Brussels at 8 AM local time (11:30 AM IST.) I caught that flight yesterday morning. A few thoughts on that flight in particular and a few on what the experience says about the Indian economy in general.
Domestically and internationally, I have favored Jet Airways over many others. Their cabin staff is courteous, their service is commendable and their equipment new. The times that I have flown Jet internationally, I have found the overall experience outstandingly good. I have traveled over 50 times between India and the US. The best undoubtedly was a business class trip on Jet between Mumbai and SFO, via Shanghai.
In light of this, yesterday’s flight was an unpleasant experience, not in the trivial details of the flight itself but in what it reveals about the Indian economy through how the airlines are forced to respond to forces outside their control.
Before this flight, I had done a few international flights in business class on Jet and a couple of economy class flights about a year ago. As I had come to expect, the quality then was good to very good. The recent flight was an entirely different story.
Around 3 AM, Jet served a small hot “wrap” — some indescribable warm roll — and nothing else. Let me stress that. There was this foil wrapped roll and nothing else, slapped unceremoniously without even a paper tissue. I asked for a paper napkin and the crew member had to make a special trip to get me a paper napkin. They were not handing out paper napkins with the roll.
“What would you like to drink, sir?”
“May I have some red wine, please?”
I got a couple of inches of indifferent red in a plastic cup.
Calling it miserable fare would be an overstatement. I noted how just a few months earlier, the service was quite different. First they got you a cold towel. Then they would get you something to drink. Then they would serve you a reasonable bit to eat, and also serve you some drinks. But this time it was just that little hot roll and not even a paper napkin.
I keep going on about the lack of even a paper napkin because it is telling. Things are not done randomly on flights. Cabin crew are instructed on what to do and what not to do. That they must have been told to not give out paper napkins is significant.
On a nine and a half hour flight, the only thing they served in economy class was that hot roll and a little breakfast close to the end of the flight. The breakfast was a small serving of omelette, a little serving of cut fruit and a small bread roll. I looked around for those little packets of salt & pepper — it was not included. They were really hard up and it was evident that cutting costs was paramount.
Around the middle of the flight, as is my habit, I go hang out at the galley. I generally get something to eat or drink and do some small talk. There wasn’t anything to eat. I said that I was surprised that they did not give out those little bags of utilities that they normally did before: a pair of disposable socks, an eye mask, a toothbrush, etc. The couple of cabin crew smiled and said that it was so.
Overall my impression was that things had changed with Jet Airways in just the few months since I had last flown them. When I got to Brussels today morning, I vented my feelings in a tweet. I was surprised to see that Jet had replied. Here it is:
@atanudey Please could you elaborate on your experience, Atanu, so that we can look into the issue.
— Jet Airways (@jetairways) September 25, 2013
This post is a clarification that @jetairways requested. I should stress that I am not simply bitching and moaning about their on board service. It is simply a fact that it is not what it used to be. That is also true of practically all airlines. In my over three decades of flying internationally, I have observed how quality standards have dropped monotonically. I don’t see any reason to believe that Jet Airways would be an exception.
My point is larger than on board service in a flight: I am concerned about the Indian economy. The deterioration in the quality of service provided by a major international Indian carrier is a significant leading indicator of a sinking economy. The falling rupee means that aviation fuel costs have escalated. Airlines cannot economize on fuel; so they are forced to cut costs where they can.
Mismanagement of the economy can never be costless. Someone has to pay for all the disastrous decisions taken by those in the government. All too often, those who make those decisions are shielded from the consequences of their actions — they fly first class at public expense — and we the citizens have to pay for their gross mismanagement. We all suffer, not just the airlines and the flying public.
But in a sense, we are culpable. We tolerate the injustices tacitly by not ensuring that those who are responsible for the miserable state of the economy are out on the streets. Instead, we either don’t vote at all, or if we do, enough of us vote for the same bunch of criminals into positions of power.
We have to wake up. We have a responsibility. What we endure and what we enjoy are not randomly determined by capricious uncaring forces outside our control. We must wake up to the realization that as a collective are responsible for whatever happens to us.
We, the middle class people, have the responsibility to bring about the change we must have because neither the rich nor the poor are going to do anything to change the system. The rich won’t and the poor can’t. The rich are too well off and don’t have any reason to demand change. The poor cannot afford the luxury of choosing a better future since all their energies are focused on somehow getting their next meal.
I hope and pray that we wake up but I am afraid that we may not. It is all karma, neh?