Airlines have come up with innovative ways to cut costs. Delta Airlines purchased its own fuel processing refinery to cut corners in the long run. In 1994, Southwest Airlines removed the company’s logo from rubbish bags, saving the carrier $300,000 a year in printing costs. How else would any carrier in such a competitive industry survive? Such parsimony has often paid off – lighter chairs, lesser in-flight magazines, female attendants because they are lighter (ingenious, GoAir) – companies have approached this issue with crazier ideas that we’d expect.
But Air India seems to have rubbed its passengers the wrong way in its efforts to stay afloat.
Ironically the decision comes at a time when the Supreme court has stayed the ban on Centre’s controversial cattle ban. You might think that a sinking ship will try to find safe harbour somewhere. At least that’s the predictable rationale. Not true for a government-owned neck deep in debt-quagmire airline called Air India. Amidst the uproar around beef ban and liquor ban, Air India has tightened the noose around its neck by what could be termed as poor decision-making skills. Or maybe their PR person is busy flying Vistara.
The decision to ban non-veg menu for the economy class seems straight out a government memo which has called for a look from a political/nationalistic narrative practised by majority. And people were quick to point out that this was a stupid way to deal with debt evidenced by the fact that chicken is cheaper than paneer. But really? Anyone flying Air India would ideally have the budget to afford BOTH chicken and paneer. But it all boils down to a liberal question of choice, which we have very high regards for, followed by little understanding. The decision has elicited strong criticisms from all corners. Air India had moved to an all-veg meal model on sub-90 minute flights last year. What’s worse, they also nicked tea and coffee from their lunch and dinner menu.
Air India has justified their decision claiming that most of the people did not specify their preferences at the time of booking; that the passenger ratio of vegetarians to non- vegetarians has tilted greatly in the favour of the former. These justifications, on the face of it, seem palatable. But denying the choice to individuals altogether seems to veer close to the situation on land in India. To top it off, the move is discriminatory to say the least considering how the airline will still be offering the exclusive non-veg menu to those flying business class.
Air India could have come up with a better way to stop seeing red- making food specifications mandatory, paving way for allocation of responsibility in event of negligence in terms of catering. But the only solution it advocates is an extreme method, and without providing a thorough exposition on how this method came to be chosen. Transparency is the key to any public decision. As for many who have chosen to get riled up against the decision- have you ever run a debt-laden national carrier? Air India may prove to be correct. Their total debt is estimated to be around 52000 crores. With this cost-cutting endeavour they are poised to save around 8 crores each year. That gives them the recovery window of about, say, around 6500 years (I haven’t considered the disinvestment that the government announced last month, so that may shake the numbers). The math doesn’t add up. But hey, that’s the case with most of the decisions of this government.
We won’t be around to see them recover; and at this rate, the government wont, either.